Make Cuba thirsty

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That’s how Manny Scott used to see it.

Scott, a professional speaker, was one of those kids who grew up in a gang-infested inner-city neighborhood and didn’t have much of a future until a caring teacher, Erin Gruwell, came into his life. The movie “Freedom Writers” told the story of Gruwell and her students.

Scott now travels the country telling his story and encouraging audiences to care. Addressing Arkansas school board members Dec. 11, he told of being asked in Texas about what to do with students who refuse help. “You can lead a horse to water,” he had replied, but before he had finished the statement, a lifelong rancher had excitedly corrected him by saying that while it’s true that you can’t make a horse drink, “You sure as blank can slap some salt in its mouth and make it thirsty.”

For 53 years, the United States has tried to make Cuba drink. Actually, it’s tugged that horse by the reins, pushed it from behind, and grabbed it by its mane and pulled. It’s tried yelling at the horse, pleading with it, and reasoning with it. Despite Uncle Sam’s best efforts, the horse has stubbornly refused to comply, growing ever scrawnier in the process.

Earlier this month, President Obama reintroduced the very American concept that if something isn’t working, try something else. It’s why we have light bulbs. He said the United States would open diplomatic relations with Cuba and try to accomplish through engagement what it failed to accomplish by heavy-handedness. In Arkansas, Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford, both Republicans, reacted favorably. The Arkansas Farm Bureau and other state agricultural groups said it was a good idea.

Opponents had a different response: Keep pulling on that rein until that horse does what we tell it to do.

While Obama can re-establish relations, it will be up to Congress to lift the trade embargo that has given the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, a convenient villain to blame. Given the partisan makeup of Congress and the reactions of many Republicans, it seems likely that the embargo will remain in place for a while. In Arkansas, Sen.-elect Tom Cotton and Rep. Steve Womack were critical of the announcement, saying or implying that it amounted to appeasement.

The concern is understandable, but if at first you don’t succeed, for goodness’ sake, try something else. The United States tried to outlast Fidel Castro and ended up with his brother, who’s 83. Maybe both will die soon, and a democracy will arise from the grass roots. Or maybe Raul will stick around for another decade and then be replaced by one of the Castros’ sons. North Korea, after all, is now led by the dictatorial grandson of its dictatorial Great Leader.

Instead of the United States trying unsuccessfully to make Cuba become a democracy with a free market economy, wouldn’t it be better to make it thirstier for those things so it would choose them on its own? An end to the embargo would expose Cubans to the freedoms and prosperity that some of their countrymen braved 90-mile raft trips across the ocean to obtain. American businessmen would introduce Cubans to ideas the Castros could not hope to contain. Surely the country has many budding entrepreneurs whose wits enabled them to supplement their incomes amidst the deprivations of communism. The growing free market would require online access, which would further expose Cubans to non-Castro ideas. Missionaries from the States would share their faith and give Cubans something besides the revolution to worship.

Many Cubans no doubt already thirst for freedom and opportunity. The United States should try to make them thirstier. Do that, and eventually the horse will drink. After 53 years, it’s time to let go of the reins and try using some salt.

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