|The Last Wall
By Mikhail Gorbachev
Saturday, October 4, 2003
The changes that have occurred in the world in the past 20 years are truly
remarkable. We have left behind the Cold War and the confrontation between
two irreconcilable ideological systems. The symbol of divided Europe -- the
Berlin Wall, which Ronald Reagan famously urged me to tear down in 1987 --
has long since been destroyed. But one relic of the Cold War remains: the
wall of the economic embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba 43 years ago.
The lack of relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments, enshrined as
it is in the U.S. policy of economic and diplomatic isolation of Cuba, has
not allowed for an understanding that could benefit the citizens of both
nations. The burden of the isolation of Cuba has been borne by ordinary
people on both sides of the Florida Straits: the divided Cuban family.
That this situation is abnormal and that the embargo is counterproductive
is increasingly recognized throughout the world and in the United States.
The high-profile visit of Pope John Paul II symbolized the willingness of
the world to open to Cuba and of Cuba to open to the world. Former
President Jimmy Carter's trip to that country was a courageous and
Many other U.S. political leaders have spoken in favor of normalizing
relations. Yet the U.S. government prohibits average Americans from even
traveling to Cuba. While it calls for human rights in Cuba, the United
States prevents its own citizens from sharing free enterprise, freedom of
movement and free thinking with the Cuban people.
The only way to get out of this time warp is to replace the current policy
with a policy of constructive engagement similar to the one being pursued
toward other so-called Communist countries.
This view is shared not only by most members of the international
community, it has support among those most affected by the current policy,
namely the Cuban people and Cuban Americans in the United States. They
would also benefit the most if the United States were to liberalize its
policies, starting with opening the door to travel to Cuba.
Remember that expanding contacts and exchanges, agreed to by President
Reagan and me at our 1985 summit in Geneva, did much to increase mutual
understanding between our two countries.
Many Cuban Americans who traditionally backed punitive measures against
Cuba are increasingly calling for dialogue between the two nations. Polls
show that most Cuban Americans would like to take the first steps to heal
the wounds of the past 43 years. I think the leaders of both states should
recognize that true courage is demonstrated by a willingness to engage in a
difficult and honest dialogue, to admit mistakes and to seek common ground
for the good of future generations.
An end to the embargo would complete the unfinished business of the Cold
War in the Western Hemisphere. It is because of the Cold War that a country
that saw an anti-dictatorial revolution, which had nothing to do with
Communist ideology, became involved in the superpower confrontation.
Isolated and belonging ideologically to the "socialist camp," its choice of
the path of socioeconomic development became all but inevitable. And during
the missile crisis Cuba nearly became the trigger for a nuclear war.
Yet it would be unfair to reduce Cuba's entire post-revolutionary history
to that. The achievements of the Cuban people in education, health, science
and the arts have been widely recognized. The Cubans withstood the
consequences of the withdrawal of Soviet economic subsidies, and the
country's economy has recently shown an 8 percent growth in gross domestic
product. Cuba has pursued a responsible foreign policy, as I can confirm
based on my own experience working with Fidel Castro to defuse regional
crises in Central America and Africa.
The time has come to develop a policy responsive to those realities.
Constructive engagement would not just make it possible to normalize
relations between two close neighbors; it would also improve prospects for
positive evolution in Cuba's domestic situation and create a different set
of conditions for raising human rights issues.
What's needed is a first step, and it is up to the United States to take
it. I urge President Bush to tear down the wall of the embargo now, in
order to lay the foundation for a new relationship with Cuba.
The writer is former president of the Soviet Union.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company