July 18 2012
Steven A. Leibo is the Sage Colleges Professor of International History & Politics
“Statute of Limitations”
It might sound odd but lately I have been thinking a lot about legal concept of a statute of limitations, that old common law idea that after a certain amount of time a person guilty of everything but the most heinous crimes can’t be punished.
Sure it might seem an odd topic for someone who spends most of his time reflecting on issues from Chinese Modernization to the Climate Crisis but the situation has been unusual; you see that sudden interest in the statute of limitations came up while I found myself wandering Havana, Cuba last week in the company of a once powerful but now fallen former government official who was showing me around the extraordinarily decrepit streets that are at the heart of old Havana, a world, famously fascinating to outsiders impressed by all the old cars the Cubans manage to keep running.
But a life infinitely more painful for those who are forced to get by in the world of Havana’s food ration books, frequent lack of running water and a famous health care system that was as free as it devoid of actual medicines, a world made infinitely difficult by bad decisions on the part of the Cuban government. But that is particularly challenging for its people due to the half century long American embargo which continues to make Cuban lives infinitely more demanding than they would otherwise be if Cuba had not been caught red handed, as criminals in the eyes of America.
Criminals who had the audacity to…. What was it now? … Give me a minute, it has after all been more than fifty years. O.k. I got it, challenged the American economic and political domination of their island. Yes, actually, sided with our old arch enemy, you know, what’s their names…um …right… the Old Soviet Union… Boris and Natasha’s people, but let me see if I have this right, we are still punishing – now more than a half century later, the Cubans for embracing an economic system largely defunct world-wide — that hurt them more than it challenged us? We are still punishing them, ruining their lives daily because they sided with a country, the old USSR ,that has not existed for a generation? Oh, I know it was not just Cuba we tried to isolate. Russia’s Communist Revolution happened in 1917 and we did not recognize them until FDR did so in 1933, sixteen year’s worth of American efforts to isolate the Soviets for challenging our economic values.
And then there’s Vietnam, a nation we did not grant recognition to for twenty years after we lost the war there. Not forgetting of course China whose 1949 revolution was officially ignored by America until Jimmy Carter offered diplomatic recognition in 1979? Thirty long years
All of which makes sense, after all, The Russians had challenged our way of life and at the time, perhaps worse, abandoned us in our war with Germany during World War I. while China had fought us to a standstill in Korea in 1953. And of course Vietnam delivered America one of its worst humiliations in US history.
But what was it again that Cuba actually did to deserve an on-going embargo that has lasted for more than half a century? Far longer that those who actually fought us, a brutal economic boycott that makes the lives of Cubans infinitely challenging.
Oh, I know the embargo is not completely closed some few Americans, academics and writers like myself can go. And of course those with family there, but the Embargo still deeply limits Cuba’s ability to feed itself and yet indifferently, we Americans hardly give it a moment’s thought casually allowing the politics of a few angry old men in Miami and Havana to push us ever so casually into abusing the human rights of the Cuban people. Sure, maybe they did manage to anger an older generation of Americans but enough is enough; surely even international relations can embrace the idea of a statute of limitations on dated crimes.