The shamefulness and folly of ‘engagement’ with corrupt and repressive totalitarian regimes

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Historical Lessons from Engaging Totalitarians: Business and High Technology

A look back over a shameful and overlooked history

Over the past few months there has been a vigorous debate around continuing economic sanctions on the dictatorship in Cuba and a series of manufactured controversies surrounding democracy promotion programs directed at the island. However, a couple that have gone unaddressed are the conceits that American tourists, business, and high technology would somehow be game changers in Cuba and that “evolutionary change” would take place within Cuba.

Solidarity with dissidents in Eastern Europe from the West and a policy that took human rights into consideration did achieve great things there 25 years ago: the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union two years later in 1991 with predominantly nonviolent movements.

The end result of ignoring the crimes of totalitarianism and engaging these regimes was one world war, and at least four genocides. Winston Churchill called the Second World War the “Unnecessary War” explaining in the preface to his book, The Gathering Storm: “How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm.” Would sanctions have prevented the death of over 60 million people between 1939 and 1945? When one does not support the nonviolent option for real and profound change that challenges the fundamental injustices of a dictatorship only two options remain: war or collaboration with tyrants. Both are unacceptable.

What did engagement through tourism, business and the exchange of high technology achieve in the early twentieth century? This first entry will focus on the role of engaging totalitarians with business and high technology. In the Cuba debate there is a lot of talk about computers and the internet as the magic bullets that will end the Castro dictatorship but often times attention is not paid to who is empowered in the transfer of technology. History demonstrates that this can be a disaster.

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