Friday, October 02, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Our man in Havana

It does not match President Nixon’s opening to communist China in 1972 for boldness and certainly not for historical significance, but Governor Asa Hutchinson’s visit to the little neighboring communist state of Cuba is noteworthy because, well, because he didn’t need to do it but he did it anyway.

He did it to promote Arkansas commercial interests that want to sell products and services to Cuba whenever the U.S. Congress gets out of the way and lets it happen. You can do almost anything if the end is higher profits for business, even trade with a communist dictator

The governor’s opening to Havana was cheered by the agricultural and commercial communities, which have long sought opportunities to trade with the little island, despite its desperate economic circumstances. Even the state’s senior senator, the very conservative John Boozman, is on Hutchinson’s side—and, let it be said, on the side of President Obama, who restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and hopes to persuade Congress to end the Cuban embargo, which dates to the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Obama conceded that it is not likely to happen while he is president because, whatever the wishes of majorities of both parties, the small tea-party contingent can keep it from happening if it’s something that would be seen as supporting Obama. That contingent includes, of course, Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, who had deplored the president’s rapprochement with Cuba.

Hutchinson handled the nasty politics of the situation delicately, avoiding any reference to Cotton, Ted Cruz or others in the party who want to maintain an unswerving and uncompromising enmity toward every U.S. foe, casual or sworn, now and forever. Certain things have to happen before Arkansas can begin to trade with the Cubans, he said, alluding to but not mentioning the embargo, the congressional right wing’s determination to exterminate the Export-Import Bank or the development of a cash economy on the island that depends upon America’s letting it happen.

Cotton, Cruz and the others say the United States should not have diplomatic or trade contact with Cuba as long as it does not have a good record on human rights. If that were the standard, the United States would not have relations with its great allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, or for that matter with Russia or with the other two communist nations, the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam, which happen to enjoy Most Favored Nation status for trade. But Cuba? Never.

Hutchinson elliptically addressed those questions. The United States tried isolating Cuba in hopes that the suffering Cuban people would rise up and overthrow the Castros. Since the experiment didn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something else, he said.

Perhaps the governor’s stance does not involve any political risk in 2015. As of yesterday, the state’s only statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, was still editorially silent on Hutchinson’s initiative. The paper has praised everything Hutchinson has done, as governor, congressman, Washington bureaucrat and federal law-enforcement officer, and found fault with him for nothing.

If Hutchinson’s predecessor, the Democrat Mike Beebe, had done the same thing, you would not hear the end of it. When the congressman from east Arkansas, Bill V. Alexander, urged diplomatic recognition and trade with the island to help Arkansas rice and poultry industries and the Cuban people, the Democrat Gazette ridiculed him—“Boogalo Bill,” the editorials always called him.

When the Second District’s Democratic congressman, Vic Snyder, visited the island and spoke with Fidel Castro, the newspaper’s editorial page went after him—not once but many times. Whenever he ran for office, the paper’s editorial page reproduced the photograph of him with the communist. You want to elect a man who once clasped the hand of a communist?

But Boozman and Hutchinson are Republicans. Like Nixon, they enjoy the cover of an archconservative party. Progress gets made that way, too. —Ernie Dumas