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Advance the cause of a Cuba libre

President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba well could mark the last big celebration of the communist Castro brothers’ sclerotic regime. President Raul Castro is 84, and his brother, the longtime dictator Fidel Castro, is 89. As with the 1976 death of Mao Zedong in China, the passing of the Castro brothers certainly will bring about market reforms and the demise of socialism on the beleaguered island.

Indeed, some “structural reforms,” as Raul Castro called them, were introduced in 2006 when he replaced the infirm Fidel as head of state, such as allowing more foreign investment and farmers to own the food they produced.

These economic reforms are essential because, as Nobel economics laureate Milton Friedman wrote, “On the one hand, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself to a believer in freedom. In the second place, economic freedom is also an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom.”

Such was the experience in Eastern Europe under communism in the 1980s. Greater trade with America led to personal ties between the free West and the socialist East, playing a roll in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of communism throughout the former Soviet bloc.

Freedom is crucial because the Castro regime continues to repress basic liberties, even arresting human-rights activists during Obama’s visit.

“This is a new day,” Obama said. “We continue to move forward on many fronts when it comes to normalizing relations.”

Raul Castro said, “Much more could be done if the U.S. blockade were lifted.”

The blockade/embargo was imposed in October 1960 under President Eisenhower and strengthened in February 1962 under President Kennedy at the height of Cold War tensions as Cuba sided with the Soviet Union.

But the Cold War has long been over and the Soviet Union dissolved 25 years ago. Cuba has more religious freedom than does China, Saudi Arabia and other countries for which there is no U.S. embargo. The embargo should end.

The Orange County Register, March 22

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Divided Palestinians hurt their own cause

The government of the Palestinian Authority, aspiring to become an independent state, is in a lamentable position.

This is important — and unfortunate — for several reasons. The first is it affects 4.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in principle under PA authority. The second is that, if the Palestinians are to carry out meaningful, sustainable negotiations with the Israeli government, they need to be able to present a unified front, with coherent positions.

Another reason is that the patience and willingness of the rest of the world to aid the Palestinians is greatly diminished by the divided nature of the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, there is the question of whether President Barack Obama should try once more to push for talks toward a Middle East agreement that might result in two states, Israel and Palestine, coexisting side by side. The general conclusion at the moment, considering the state of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, is that such an effort would be a waste of time.

One way for the Palestinians to make another outside initiative toward peace more attractive would be to clean up their act politically. They have not had elections since 2006. The term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, expired in 2009 and has been extended without much thought, despite the fact that his leadership capacities are steadily diminishing. The Palestinians are divided in any case, with Abbas’ Fatah party ruling in the West Bank, while Hamas and the more radical Islamic Jihad reign in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian parties agree, more or less, only on continuing to abhor Israeli occupation and settlers, whose numbers continue to grow and now stand at an estimated 700,000. But the Palestinians could improve their prospects greatly through political reform, something that has been lacking for years.

​Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 22

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