One Reason Regime Change Never Happened in Cuba

havanaThe big story this week is that President Obama exercised executive authority to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and make other substantive changes in our dealings with that island nation.

FAIR does not take a position on foreign policy matters such as this. But the news should lead people to wonder why, after more than half a century during which regime change has been the stated or tacit objective of U.S. foreign policy, Cuba remains a dictatorship under the firm control of the Castros. We recently marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and 23rd anniversary of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union. This year also marks 20 years since the Apartheid system in South Africa came to an end and the peaceful transfer of power to majority rule.

Among the old Soviet bloc dictatorships, Cuba has stubbornly resisted political change. Why has there been no Lech Walesa, Vaҫlav Havel, Nelson Mandela, or even a Mikhail Gorbachev in Cuba to challenge the status quo? Surely, people in Cuba desire the same changes that the people of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and South Africa yearned for. While Raoul Castro may be marginally more enlightened than his brother, real change has not come to Cuba.

One possible explanation may be that for all the boycotts, embargos and half-baked plots the United States has attempted to depose the Castro regime, we have also done perhaps the most important thing necessary for them to cement their grip on power. Over the course of more than 50 years, we have systematically relocated Cuba’s dissidents to our shores.

The Lech Walesa or Nelson Mandela of Cuba is probably in Miami. From South Florida and elsewhere in the U.S., Cuban critics of Castro have been free to rail against the despotism of the regime. But the Castros don’t seem much concerned about bad PR. What they care about is maintaining power and with their strongest challengers 90 miles or more offshore they have been able to do precisely that.

Of course it is easy for us in the U.S. to sit back and urge Cuban dissidents to speak truth to power, when the power is wielded by a ruthless regime that has demonstrated that it will do just about anything to suppress opposition. But the reality is that every revolution has its martyrs. Authoritarian regimes do not yield power willingly. Mandela sat in prison for 27 years. Walesa, Havel and others who brought about change in Eastern Europe also saw the insides of the prisons of the regimes they were challenging. And then there are those who paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their own lives in the effort to liberate their homelands.

Surely there are those dissidents who did stay in Cuba, and many of them have been or remain imprisoned. Others have died for the cause. What they have lacked is a solid core of a dissident movement, because that core is in the United States rather than in Cuba.

Perhaps the policy changes announced by President Obama will eventually lead to meaningful reforms in Cuba – although it does not appear as though any such commitments were extracted from the Castro regime in exchange for Obama’s moves. And perhaps they won’t. Only time will tell.

But what time has already told us very clearly is that alleviating pressure on despotic or corrupt regimes through our immigration policies inhibits change. It didn’t work in Cuba and it has inhibited political, economic and social reforms in Mexico and Central America, where the power elite have been able to alleviate pressure for real reform by exporting those who suffer the most from their corruption.

The lesson of Cuba is that change must come from within. Mass migration helps those who emigrate, but it ensures that things will stay the same, or get worse in the countries they leave behind.

About Author


Ira joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 1986 with experience as a journalist, professor of journalism, special assistant to Gov. Richard Lamm (Colorado), and press secretary of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. His columns have appeared in National Review, LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and more. He is an experienced TV and radio commentator.


  1. avatar

    This is the exact same reason why one will never see an improvement or change in the government of Mexico. Corruption will continue to be the normal way of doing business. Government officials will regularly ignore what the populace is upset about because they know that when Mexicans get tired all they have to do is come illegally to the United States and set up camp here and ignore what goes on in Mexico if they want relief. By allowing and encouraging illegal immigration from Mexico, the US provides a safety valve for the corrupt and unresponsive government and for the exploitative wealthy class to never have to deal with the fruits of their behaviors.

  2. avatar

    Nine United States Presidents have come and gone who would not recognize the Cuban communist government and tried in every way possible way (EXCEPT THROUGH IMMIGRATION POLICY) to end communist rule there. They all got it wrong according to a left wing former community organizer who is now President of the United States. The truth is communists in Cuba have created a human rights hell hole there where extreme ‘executive action’ is the order of the day and where income disparity has ceased to exist through socialist policies resulting in universal poverty. Cuba is listed as a terrorist nation by our state department for good reason. The Cuban state uses terrorism to stay in power internally and outside its borders to advance its foreign policy.

  3. avatar

    Jack you have already taken a position by describing the issue and questioning its nature. Basically you oppose it, that is fine………you cannot condemn a whole nation based on mistakes we made back in the Bay of pigs…..where it appears President Kennedy was set up by our own and blamed for no mistake on his side.

    Cubans have been given green cards in the US since then..I never heard your opposing Florida is full of them…………so US citizens do have an interest to see Cuba free of this dictatorship.

    About time the embargo has been lifted and those people have a chance…… will not be easy but possibly a country that it appears will eventually be a friend……….

    • avatar

      there is no lesson for Cuba because the regime is old and their mentality will never change…all changes do start from within…….Cuba was a beautiful place with American interests……… just happened politics and the War got in between………so it can again be no different……

      • avatar

        that is why Jack…..lifting the embargo is the only chance there is for this change to happen….but in generations until all the bad/old mentality is renewed with the new generations……

        • avatar

          Jack I am aware that you will think after you read my posts…..but I already said that I am not against…….well…….the fact you mentioned it hides its real motive that is, you believe it will not work yet you give your readers an answer with catharsis……which in reality you just do not agree with the president or more specifically with the embargo being lifted.

          • avatar

            FAIR has long opposed giving most Cubans “green cards in the US” because it is mainly for economic and family reunification reasons. FAIR has long made it clear that those should not be valid reasons for entry here, no matter the country. You claiming otherwise is simply false, as is your claim about the embargo. That is not an area this site gets involved in. It was spelled out specifically above.

          • avatar

            Leland are you sure you got the right article?,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,OR do you really comprehend English? Please read it 10 more times n hopefully you will understand……….Man….after this we do really need immigrants…….at least they understand the language unlike you ….

  4. avatar

    Why is there no mention of repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act of1966? If you desire normal relations, wouldn ‘ t you want to removE that which makes the relations abnormal?