Ironies abound in the contrast between two events that occurred within a week or so of each other — the deadly chemical explosion in Tianjin, China that resembled the aftermath of an atomic blast, and on the other side of the globe, the U.S. flag being unfurled at the American embassy in Havana 54 years after the island nation 90 miles off Florida’s shores was effectively erased from the map for U.S. citizens.
Although some restrictions have been eased on travel and dealings with Cuba, the trade embargo that has effectively kept U.S. agriculture and other business interests out of that market is still in effect, and a lot of work and negotiating remain before (and if) normalization of relations between the countries can be accomplished.
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There are many in the U.S. — chief among them thousands of Cuban American citizens — who adamantly oppose lifting sanctions, citing the oppression of the Cuban populace by the dictatorial communist government of the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raoul.
We don’t want to extend a hand of friendship, however limited, opponents say, to a regime that has kept its citizens in poverty, has jailed and tortured dissidents, and is guilty of decades-long human rights violations. Let’s don’t trade with them, let’s don’t let U.S. citizens go there freely, let’s continue to keep them in isolation.
And yet, for decades now the U.S. has been trading with and allowing open travel to China, whose communist government has been one of the most repressive on the planet — whose human rights record is appalling (its one child policy resulting in hundreds of thousands of aborted female babies), Tiananmen Square where tanks were turned against its own citizens, imprisonment or execution of those who dared to write or speak out about government injustices, suppression of access to the Internet and other communications, and on and on.
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China’s despoiling of the environment is of epic scale; it is the world’s No. 1 contributor to atmospheric pollution, and many of its rivers and streams are little more than cesspools or toxic waste dumps. Even the most basic safety/protection measures for its cheap labor workforce are still too often non-existent; in 2014 alone, nearly 70,000 people died on the job, and the recent Tianjin chemical explosion is just the worst of many industrial accidents that have occurred due to conditions that are not tolerated in the U.S. or other first world nations (but hey, it’s a world away and as long as they keep cranking out our iPhones and sneakers and flat-screens, why should we care?).
So, for half a century-plus we’ve shunned next-door neighbor Cuba and its 12 million people because of its oppressive government, while for decades we’ve embraced China and its 1.357 billion people and an exponentially more oppressive government?
The distinction is difficult to fathom.