In the fable of the scorpion and the frog, a scorpion asks a frog to carry it across the river. The frog, afraid of being stung, hesitates. But the scorpion argues that if it were to sting the frog, they would both drown. Considering that it would be irrational for the scorpion to cause both of their deaths, the frog agrees. Midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. As they are both drowning the frog asks the scorpion: Why? The scorpion replies that he could not help himself; it was in his nature to do so.
I was reminded of this fable by political analyst Eugenio Yañez as we discussed the behavior of the Cuban government in denying visas to a number of high level dignitaries that sought to travel to Cuba to receive a democracy award named in honor of the slain government opponent Oswaldo Payá. The award was to be issued in Cuba on February 22, by the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy at the home of its president, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, Paya’s daughter.
The award’s recipient, and invited guest of honor, was Luis Almagro, current Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Among the dignitaries also invited were former Chilean Minister of Education and daughter of the late President Patricio Aylwin Patricia Aylwin, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, former Czech Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations Martin Palous. All of them, and others, were denied entry by the Cuban government, which considered the visit an unacceptable anti-Cuban provocation. The action of the Cuban government has generated numerous protests by public figures across the region.
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The day before, in my conversation with Dr. Yañez, he accurately predicted that the Cuban government would deny the dignitaries entry regardless of the political costs: “They will not allow it; it is not in their nature.”
In my writings over the years, I have repeatedly made the same point when criticizing practices and policies, such as President Obama’s Cuba policy that sought to somehow alter the behavior of the Cuban regime. These policies assume that the precept of American-style economic rationality, which compares costs and benefits, applies to the Castro regime. Such policies will not work; it is not in the Cuban government’s nature to make ideological concessions. General Raul Castro has been explicitly clear that Cuba will not change its ways. It is not in their nature.
Proponents of ending US economic sanctions against Cuba, for example, claim that such a move would encourage the Cuban government to embrace more rational policies. It will not. It is not in their nature.
They had hoped that establishing diplomatic relations would motivate General Raul Castro, whom they believed to be more pragmatic than his brother Fidel, to decrease repression and perhaps usher in democratic reforms. He has not. It is not in his nature.
This latest demonstration of the Cuban government’s intractability should put to rest any notions that policies that seek to change the nature of the regime will succeed. In denying entry to Secretary General Almagro and the other dignitaries, the Cuban government has incurred significant political costs among many of its most ardent supporters in Latin America. But it could not have done otherwise. It is not in their nature.
Often, our foreign policy shortcomings, particularly when dealing with regimes espousing totalitarian ideologies such as North Korea, Iran or Cuba are rooted in our American worldview that fails to understand the nature of these regimes. We do not recognize that these regimes are sustained by their totalitarian ideologies which require an animus against freedom and the pervasive violation of the natural rights of the citizenry.
Cuba’s foreign policy is one that places its totalitarian values before its economic or political interests. It is time we recognize that they cannot change. As with the scorpion of the fable, it is not in their nature.