Gov. Abbott brings free trade to Cuba


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's upcoming trade trip to Cuba is encouraging; the Obama administration is due the credit for warming up relations with the reclusive Communist regime, but it's the states - particularly ones with Republican governors - who can best take advantage of the thaw.

We have long held the Cuban embargo didn't make sense. Every other country in the world traded with Cuba; the U.S. embargo didn't dent the country's development, but it gave the incompetent Castro brothers a convenient scapegoat. When the centrally planned coffee crops failed - because the bureaucrats doing the planning didn't know that coffee grows best on hillsides, not boggy, converted cotton fields - the Castros blamed the U.S.

When coffee production declined from 170,000 hectares to 28,000 hectares because those central planners set prices below what it cost to grow the bean, the Castros again blamed the U.S.

Without the Yankee imperialists to blame, how will Raul Castro (Fidel's brother and successor) explain why Cuba remains so poor? Even more importantly, how will he rally his citizens against that powerful tempter of capitalism, the iPhone? Don't underestimate the transformative power of shiny tech and better consumer goods.

In fact, political satirist P.J. O'Rourke contends that commerce won the Cold War as assuredly as a military build-up did.

"In the end we beat them with Levi's 501 jeans," he wrote in "Give War A Chance." "Seventy-two years of Communist indoctrination and propaganda was drowned out by a three-ounce Sony Walkman. A huge totalitarian system has been brought to its knees because nobody wants to wear Bulgarian shoes. Now they're lunch, and we're No. 1 on the planet."

He meant, of course, that free trade - and the natural human desire for better living conditions (which at the time included Sony Walkmans) - played a major part in the collapse of communism.

And here's where Gov. Abbott's trip comes in. He's in Cuba until Wednesday.

"With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba - and as the 12th largest economy in the world - Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad," Abbott said in a statement announcing the trip. "Opening the door to business with Texas will expand free enterprise and the freedom that flows from it. I look forward to expanding business opportunities for both Texas and Cuba."

There are some critics of Abbott's trip, however, including GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz.

"Cruz was not the only Texas elected official to criticize Obama's Cuba policy," the Texas Tribune notes. "Several Texas members of Congress, including U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Kay Granger, also accused Obama of undermining efforts to improve human rights in Cuba."

They may be right, but that's all moot now. Whether President Obama could have won a better deal with Cuba is irrelevant at this point. What matters now is what we make of the new d←tente.

Trade with Cuba means jobs for Texas. And it means greater exposure to the blessings of free trade for the Cubans.

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