Why not North Korea?

When President Barack Obama decided to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba last December, after it was well known he was in the midst of surrendering to Iran, I couldn’t help wondering yet again, what is this guy thinking?  Hey, I have always thought it would be nice for the US to have a full open relationship with the island nation 90 miles from Florida.  But let’s face it, Cuba has been run by the brutal, dictatorial Castro brothers, repressing its population in so many ways for so many years.

The following is only a fraction from Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report on Cuba:

“The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism.  While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

“Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness.  Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners.  Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.”


As the US flag was raised at the American embassy in Havana last Friday, we again heard the usual banalities supporting the restoration of relations with Cuba.  The embargo hasn’t worked to achieve its goals, sanctions are hurting Cuba’s citizens not its leaders, trade would not just help the Cubans but also American companies, open relations may assist in converting Cuba into an open society free of totalitarianism, and many others have ties and trade with Cuba.

Those same arguments were used by some in regards to South Africa.  So why did we keep an embargo and sanctions against that nation?  I am certain the same people who support lifting the embargo against Cuba would never have agreed to lifting the embargo against South Africa had its abhorrent system of Apartheid not been eliminated.

And what about the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, otherwise known as North Korea?  Can’t we use the same logic about that oppressive regime?

It was President John F. Kennedy in 1962 who signed into law the embargo against Cuba.  There are those who argue he would have lifted the embargo when the Soviet Union was no longer in control of Cuba because of these words he said in a 1963 speech to the Inter-American Press Association about the annual review of the Inter-American Committee for the Alliance for Progress and the hope for justice in the Western hemisphere:

“They (the Castros, et. al.) have made Cuba a victim of foreign imperialism…  This, and this alone, divides us.  As long as this is true, nothing is possible.  Without it, everything is possible.  Once this barrier is removed, we will be ready and anxious to work with the Cuban people in pursuit of those progressive goals which a few short years ago stirred their hopes and the sympathy of many people throughout the hemisphere.”

Those who quote those words by JFK ignore the words he said just after them:

“No Cuban need feel trapped between dependence on the broken promises of foreign communism and the hostility of the rest of the hemisphere.  For once Cuban sovereignty has been restored we will extend the hand of friendship and assistance to a Cuba whose political and economic institutions have been shaped by the will of the Cuban people.”

If you read the whole speech, you will see more statements from Kennedy about freedom being not just a goal but a requirement necessary for acceptance and assistance.  JFK made it very clear that when he used the word barrier, he not only meant Soviet influence, but also the totalitarian lack of liberty in Cuba.  Is it now the will of the Cuban people shaping political and economic institutions or is it the Castros’ will?

But just as Obama likes to pick and choose John Kennedy’s words when defending his dangerous deal with Iran, ignoring other words, very different realities, and the clear intent from the speech within which the quotes were carefully selected, these same people ignore Kennedy’s other words in the same speech making it abundantly clear that freedom would be the key to the lifting of restrictions.

And by the way, to those who revere JFK — I am fairly certain the same people who revere Obama — with what Kennedy did and what he said, why is restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba now OK?

I ask you this as well.  Can you honestly tell me that JFK would have executed the Iran nuclear deal?  You really think he would have engineered such a security risk to the US, and to Israel and others?  That he would reward such a brutal terrorist regime?  C’mon, be honest.  You know he would not have made that deal.  With how Obama has abandoned our friends and coddled our enemies, I think, had he been our president in the 1980’s, Eastern Europe would still be behind the Iron Curtain.

At least, naively and mistakenly, Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other proponents of the Iran deal can argue we received something in return from Iran, a worthless agreement, but an agreement all the same.  But what did we get from Cuba?  Last I checked, the Castros were still tormenting the Cuban people.  Did we even ask for anything?

So John Kerry presided over the reopening of the US embassy in Havana as Cuban citizens dutifully cheered — they dare not refuse.  Cuban dissidents and human rights advocates were not invited to that event, but only to a closed private gathering, heaven forbid they should embarrass Fidel or Raul Castro.

Kerry then walked along the streets of Old Havana waving to onlookers, the Secretary of State yet again duped by yet another dictatorship, not knowing so much of the people’s joy and participation had been staged.  But then, our gullible chief diplomat has experience in being fooled.  See Iran, Russia, Syria, the world.

But what about North Korea?  We have never had diplomatic relations with that regime, and that is longer than we haven’t had any with Cuba.  Maybe being fooled by the Koreans in the 90’s — much like how we have been suckered by Iran – when the North Koreans cheated and continued its nuclear weapons program wasn’t enough.

Perhaps the problem is that, unlike sunny, communist Cuba with its bright beaches and its wonderful people’s colorful outfits, catchy music and classic Chevys, the East Asian communist country seems so dark and foreboding, so unlovable.  So scary with its huge goose-stepping army just like Hitler’s.

And its leader, the he-ain’t-no-fashionista, incessantly-having-a-bad-hair-day, Kim Jong-un, seems so drab and dreary even when he is smiling as he watches basketball games with Dennis Rodman.  There just doesn’t seem to be any “warm and fuzzy” when it comes to North Korea.  At least Iran had its charming, photogenic Foreign Minister.  What do we have with the bad Korea?

Now in order to make North Korea more palatable, it won’t be enough to have Kim dress in Hawaiian shirts and have Jose Eber do his hair, although those things would be an improvement.  We need something more, something special, something that will change the minds and hearts of the world about the isolationist country.  It can still be barbaric like Iran, mind you, but must be easier on the stomach so we can make a deal as was done with Iran, and open relations as we have done with Cuba.

I have an idea.  Instead of calling North Korea the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, why not call it the Democratic People’s Republic of Cecil? The despotic autocracy would in a flash be deemed cute and cuddly, with a multitude of celebrities all around the world raising their voices in defense of the poor regime.  Then Obama and Kerry could make a crazy deal with Kim, and Kerry could go to Pyongyang and raise Old Glory at a US embassy there.

There was once a time when the Stars and Stripes symbolized liberty and strength, not a weak-kneed acquiescence to tyranny.  I hope that time returns, and soon.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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