The American government's policy towards Cuba has been idiotic. While Americans were forbidden to trade with Cuba (a violation of our rights), the rest of the world was freely trading with them. But Castro used our embargo to blame all of their economic woes upon. We became his scape-goat for communism's failures!
[There is a time when it would be proper for our government to prohibit Americans from engaging in any trade with a foreign nation, but that would only be when there was an active, declared war with the country in question. And that is not applicable to Cuba.]
Walking through a park in Cuba I saw a man in a tattered, faded flourescent orange vest turn one box on its side to sit on and another box was turned on end to become a sort of work bench. My brother explained that he was working for the government (as everyone who has a job does) which is signified by the vest, and his occupation was to refill disposable cigarette lighters. He would drill a tiny hole in the bottom, put in lighter fluid, put in a screw to seal it, collect a government-set fee, and enter the transaction in a book so that Castro would get his money at the end of the month.
I was standing outside of a little fast food shack, one that had a counter in the front, and plastic tables and chairs outside. A small, armored truck drove up and two guards got out. One, holding a machine gun, swiveled his head side to side looking for possible trouble and the other went inside the shack. The Cuban next to me leaned over and whispered, "El Jefe picks up his money." El Jefe (The Chief), is what they call Fidel, whose name they never say outloud. They have to trust you before they will say anything about the government. The fear is palpable. Sometimes they just touch their chin as if they were stroking a beard as a way of indicating Fidel. The guard that went inside the fast food stand sat down and went over the books with the stand manager, counted the money, bagged it, and left with it and an updated copy of the book.
The Cuban people are awesome. It is hard not to be impressed with their resilience, their energy, their inventiveness, their good humor and zest for life. And it is hard not to feel bad that they live under such constant repression and such dismal economic and political circumstances.
Often, the service in a business is awful and not like the normal energetic nature of the average Cuban. But if you complain, or ask about it, you are likely to be told, "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work."
You can't plan what you want to cook for dinner and then go out and buy the ingredients.... you won't be able to find them all - too many shortages - all the time. You have to go out and see what is available and then cook that. You start shopping for toilet paper weeks ahead of time. When you are shopping and ask about anything, what you will hear the most often is, "No hay" (There is none).
Nearly every hospital is a horror (except for the one used as a show hospital and for important party members and important visitors - like Michael Moore). Filthy sheets or naked, stained mattresses, little or no food, very little medicine or equiptment, and doctors who have to be bribed with sandwiches (I'm not kidding) because they make less money, even in Havana, than a taxi cab driver.
Our government's obligation is to recognize that American's have to right to trade with and to travel to Cuba. Beyond that our government should be loud and clear and in pointing out the totalitarian principles and the ugly details of that communist government's brutal oppression of their people.
Professor Machan's description of Obama having an "ideological loyalty to the collectivist vision of society" is dead on.