There has been a lot of clucking about President Barack Obama shaking hands with Raúl Castro at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. For some it was bad enough that a president the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin accused of “palling around with terrorists” should extend his hand to a Cuban communist tyrant, while mourning a world hero that former Vice President Dick Cheney still thinks was a terrorist.

Whether Obama was entering into Mandela’s contagious spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, or following in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in reaching out to communist enemies, or merely being good-mannered is not clear. What seems plain, however, is that nothing much will come of it. The trade and travel embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States in 1960 after the communist revolution nationalized American-owned property will remain in force.  

But is maintaining the Cuban freeze a good thing for America? For the world? For Cubans? No, no, and no.

Let’s backtrack. It is almost a century since Vladimir Lenin’s 1917 October Revolution launched Russia on an experiment, inspired by the ideas of Karl Marx, to purge market forces from human affairs. In Marxism-Leninism, capitalism was deemed an affront to humanity, and the eternal system of the free exchange of goods between individuals for money was made illegal and replaced by centrally planned decisions about what to produce and distribute according to a grand plan laid down by the self-elected elite who ran the Soviet communist party.

After seven decades of famine, forced migrations, shortages and dysfunction, accompanied by torture, tyranny and the internal exile, incarceration in gulags and slaughter of 12 million Russians, that grandiose experiment in what was laughably called “socialism” ended in disaster. While those living under capitalism generally grew ever more happy, healthy, and rich, the Soviets could not even feed their own without begging for crumbs from their sworn enemy, the United States.