In Cuba, a man checks his motorcycle in front of political billboards that allude to the US embargo on Cuba

Editor’s Note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House.” He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, “Washington Watch with Roland Martin.”

Story highlights

Roland Martin notes Cuba has come up as issue in Florida GOP primary race

The candidates have looked silly defending America's failed Cuba policy, he says

Martin says only Ron Paul has the right idea about Cuba

CNN  — 

For more than 50 years, the United States has had an embargo against the island of Cuba, all because we supposedly hate communism and believe the nation 90 miles from our borders should institute democracy.

As the GOP candidates battle it out for votes in Florida’s primary election on Tuesday, the subject of Cuba has come up in a couple of debates. Nearly all the candidates, except for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, have sounded ridiculous trying to defend what is clearly a failed policy, all in an effort to curry favor among the large population of Cuban voters in the state.

Take, for instance, Newt Gingrich.

Roland Martin

The former speaker of the House was his usual fire-breathing self in the NBC-National Journal debate when he called on the United States to authorize regime change to get Fidel and Raul Castro out of their positions as leaders of the country.

“I would suggest to you the policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom,” Gingrich said. “You know, Obama is very infatuated with an Arab Spring. He doesn’t seem to be able to look 90 miles south of the United States to have a Cuban Spring.

“So I would try to put in place a very aggressive policy of reaching out to every single Cuban who would like to be free, helping network them together, reaching out to the younger generation inside the dictatorship, and indicating they don’t have a future as a dictatorship because a Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.”

In what was the most ridiculous comment of the night, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said that if Cuba were China in terms of its geographical proximity to the United States, he would be just as against the country.

“This is an important doctrine of the United States to make sure that our hemisphere and those who are close to us are — are folks that we can and should deal with,” Santorum said.

“And right now, we have and have had for 50 years a dictatorship in Cuba. We’ve had sanctions on them. They should continue. They should continue until the Castros are dead, and then we should make it very clear that if you want mountains of aid, if you want normal relationships, if you want to improve your economy, if you want to have the opportunity for freedom, that the United States stands ready now to embrace you now that you’ve gotten rid of these tyrants who — who have controlled you for these 50-plus years. That’s why the sanctions have to stay in place, because we need to have a — a very solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people.”

Seriously? Is it possible for us to have a grown-folks conversation here?

There is no logical reason that candidates should deplore normalizing relations with Cuba, while we do whatever we can to help China.

Hmmm, let’s see. Cuba is a communist country. China is a communist country. The people of Cuba aren’t living in a democratic system. The people of China aren’t living in a democratic system.

Yet China has been granted most favored nation status, allowing the free flow of goods back and forth. Sorry, Rick, that has nothing to do with proximity. It’s all about China being a great outpost for U.S. businesses, and the fact that the communist country is essentially the banker of America, owning hundreds of billions of dollars of our debt.

Santorum wants to suggest that Cuba is in bed with Nicaragua and Venezuela, and they are in alignment with Iran, helping potential terrorists. Last I checked, we have relations with Russia, and they do huge business with Iran. We despise North Korea, yet China does a lot of business with North Korea.

Folks, I’m fully supportive of democracy, and we should be preaching that gospel wherever we go. But there is no way I can believe that thawing our relationship with Cuba will somehow harm America.

The Cuban-American community is loud, has major political clout and writes big checks, mainly to the GOP. But surely it’s time for the adults to admit that the embargo has not forced Castro out of office, and all it has done is give him the best bogeyman he could get when talking to Cuban citizens.

The United States should step up and end the embargo against Cuba and recognize that having real and substantive relationships with the nation could spur the democracy we say we want.

“I think it’s time … to quit this isolation business of not talking to people,” Paul said. “We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now. We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why — why the Cuban people should be so intimidating.

“I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore. And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of a — in governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work.”

It’s time that the GOP candidates and officials in both parties stop the political pandering to Cuban Americans and say that if we want a free Cuba, it can begin with ending a senseless and failed embargo.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.