Cuba’s main trading and investment partners see political chum in Potomac and are wasting no time taking advantage of it. The European Union led by Spain, and the sometimes reliable Mexico, have launched yet another attempt to try and force the U.S. to ease sanctions on Cuba right before the 2008 elections. Why? Your guess is as good as any really. Maybe they are lobbying Raul Castro for new concessions or contracts. Whatever the reason, we are wasting precious time, political energy, and resources.
When Raul Castro inherited the reins of power from his brother Fidel, the U.S. had a golden political opportunity to lay the foundation for a phase in U.S./Cuba policy. We could have sent a clear message to the Cuban Communist Party that it had a choice to make: freedom or expect more economic and political isolation. Rather, we dawdled.
First and foremost, when Raul took control we would have reminded the Party minders that under U.S. law, the U.S. will not recognize a transition government in Cuba so long as either Raul or Fidel Castro are part of the government. Since he was no longer a head of state, we should have indicted Fidel Castro for crimes against humanity. We used our courts against Manuel Noriega, why not Fidel? If Foggy Bottom cannot stomach that, then we could have assisted the victims of Cuban Communism to file a suit at an international or other regional tribunal.
In addition to a “No Raul” position and an indictment of Fidel Castro, we could have squeezed Spain and other investors in Cuba to choose between helping the Cuban Communist Party or trading with the U.S. Spain enjoys many trade benefits with the U.S., including defense contract work and a major highway road project to construct toll roads in the U.S. Our generosity can only go so far and Madrid should know it. Maybe it was time to remind Mexico that $1.4 billion Plan Merida may have a few more political strings attached. Colombia, you want a Free Trade Agreement, maybe you should cooperate more with us, trade less with Cuba. And the list goes on, yet we did none of that.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has done little of substance to remove a state sponsor of terrorism just ninety miles from our shores. When the time of change comes on the island, and it will, it may be one of the most complex regional foreign policy challenges in recent memory. To ensure that process unfolds in a peaceful and orderly manner, we should be sending clear signals to Cuba’s future leaders. Rather, our ambivalent, and in many ways Cold War-era thinking approach has been misconstrued by our opponents and has fueled more speculation and suspicions.
The Cuba problem is a regional issue for the U.S., we do not need assistance from the European Union or the Spaniards, to correct it. Yet, for the past few years we have invested a great deal of energy in securing a consensus position from powers that, frankly, done more to perpetuate and facilitate oppression in Cuba than help usher freedom. Just this week, the European Union announced that it was going to ask Cuba to release all political prisoners, then soon thereafter said it was considering easing sanctions on Cuba and asking us to do the same.
The U.S. helped the Europeans fight two world wars, rebuild, and renew the continent. We provide NATO support and missile defense systems. Our men and women even fought in a modern European conflict in Kosovo. We can also argue that we had to clean up their mess in the Middle East. And, for some odd reason, for eight years the Bush Administration has not been able to secure cooperation from the Europeans on an island problem just ninety miles from our shores? The political posturing from Europe and several Latin Americans is clear: they fear the U.S. economy re-integrating itself in the Caribbean island and hurting their business interests.
In the last few months of the Bush Administration, we should make clear our intentions to the Cuban regime and foreign powers that invest in Cuba. The Cuban Communist Party has two clear choices: change or face even more increased economic and political isolation. Cuba’s trading partners should be put on clear notice, ease supporting the Cuban regime or face economic pressures of your own by losing access to key sectors of the U.S. economy. Most importantly, indict Fidel Castro for crimes against humanity and for the murder of American citizens.
We need to resolve this matter in a way that makes the most political sense for us, not for Spain, the EU, or the Mexicans. By speaking clearly and following through with concrete consequences for collaborating with tyrant, we will put the Cuba problem on a path toward resolution. Anything less, we are wasting time and sending false signals that the U.S. will accept a Cuba with Raul Castro. Maybe a new President in 2009 would tolerate the latter, but this President campaigned in 2000 and 2004 on a totally different viewpoint. There is still time.