The speculation about the future of U.S.-Cuba policy started long before the 2008 elections were known. Those wanting to ease restrictions on the island longed for toppling one of the three Members of Congress in Miami who advocate a tough stance against Cuba. They cited polls that a new generation of voters wanted a “change” in policy, that it was more interested in other issues besides Cuba.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) poured millions of dollars into South Florida banking on a win. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others high-ranking Democratic leaders campaigned several times in Miami. Liberal Cuban-Americans and other organizations more interested in getting into Cuba than winning, also directed money and people to Democratic congressional candidates. Add to this a perfect national political storm that severely handicapped Republicans, and the Democrats had the best chance ever to pick up seats in this area. Well, they lost. Again.
The fact remains that in the Congressional Districts that matter most with regards to U.S.-Cuba policy, the 2008 elections sent a clear message to the incoming Obama-Biden Administration: the hard-line position against state sponsors of terror is a good thing. The losers can crunch all the poll data they want but a majority of a new generation of voters from all backgrounds do not like dictators or rewarding them.
Electoral wins notwithstanding, the three South Floridian Members of Congress have a tough road ahead with regards to the future of U.S.-Cuba policy. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) will not only need to contend with a more liberal and pro-engagement Congress, but must also work with an ntested White House and Latin America policy team that has already indicated it would be open to a dialogue with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. Add to this list the Republicans who already support engagement with the island.
Easing Sanctions Would Be Counter-Productive, Aiding Terrorism
Expectations ran high during the past eight years that the Bush Administration would be able to bring an end to the Cuban dictatorship once and for all. That was not to be. Overtaken by more pressing matters and priorities in the world, Cuba was primarily an exercise in crisis aversion and expectations management by interested parties. Farmers were allowed to sell record-breaking amounts of food to Cuba, while advocates of a more robust isolation policy rewarded, eventually, with limiting travel and remittances.
While Cuba is no better than Iran or North Korea, a re-focus of U.S.-Cuba policy in a post-09.11.01 world, at least not that we publicly know about, never materialized during the past eight years. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Notwithstanding strong opposition from many government officials, the Bush Administration licensed medical cooperation with a Cuban biotechnology facility suspected of bio-terrorism programs and a U.S. company.
As disheveled as our approach has been up until now, it makes no sense to ease any restrictions on the island at the time. Quite the opposite. Easing sanctions would be counterproductive and would aid a state sponsor of terrorism. The Cuban Communist Party has no interest in better relations with the United States, its only interest is to remain politically entrenched and in control of the means of production. The much ballyhooed transfer of power from one dictator to another has brought about stylistic changes, no substantive reforms. The powers that be are struggling. We should make it harder for them, not easier.
U.S. Laws and Regulations Should Be Enforced, Not Ignored
For opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba, our laws are quite inconvenient yet they clearly state what Cuba needs to do to secure concessions from the United States. Our laws also state that the Secretary of State should encourage our allies to assist us in ushering freedom to Cuba. By robustly enforcing U.S. laws and securing cooperation from our allies we could end the stranglehold of the Cuban Communist Party is rather short order. The incoming Obama Administration should begin by focusing on these principles and not implement what would amount to an emotional, knee-jerk reaction by easing family travel and remittances.
The Obama Administration should put U.S. interests first by focusing on how a resolution of the Cuba matter will impact other matters in the Americas. As the ideological head of the political left in the Americas, the eventual win by freedom in Cuba will have a devastating effect on affiliated movements in Venezuela and its Bolivarian Alternative movement throughout the Americas.
Cuba must also cease aiding terrorists and the countries that support them, such as Iran, and publicly disclose and dismantle its biological weapons programs. It must free all political prisoners, legalize political opposition, and hold free and fair elections. Until it does these things and other items that have been U.S. law for some time, the U.S. and Cuba has absolutely nothing to discuss.
The Obama Administration has one opportunity to get this right. If they are genuinely interested in change in this area, it will heed the victories in South Florida, focus on U.S. law and our national interests, and construct an overall approach to Cuba that looks beyond the Cuban Communist Party. If it fails to do so and caves to pressure by outside groups to ease sanctions, it will surely put us on the path to the very problems that our country seeks to avoid vis-a-vis Cuba. And, in the long-term, will lay a foundation that will work against the very core of our policy: a peaceful transition to freedom and a return of democratic rule in Cuba.