The Obama Administration and U.S.-Cuba Policy

U.S.-Cuba relations is one of the more contentious issues in the Western Hemisphere that the Obama Administration may tackle in the first year in power.  They already appointed Fidel Castro’s lawyer as the next White House Counsel.  With the appointment of New York Senator Hillary Clinton, well, you do the political math.  Just as engagement with the Cubans failed to bring change to the gulag during the Carter Administration, so it will be when, not if, the Obama Administration makes the effort.

Responding to domestic considerations should never really be a major factor in foreign policy or national security matters.  With the Cuba case, however, there is a big exception.  The stated goal of a peaceful transition to freedom and democracy is U.S. law.  And one of the best means for making this so is to work through the Cuban exile community in South Florida who have the connections, the networks, and, most importantly, the clear view of mind to know who in Cuba can be trusted and who cannot be trusted. 

If the Obama Administration attempts to circumvent or openly ignore South Florida, as Bill Clinton did during the Elian Gonzalez matter, it will surely lay a foundation on the island that would work against U.S. interests in the long-term. 

The Democrats usually win South Florida in national elections, but the region is represented in Congress by three Republicans.  And these are not just any ordinary Republicans, but three Members of Congress who have been under constant attack by the left for at least two years.  These three leaders are like political Energizer Bunnies, they keep going and going, no matter what the opposition places in their way.  There is also a Cuban-American Senator who is up for re-election in 2010.

During this past election cycle, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) tried to make the election of the three Representatives a referendum on U.S.-Cuba policy.  It failed miserably.  They laid a foundation for this effort at least four years ago by conducting conferences, studies, and polls, some funded by George Soros groups, alleging that the Cuban-American community opposed the current hard-line policy on Cuba.  Cuban-Americans want “change,” was a constant theme.

As the election season drew closer, the Democrats and their liberal supporters must have noted from polling data that the Cuba policy “change” theme was not working.  Quite the opposite.  By the time the Democratic challengers announced their campaigns Cuba would not be an issue.  Rather, the three Democrats adopted the Obama campaign’s “change” theme and hammered away at traditional bread and butter issues.  They ran as conservatives.  And while the Cuba issue was relegated to a second tier issue, it would crop up every now and then and voters reminded that there were differences.

The three South Florida Members of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, resoundingly beat the three Democratic challengers.  Their win is a message to the DNC and the Obama camp that despite the slick and misleading campaigning, thier big government-knows-best approach toward governing is not welcomed in the Cuban-American community.   If the Democrats did any better in 2008 it is because Republicans ran a poor national campaign during tough economic times. 

There was no silver lining for the Democratic Left in South Florida or for their long-time obsession of normalizing relations with Communist Cuba.  From a purely partisan standpoint, I hope that Obama or his officials go meet in private with envoys for the Cuban regime (as recently proposed by Raul Castro).  Such a meeting would be up there with the Bay of Pigs under Kennedy or Elian Gonzalez’s kidnapping during Easter by the federal government under Bill Clinton. Americans do not like to reward dictators and tyrants.  It would help Republicans for generations with voters of Cuban and non-Cuban ancestry. 

Yet such a meeting between the Obama Administration and regime officials would be a serious  mistake.  The Castro brothers, and many of their key advisors, have nothing of value to offer the U.S.  They should be convicted in U.S. federal courts, or tried by the Cuban people, for human rights abuses and other crimes.  Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism because the Castros support the Iranians, the FARC in Colombia, among other persons and acts.  The Cubans are suspected of operating a biological weapons program.  The Obama Administration can try and sweep all of this under the rug, but South Florida leaders will be there to remind people of the truth.

The political onus is on the future leaders of Cuba to constructively engage the U.S. based on the conditions establised under U.S. laws. The best assistance we can offer the Cuban opposition, as well as the future leaders of Cuba, is to enforce U.S. laws to the fullest extent reasonably possible.  This means keeping the limits on travel and on family remittances.  It also means calling on our allies in the Hemisphere and elsewhere to cooperate with our policy on Cuba or face limits on foreign assistance and cooperation in areas important to them.  

The U.S. needs to tell the future leaders of a free Cuba that we are not interested in cleansing the crimes of the Castro brothers or their key advisors through talks or other political legitimization efforts.  Quite the opposite.  We should either indict these people or advise the Cuban people how they can indict them in a free Cuba.  The Cuban people need an orderly way to deal with these issues.  There are many pent up frustrations that need to be addressed in a future Cuba and the courts may be the only orderly way to do so.  Talking to future possible defendants is not the way to go.

Rather than entertaining taking, the Obama Administration should announce in the first few months in office that it does not intend to reverse Bush Administration in any way.  They should call on allies to support our efforts in Cuba.  They should call on the regime to release political prisoners.  They should indict Fidel and Raul Castro for crimes against Americans, including the Brothers to the Rescue incident that claimed the lives of several American citizens and one U.S. national.  They should round up more of Cuba’s spies in the U.S.  Be bold.  Keep up the pressure from Day One.

These and other action items should have been undertaken during the past eight years.  Some were, some were not.  Regardless, the Bush Administration leaves a foundation from which to build a solid front from which to deconstruct Cuban tyranny in a peaceful manner.  Any accommodation with Fidel or Raul Castro, their key advisors, will surely do the opposite.  It may not happen in the short-term, but such talks will lay the seed for future conflict on the island.

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