U.S. Pressure on Senior Cuban Officials Should Increase

The seemingly never-ending obsession with U.S.-Cuba policy is reaching a fever pitch.  With Democratic control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time in decades, the pro-Castro camp is salivating at the thought of normalizing relations with the Communist government of the only designated state sponsor of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.   They should be focusing not on the new leaders in the U.S. for change, but on change in Havana.  As usual, these change agents are wrong.

For example, for this lot of Democrats and some misguided Republicans, the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. citizens is the political golden calf.  Let money and travel flow, and freedom will following.  Yet, easing travel for U.S. citizens and Cuban exiles will only help the cash-strapped regime in Havana.  

Tourism will be the primary source of revenue in a free Cuba, but in a totalitarian state it will be the primary source of revenue to keep law breakers, corrupt Party officials, and human rights abusers in power.   Tourism and travel is a key negotiating chit that, if we give it away, we lose control politically, weaken the opposition, and hand the regime what it seeks most, a moral victory. 

The same thing goes for easing restrictions on or increasing remittances that families in the U.S. send to loved ones in Cuba.  Sending money to relatives in Cuba, or anywhere for that matter, in the long-term, is nothing more than de facto welfare that can stifle innovation and creates too much dependency.   The Bush Administration’s limits on remittances should remain and, if possible, restricted even more so as to decrease dollar flows to the island. 

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez has aptly stated many times that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been validated by seven U.S. Presidents for a reason: it works in the U.S. national interest.  The onus for changing it lies with the Cuban government, not the United States.   Our laws are clear and the regime officials know what needs doing if our policy is to someday change. 

If the Obama Administration wants to make a serious statement on U.S.-Cuba policy, it should first lay down a marker that his administration shall never negotiate with high-ranking regime officials that have violated human rights.  That would remove Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and their representatives from the mix. There are a few others, too numerous to list here, that should also never be granted access or ability to planning Cuba’s transition to freedom. 

Holding law breakers and human rights abusers accountable for their past crimes against the Cuban people will send yet another clear message to the Cuban opposition, and all the people of Cuba, that the U.S. seeks to assist them in their efforts to bring freedom back to Cuba on their terms.  It will begin a serious reconciliation process as, without justice , there can never be true reconciliation.   It will advance U.S. policy of a peaceful transition or return to democracy in Cuba, anything less will work against that laudable goal.

The current senior leadership of Cuba has nothing constructive to offer the U.S.  They pal around with the like-minded terrorists in Iran and North Korea.  They steal U.S. military secrets and sell them to the highest bidder.  They work with their partners in the Americas to destabilize the hemisphere and undermine U.S. interests.  These senior cadre of 12 to 20 Communist Party officials are working to save a criminal enterprise that extends beyond Havana into Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond. 

Finally, looking to election results as an indicator of future policy is dangerous thing.  Opponents of current policy are using these elections as some talisman for change, a repudiation of the Bush Administration’s approach.   In reality, the Bush Administration has laid a reasonable foundation from which to constructively deal with the Cuba matter in a responsible way.  It not only deals with the immediate challenges in Cuba, but impacts the entire Hemisphere and Cuba’s allies in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and political parties in the region. 

By sending a firm message to the Communist Party of Cuba that it must change, rather than caving to pressure from the appeasement crowd that only aims to change policy to help parochial U.S. interests, the Obama Administration will establish an interesting precedent for a Democratic Administration that could spell the very quick end of Communist rule in Cuba.

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