When it comes to U.S.-Cuba policy folks who know me well, and who are not of Cuban ancestry, are usually befuddled as to why some of us still support strong economic sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. This is especially true when it comes to travel to Cuba – there is way too much of it.
The tourism sector is to Cuba what oil is to another state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, or the regime of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Without tourism the Cuban economy will crumble. And since the current Cuban government has nothing of economic or political value to offer the region or the United States, there is no need to reward Cuba’s current leaders by easing travel – including family-related travel – to the island.
The best assistance the U.S. could send the Cuban people are the tools and support to usher in democracy to Cuba. Denying the CCP and its leaders an economic lifeline is a good place to start.
Cuban Communist Party (CCP) officials – the CCP is the only legal political party in Cuba – have adroitly exploited our laws with the support of a pro-Cuba lobby in DC that includes Members of Congress, lobbyists, trade groups, and an army of lobbyists. U.S. laws and regulations call for isolating the Cuban government economically with sanctions, while assisting the Cuban people with humanitarian assistance. While not an easy balance to achieve, the focus has been on easing sanctions while disproportionately increasing trade and travel to “help” the Cuban people.
The latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending political tragedy involves Cuba’s political prisoners, of which there are thousands on the island. With the support of Spain’s Socialist Party government, sectors of the U.S. Catholic Church leadership, and the Obama Administration, Cuba has agreed to release a token number of political prisoners and their families.
According to published news reports, the U.S. may ease travel restrictions to the island in a few weeks in response to the CCP’s recent actions related to political prisoners. What is not being widely talked about is why now and what did Cuba threaten to do if the U.S. failed to ease travel restrictions?
There is absolutely no reason for the CCP to release prisoners this summer unless its leaders sense growing discontent on the island. The CCP has threatened the Church before, and it is likely doing it again. It has threatened the U.S. before, and I strongly suspect, it is doing it again. What can the CCP threaten that could lead the Obama Administration to seriously consider easing travel restriction to the island? Immigration.
Working through the Cuban Catholic Church and Spain’s socialist government, CCP officials likely threatened the Obama Administration that if it did not ease sanctions the U.S. could face a wave of refugees. This is not an image that the Obama Administration wants before the November elections. Think Mariel, 1980, and President Jimmy Carter. The CCP has not tested the Obama Administration yet. This could be it.
The Cuban government feels threatened because it is losing key supporters in Europe and the US. Polls in Spain show that support for the socialist government is at record lows. In the US Congress, several Members of Congress sympathetic to easing sanctions are on the way out or under ethics investigation. Polls indicate that Republicans could win one or both chambers this November. Cuban leaders see a political threat, so what better time to act than before the November elections?
If the Obama Administration has been threatened with immigration, it should stand firm and not cave to pressure by CCP officials. A token release of political prisoners does not warrant it, moreover and more importantly, it would go against U.S. law. CCP officials have been making a windfall in profits from record trade with the U.S. during the past decade.
There is no rush to normalize relations with Cuba, even slightly – Cuba’s leading political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet has said so many times. Easing travel, even if just for family, cultural, or educational purposes, would only help further entrench the CCP and their corrupt officials.
The Obama Administration should send a clear message that his team will not be bullied. He should side with freedom seekers on the island, not the old and outgoing CCP leadership. In a free Cuba, the U.S. brand will be the better for it, while those who helped prop up the regime for so many years will pay the political and economic price.
The best “assistance” the U.S. could send the Cuban people are the tools and support to usher in democracy to Cuba. Denying the CCP and its leaders an economic lifeline is a good place to start. This will not be the case if the Obama Administration further eases economic sanctions against the CCP.