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U.S.-Cuba law Cherry-picking makes for bad pie

At Brookings last week, a panel of experts who support trade with the Cuban government waxed on about the powers that the President has under U.S. law to further ease sanctions on the regime. A report was presented by a lawyer that was paid for by a group that supports this approach toward Cuba. The panel was titled, “U.S.-Cuba Relations: Moving Policy Forward in 2011 and Beyond.”

When it comes to U.S.-Cuba policy, there is no shortage of opinion on this town as to what to do next. Statutes, laws, regulations, and policy statement can easily be cherry-picked to craft a master solution; but at the heart of the matter is a political decision that has nothing to do with law or policy. Contrary to what anti-Cuba embargo advocates argue, there is no robust economic sanctions program in force against the Cuban regime. There are many choices on the books to squeeze the Cuban government, but few of them are used to do so. Indeed, even under Republican administrations trade to Cuba has exponentially increased while the regime-targeting sanctions decreased or, as is the case for most, ever been used.

The Cuban regime is full of bad seeds. There is no enlightened or Third Way of dealing with it. It has survived as long as it has because we keep feeding it with money from remittances and tourist travel. Yes, tourist travel. A majority of the people that visit Cuba may claim that it is for family visits. And undoubtedly some of it is. But the overwhelming majority of people visit to have fun and go sightseeing. My grandparents passed away last year and, until the end, they were proud that they never returned to Cuba and, as they would frequently say, “ni un centavo he mandado”. They never sent money or medicine to Cuba and would, at times, politely curse those who did. Harsh? Maybe. But those of us who never lived under Communism will never really know what it was like.

“The President maintains broad authority and discretion to significantly ease specific provisions of the Cuba sanctions regime in support of particular U.S. foreign policy objectives,” concludes the report released at Brookings last week. Reasonable legal scholars can argue about this, but, this report fails to take into account that there are significant statutory requirements that have been ignored by Republican and Democratic Administrations that require sanctions tightening, no matter what. In the case of Cuba, legal cherry-picking has made for bad pie. It has been disproportionately done to favor easing sanctions, never truly increasing sanctions on the regime.

At this juncture, it is not in the U.S. interest to ease sanctions anymore on the regime. There area some very serious issues on the table that need to be addressed, not the least of which are the billions owed by the regime to certified U.S. claimants whose properties and businesses were expropriated without compensation by Cuban thugs. Cuba’s cooperation with state sponsors of terrorism have correctly placed Cuba on the state sponsors of terror list, where it must remain. The regime steals U.S. military and commercial secrets, then sells them to other rogue regimes such as the Iranians.  And the list goes on. Easing sanctions on the regime would be reckless and will not help the Cuban people.

The current Cuban government has nothing of value to offer the U.S. but headaches. What we should be doing is encouraging new leaders to urge the dinosaurs to step aside and put in motion a process that empowers free people, and as required by statute, creates a transition government without Fidel Castro or Raul Castro. If the Obama Administration wants to help the Cuban people and the Cuban opposition, use some tough love. Enforce sanctions on the regime, as intended by the Congress and clearly laid out in statute.

For folks who think that some of us on this side of the issue are not open to new approaches toward Cuba, they are sorely mistaken. Quite the opposite. In fact, some things that we need to do may raise some eyebrows in conservative circles. We need to do more to reach out to the true freedom seekers and it may require sacrifices along the way, but always keeping U.S. interests in mind, first and foremost. However, during the past few years, neither aim of U.S. law and policy has been successfully achieved: isolation of the Cuban regime, support for the Cuban people. Appeasing the regime with more and more trade and travel, as we have done for decades, is not a policy but a copt out to making the tough decisions that need to be made.

The Brookings panel podcast can be listened to, here.

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