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US-Cuba Policy and the Can We All Just get Along Lobby

Our family arrived in the United States during the early 1960s, some earlier, fleeing communist repression in Cuba. Born and raised in the United States, and growing up in a tightly knit Cuban exile diaspora, I frequently heard many first-hand accounts about the experience.

While a challenging and at-times heart wrenching decision, starting a new life in freedom was well worth the aggravation. A great deal of time has passed since the Communist took control of the island. Hard to believe that they remain in power close to 55 years now after the 1959 Revolution.

There has been a lot of talk lately about normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you know well that I’m not an advocate of easing sanctions. Quite the opposite. The Cuban Communist Party is not interested in normal relations with the U.S. It has one mission, consolidate power, steal money from the people of Cuba, and help the enemies of the United States.

Cuban Cardinal Ortega was honored in 2010 by the Knights of Columbus for his leadership in Cuba. There are folks in this town who think using the Cardinal as a interlocutor with the regime will lead to improved relations between the US and Cuba. They are wrong and ignorant of how the regime operates. In time, the Knights of Columbus will realize that they made a huge tactical error honoring this man as well as engaging in a brinksmanship that will exacerbate tensions, going against U.S. law and policy. If they wanted to honor Catholics in Cuba, there were many other priests and religious that deserved the honor.

Opponents of U.S. sanctions have had a field day the past few years. The Obama Administration has made it easier for Americans to engage with the regime. While I only have anecdotal evidence, I also believe that with the help from pockets of the Catholic Church in the United States, the Obama national security team has been trying to establish better communications with the regime and discuss issues such as migration, expanding markets, property claims, and other topics that the regime needs to survive.

In addition to the Obama Administration, there are small numbers of Cuban-American exiles that believe that sanctions are also wrong. Enjoying support from the Obama Administration, as well as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and several U.S. Governors, they think that they are quietly whittling away at the embargo. One of the policy talismans that they use is “reconciliation,” or the idea that we need to explore how Cuban exiles and Cubans in Cuba will get along, or not, once sanctions are removed.

I strongly disagree with the notion that reconciliation will be difficult. Anyone who knows Cubans or Cuban culture will understand that. However, there are people who are exploiting this issue for domestic political maneuvering and, in some cases, potential future economic profiteering.

Yesterday at Florida International University, a large public university in Miami, Florida, a conference was held to plumb potential Rodney King, Can We All Just get Along moments. I can imagine the morose expressions from presenters. The stressed feelings of concern about the future well-being of people panelists, frankly, cannot related to because some were not Cubans and others fully support the regime or what it represents.

The South Florida community is an excellent reminder that Cuban-Americans are ready, able, and willing to forgive and forget the past sins of former communists who have fled Cuba. Most supporters of this reconciliation chatter are usually advocates of easing sanctions. Indeed, people who should know better come to Washington, DC and spread the falsehoods in the U.S. government about the Cuban exile community, sometimes they say the very same things that the Cuban regime says about Cuban-Americans. These are usually the same people who criticize U.S. law with regards to Cuba. If they would only read the fine print, they’d know how wrong they are.

It was the Cuban-American community that lobbied for both the Cuban Democracy Act and the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act. Read the fine print. It calls for a peaceful transition and includes many tools to make that so. The only people that want to do the opposite of that are the Communist Party members in Cuba that seek to cling to power. They need violence because they need control and have control through the military to make it so. This reconciliation chatter is mostly a political canard, a sideshow, for the larger and substantive issues that require resolving before relations can be normalized.

If the goal is a socialist Cuba in the near term, then by all means, ease economic sanctions and help the Communist party become even more entrenched. However, if we want to remain true to the promises we made the people of Cuba in 1992 and 1996, enforce economic sanctions and make it even harder for regime officials to do business with the United States and, indeed, the world. As far as justice for victims of the regime, that too has a remedy, a return to a Cuba where rule of law us respected and enforced. There are millions ready to do just that once the regime is gone. And, yes, read the fine print. Our policy addresses it.

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