Colleagues at CubaNow posted a response yesterday President Obama’s expected decision to maintain economic sanctions on the Castro regime pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act. Among other items, CubaNow’s Executive Director Ric Herrero said that current policy:
limit[s] America’s full diplomatic arsenal in responding to developments in Cuba while working against our strategic interests in the rest of the hemisphere. America’s head-in-the-sand approach has created an opening for countries like China and Russia to increase their foothold in this small country just 90 miles off our shores.
As Ric and I have discussed before, I agree that U.S.-Cuba policy has become somewhat brackish; however, it is not because of the sanctions. The sanctions are not biting because they are not used to the fullest extent allowed by the law. Yet U.S.-Cuba policy is much more than economic sanctions. In fact, it gives the president a much more fulsome diplomatic arsenal than he otherwise would have absent the laws.
The biggest issue is a question of application of existing authorities that were given to the Executive Branch in the late 1990s, during the Clinton Administration. In essence, there has been little original thinking or planning of strategies that make the most of existing laws. A great deal more could be done, consistent with U.S. law, that uses economic sanctions to their maximum potential. And if one takes a close reading of the key statutes that supports the policy, including the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (or Helms-Burton), and many others, you’ll notice that there is quite a bit that could be done that has never even been attempted.
As cold as this is going to sound to some folks, it is true: Cuba is not treated as a national security or foreign policy priority for the United States. It should be otherwise, but it is not. In fact, both Republican and Democratic Administrations generally manage Latin America affairs rather than shape Western Hemisphere policy. Cuba receives a little more attention than other countries because it is closer and meddles a great deal with U.S. interests; however, Cuba can be managed. And managed it has been for decades.
Engaging the regime would make sense if there were rational people to deal with but these folks are anything but rational. Why? Because since the late 1990s – as President Obama did yesterday – the United States has made clear there are certain things that Cuba must do if it wants economic sanctions eased and relations normalized. Rational people would seek ways to reach those goal posts, especially when you’re a tiny island of a few million people. Not the Cuban regime. The Communist Party will work at odds because, well, it is an irrational lot. Why should the United States bother, especially when Cuba ignores us and undermines us (just ask the FBI)?
With regards to travel to Cuba by Americans, why should it be allowed? Travel to Cuba is what oil is to Iran or, yes, even ISIL, money. It is a regime saver. People to people travel programs for Cuba is tourism in name only that props up the regime and undermines U.S. policy. It should be limited to family travel and only for cases of extreme humanitarian need. If the Cuban regime wants travel eased, then do something substantive to show the United States that it is serious about reform and change. Hint: read Helms-Burton. Start with Title II and Title III. And remember, travel did not bring down the Berlin Wall. Travel did not end apartheid in South Africa.
If folks in this town on all sides of this issue want to move from management to shaping policy, then they should stop working at odds with one another. This includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CubaNow, the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, the Cuban American National Foundation, the various human rights groups, Brookings, Heritage, and the laundry list of many others who engage on this matter every now and then. For those trying to do so, forget about securing legislative changes in Congress. The votes are not there and, after November 4, 2014, will surely never be there.
The problem is not U.S. policy, it is, and always has been, the regime and the Cuban Communist Party. Those who can, urge the Obama Administration, in the few years it has left, to stop trying to find loopholes in the current regulatory structure and develop a comprehensive approach that focuses a double barrel of pain on the regime. It has never ever been done, not even by Republican Presidents the last few decades. When they do, the regime will crumble and the Cuban people will have an opportunity to shape its future in freedom, not fear.
You can read CubaNow’s statement here.