The Obama Administration, if it can politically muster the will to do so, will try to normalize relations with the Communist regime in Cuba some time next year. Or at least he will make a serious effort to do so by easing certain sanctions using executive authorities. How do I know this? Just a hunch. An educated hunch. This will hand the Communist Party of Cuba a major propaganda and political win that will set the stage for a false transition narrative that has an end goal of completely normalizing U.S. relations and, more importantly for the Party bosses, consolidating power.
I think this is a recipe for disaster, one that will lead to more violence and bloodshed during a transition. Such a move is also counter to explicit policies codified in U.S. law stating the United States is supposed to be doing things that, over the long-run, “facilitate a peaceful transition to representative democracy and a market economy in Cuba and to consolidate democracy in Cuba.” Politically legitimizing the Communist Party is a terrible idea, yet that is exactly what Democrats and Republicans who support easing sanctions will be doing if they are allowed to get their way.
At this juncture, it appears as if the Republican-controlled 114th Congress will be unable to stop the Obama Administration from tinkering with the Cuban Asset Control Regulations (CACR) because it lacks the political fortitude, and vision, to do so. If it did, certain Members of the 113th Congress would’ve taken taken steps in the CRomnibus to block regulatory tinkering and reminding the Obama national security team that Cuba is not your ordinary foreign policy matter. And that the President will need a lot more than a pen and a phone to implement fulsome sanctions-easing measures.
It is worth reminding people on all sides of this issue that the Congress has an important role to play in Cuba transition matters that requires, if anyone gives a darn (I want to use another word) about rule of law these days, a series of reporting requirements that will hamper executive authority to completely remove all sanctions against the regime. Opponents of current U.S. law and policy whine, incessantly at times, that this outdated approach is wrong and has failed. They never back it up with evidence except to say that the Communist Party remains in power and that the rest of the world trade with Cuba, so should we.
As my former boss, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) once said about economic sanctions, there are times when the United States needs to “go it alone.” While Chairman Thomas had differing views on the use and effectiveness f sanctions in other contexts, it was precisely the uniquely “Cuban context” that resulted in bipartisan votes that led to the enactment of several key U.S.-Cuba laws. What is left is a battle of political will, one that will force interested parties to read the law, what a concept, read, and one hopes, obey it and, in the case of Congress, enforce it.
Why should the U.S. taxpayer be saddled with such things as a humanitarian crisis just 90 miles from our shores (when one can be avoided, for now, by letting things be)? Or Cuba’s external debt that is in the billions, if not trillions of dollars? How will Cuba compensate U.S. taxpayers for unlawfully confiscated properties, businesses, and other matters; again, also in the billions of dollars? Will Cuba ask for a sugar quota (you bet it will)?
The sanctions-easing crowd in this town ignore these and related questions because it cannot see beyond the greenbacks that they purportedly have been promised by the Communist Party in exchange for securing the easing of sanctions. It is a canard, of course, that it will be milk and honey once U.S. law changes. The New York Times, of course, would have us all think otherwise.
The Cuban economy is in shambles because the regime has no clue how the world really works. Nor will it ever. Only regime change, brought about by change agents in Cuba, will be able to put someone in control that understands free markets, or at least we hope that will be the case. And even when that happens, in the near term, Cuba has nothing to sell the world but a lot of economic headaches and political problems.
As Chairman Thomas once said, “The fact of the matter is in certain instances time should not be the problem, and others not agreeing with us is sometimes their fault, not ours.” That as true today as it was in 1997 when he made the comments at a Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee hearing on the use of unilateral sanctions. The Obama Administration, before it breaks out the pen and phone, should ponder these words and not rush to ease certain sanctions on Cuba.
If it does, it will not only be at odds with U.S. policy, but if they go too far, will be breaking U.S. law and pushing the nation, yet again, closer to a Constitutional crisis (not just over Cuba; Cuba would be just one more item in the policy failings bucket). Cuba is simply not worth the risk. Let the Cuban people sort out their future. When they do, the American people stand ready to help, as they always have been.