Before I go into my thoughts about the President’s announcement, I want to disclose some information about myself. My mom came to this country on one of the last flights that were allowed from Cuba to the United States before the embargo. My dad came to this country before the Castro revolution even started. One of my uncles was a POW in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, while a great uncle was a political prisoner. I still have family in the island.
That being said, here are some of my thoughts about the President’s announcement regarding Cuba:
1. The President is a lousy negotiator. The President is such a lousy negotiator that he would have traded Michael Jordan and/or Scottie Pippen during the Bulls’ glory days as their GM. As my colleague, Jason Poblete said, the “American taxpayer is about to bailout the Cuban government (video).” This may make TARP look like a great budget saving plan. Notwithstanding the bailout, the President failed to consult with Congress. This unilateral action on Cuba may rank as a Presidential failure because of Congress’ reaction of being left out. Another telling reaction comes from the democracy activists in Cuba. Their reaction to his announcement can be found here and here.
2. Congress has a bigger say in U.S.-Cuba relations than anyone anticipates. In order to have some movement towards improving U.S.-Cuba relations, there are two laws that Congress needs to be address. The first one obviously is the embargo law itself. That law has been codified for the purpose to have Congress overturn the law, rather than the President. Those pushing the embargo’s end will have a difficult job ahead of them. Not only would they have to deal with 5 member of Congress who are Cuban, and also the aforementioned Cuban democracy activists have denounced this idea weakens their argument for lifting the embargo.
The second law that is in question is Helms-Burton. For those who are unfamiliar with the law, Helms-Burton was passed in the late 1990’s. The law states the conditions that Cuba needs to meet in order for the embargo to be lifted. In order for the embargo to be lifted Cuba needed to comply with basic human rights: the right for people to assemble, the right to have an opposition party, the right to free and open elections, and etc… Like the embargo legislation, this law is also codified. Interestingly enough, I have not yet heard anyone comment on how Helms-Burton will play a role in the January meetings between the U.S. and Cuba. There is a discussion that the State Department will not emphasize human rights with Cuba, but with Helms-Burton how will they not?
3. Democracy in Cuba is a long-term project. One of the arguments from those who want to lift the embargo is that capitalism will bring democracy to Cuba. What this argument fails to take into account is that Cuban society from an ethics standpoint has de-evolved. Since Castro has taken over, Cuban society has regressed. Through its loss of freedom and the economic rations, the Cuban people have adopted a “survival of the fittest” mentality. In terms of daily life, this means that the Cuban people have to steal either materials, or food, or money in order for their family to survive. Their thought is that the consequences be damned, I have to do this for my family to survive. For foreign companies that want to do build factories and or businesses in Cuba, be prepared to deal with employees who will steal.
The democratic process in Cuba will take at least three generations. The first generation will need to fight for their democratic rights. This will either be a violent or a peaceful revolution. The second generation, once it has secured those rights, will need to have those rights protected through constitutional means. The third and subsequent generations will need to be vigilant in protecting those rights. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, Cuba will have a democracy, if they can keep it. In that democraticization process civil society will need to be re-established. The re-establish process needs to include a religious component.
2015 will be an interesting year in how the President, Congress, and the Cuban government will proceed after this week’s announcement. If the Congress does not hold the President’s feet to the fire regarding Helms-Burton, then the animosity between Cuba and the U.S. will be one of a feeling of betrayal-in the sense that we no longer helped in their fight for democracy.