The President has demonstrated since December 17, 2014 that he is willing, even if it means ignoring the law, to press forward on the U.S.-Cuba question. Congress has been, mostly, missing in action. While the House moved appropriations product this month, most of it, in the unlikely event that it survives in conference, goes into effect in next year. Nothing has been done to stop the administration this year.
If Congressional had moved swiftly in early January to respond to the President’s December 17 proposed policy shift, it could have mounted a successful effort to keep Cuba on the state sponsors of terror list, where it belongs. Yet once that domino fell, without even a credible response, it gave the administration the green light it needed to proceed on several fronts to deconstruct U.S.-Cuba relations as well as the law and regulations that underpin it.
Meanwhile the Cuban Communist Party has been very busy racking up successes. In six months, with the assistance of the Obama administration and its legions of K Street lawyers and lobbyists, Cuba (1) was removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list; (2) opened a much-needed U.S. bank account; (3) eased U.S. sanctions in ways not seen since the late 1970s; and, most importantly for Cuban Communist Party leaders, (4) is well on its way to securing diplomatic recognition or, as Raul Castro likes to say, respect, from a long-time political foe.
And yesterday, as expected, Moody’s issued a press release stating that Cuba’s removal from the state sponsors of terror list was “credit positive” and, somewhat inexplicably, rates Cuba Caa2 with a stable outlook. Cuba has also reportedly reached an agreement with the Paris Club on its sovereign debt. The regime is just getting started and when the money and new financing begins to flow (a regional lender has already promised it may lend money), it will virtually guarantee a neo-Communist thugocracy for a few more years. This will make it much more difficult for Cuban resistance leaders to make a difference on the ground and it will afford fugitives from U.S. law, including terrorists, safe haven.
The new U.S.-Cuba reality has afforded the Cuban Communist Party breathing room in Cuba and around the world, especially in the Western Hemisphere. With the state sponsor of terror Scarlett Letter removed, Communist Party leaders have wasted no time making the most of its new found fortune. It was its green light it needed for the neo-communists to consolidate power, scramble to secure investors and financing, crack down on Cuban civil society, and violate human rights with impunity in ways not seen in Cuba in decades. The Russian and Chinese governments also see many new opportunities for mischief in the largest island of the Caribbean.
Contrary to what Cuba’s legions of beltway supporters argue, the mainstay of U.S.-Cuba policy is, as is stated in the law, remains and should be peaceful transition. The sanctions have been extremely effective even if they’ve been enforced half-heartedly by both Republican and Democratic administrations. We have a statutory roadmap in place, with clear benchmarks for Cuba that the President and the Congress are ignoring and, in some cases, using new regulations and attempting to pass new laws that will weaken the existing framework.
What is truly perverse about the last six months is how U.S. interests and values have been forgotten or ignored by the President and the Congress. Americans are owed billions of dollars by the Cuban regime for unlawfully confiscated properties, debt obligations, and recent judgments against Cuban officials for human rights abuses and, yes, murder and torture of Americans. With respect to human rights abuses, we are no longer engaging in the ‘support for the Cuban people’ as the law intended it to be.
Policymakers should put the brakes on the one-sided rapprochement and focus on putting U.S. interests ahead of sound bite politics. And U.S. companies that are allowed to do business in Cuba, should also pitch in by setting new standards of engagement– a voluntary Code of Conduct — that are consistent with U.S. better guarantee worker rights and defend property rights.