A small Caribbean country with a population comparable to that of Ohio (Ohio has a GDP close to half a trillion), Communist Cuba (GDP, maybe, according to World Bank data, $67 billion) continues to generate a disproportionate amount of media attention, some of it bordering on political voyeurism. The serious issues, the ones that matter or should, are barely covered by the media or politicos.
Cuba owes American taxpayers, for starters, close to $8 billion in certified property claims. Cuba is also on the hook for billions more arising from unpaid sovereign debt, uncertified claims, and victims of Cuban terrorism and human rights abuses who hold judgements against the regime. And that is just the beginning.
Cuba is off the U.S. terror list, but Cuba remains a terrorist state and a national security problem for the United States.
The ranks of the Cuban Communist Party, the only legal political party in Cuba, are full of human rights abusers, money launderers, and, yes, war criminals. The regime harbors fugitives from U.S. justice including terrorists and makes it easier for China and Russia to poke around in the Americas. If you really take your time, you’ll also make linkages to terror networks that span the Americas all the way to the Middle East.
And despite poor mouthing by Cuban Communist Party officials, the regime seems to have a sufficient amount of money to carry out a very aggressive and anti-American foreign policy throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Keep these issues in mind next time you read a story about travel to Cuba.
The next shoe to drop in this Faustian bargain will be the re-opening of the embassies. The United States and Cuban governments are reportedly set to restore diplomatic relations early this summer. Considering how many issues still remain unresolved between the two countries, it seems, well, odd.
Congress, for some peculiar reason, appears to have thrown in the towel on the embassy. Policymakers may think that there are bigger battles ahead or, possibly, they’ve bought in to the erroneous argument that the President has executive authority to make it so. There are no battles ahead, we are in the midst of one. And with respect to executive authority, as is the case with immigration, President Obama has gone unchecked.
While the Constitution vests the President with a great deal of power in foreign affairs, Congress also has the ability to reign him in. ‘Because I can,’ that is essentially what he is saying, is not a legal basis for the President to ignore existing law with respect to Cuba. But that is exactly what he is doing and Congress is allowing him to get away it. Take a look at Helms-Burton, Sec 201(13):
To consider the restoration of diplomatic recognition… when the President determines that there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba.
It says merely consider, not make it so. And it says when, not maybe in the future, there is a democratically elected government. This section of Helms-Burton, read in conjunction with other laws and the Cuban Asset Control Regulations, afford a first year Congressional staffer with sufficient ammunition to rally Congressional leaders to hold the President’s feet to the fire. The administration justifies their action arguing that they are merely ‘upgrading’ the relationship. It is word game that the administration is, for now, winning.
There have been a few measures voted on that, if they survive in the Senate and make it to the President’s desk, could strengthen sanctions. Next year. This is one of the primary reasons why Yleem and I in January, as well as a small cadre of U.S.-Cuba policy watchers in and out of the government, firmly believed that Congress should’ve robustly challenged the flawed report from the intelligence community, essentially drafted in by the NSC, on the Cuba state sponsors of terrorism question.
Recent votes in the House on the Cuba question show that Congress had the votes to pass a resolution of disapproval on SST issue. Had they done so, it would have set the tone and sent a clear signal to Havana and the White House that it best slow down, or things would become politically ugly.
If they have not done so already, the administration will find the money in FY15 funds to open the Havana embassy, as well as pay for a July 4 party. They do not need to name an Ambassador, they can just run the place with someone akin to a deputy chief of mission and, down the road, make a recess appointment.
Again, as with the SST matter, the political damage is already done. The Cuban regime gets what it has always wanted, and it has nothing to do with easing sanctions. Rather, it affords them a much-wanted patina of legitimacy and respect from the American people it has not earned. It sends the wrong message to world, and to the Cuban people.
What can Congress do now, this year?
Robust oversight, for starters, because if not, the by the end of 2015 we’ll have an embargo in name only as well as very little political leverage to resolve outstanding issues that are in the U.S. national interest. In the meantime, the Communist Party of Cuba is smiles. All the way to the bank.