It should have played out much differently. War criminals should be tried for crimes against humanity, not feted by the most powerful, and exceptional, nation on earth. President Barack Obama is engaging in political voyeurism. Yet unlike other American tourists that visit the Cuban Communist gulag, his visit has consequences that will ripple throughout Cuban society, and indeed all the Western Hemisphere. Every tin horn dictator, or future strongman will understand that, sooner or later, Americans cave. The America I know and love never surrenders. The problem now is that we have a new generation of political and business leaders who have forgotten how to win.
Absolutely nothing good will come of this almost three-day tour. The Communist Party will do what it does well, orchestrate a propagandistic journey through its Potemkin village. It will do what it can to shield the American visitors from the truth: Cuba is a crumbling state, rotten to the core after decades of socialist economic planning and East German Stasi-like rule. A system that, to this day, is stealing property from Cuban citizens, persecuting Christians who refuse to tow the party line, and cracking down hard on political dissent and opposition.
The American delegation that joins the President for this spectacle, a group of people now close to 1,000 strong if you count the media is, mostly, well-intentioned. They should keep in mind that as soon as they are gone, the Cuban people are left, alone, to deal with their Communist Party overlords. American companies may ink business deals, arrangements that raise bring legal liability issues in the U.S., but Cuba remains, and will always be under the Communists, a slave economy that also has a serious human rights problem.
Supporters of President Obama’s foreign policy toward Cuba argue, among other things, that this approach is better than the last few decades. Sanctions have failed, they declare, as if that phrase were some political talisman. Maybe it is. The regime’s. The fact is that U.S. policy has succeeded remarkably well and these people, some driven by greed, others by ideological reasons, but most out of ignorance, have put in motion a process that will most assuredly lead to a more difficult, and potentially violent transition. The thousands of Cubans fleeing the island – the migrant crisis the media is ignoring – is evidence of the deteriorating situation.
The economic embargo approach was updated in the mid- and late-1990s with a set of laws that are designed to, yes, increase sanctions against the Communist party; however, it also put in motion a very generous outreach to the people of Cuba. This dual-track approach of “sanctions and support” was designed to update U.S. law as well as put U.S. interests in the driver’s seat in light of changing global circumstances. It will work because Cuba became a failed state years ago; as any socialist system inevitably becomes. The reality is that U.S. sanctions have never been about regime change. Ever. That canard is a favorite talking point of the regime, as well as those in Washington, DC that support them.
Americans and other persons subject to U.S. law should tread carefully with business transactions in Communist Cuba. Despite the recent federal regulatory changes, it is a legal regulatory minefield that could expose you to legal and, most certainly, high levels of risk for reputation loss in the U.S. market. Larger companies that can absorb potential issues that almost certainly arise in these high risk markets should adopt a voluntary corporate code of conduct for engaging in Cuba. The Cuban government may resist it, but it cannot do so forever. And Americans have something Cubans will always need: access to the U.S. market. Cuba needs us, more than we need them. It’s time U.S. business and political players acted in the U.S. interest, not Cuba.
The sanctions were put in place because Cuba, later with Soviet Union help, waged war on U.S. interests in Cuba, Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. Cuba stole private property from American citizens – the largest confiscation of U.S. property by any foreign government, likely ever. To this very day, Cuba is working with the enemies of the United States in a myriad of ways. The Cuban regime, dilapidated as it is, still manages to undermine U.S. interests throughout the Americas. By engaging with them, as well as easing sanctions, the Obama administration has thrown them a much-needed economic and political lifeline. Had Obama and his team followed the law, the outcome would be much different.
The statutory reason for our policy toward Cuba is a peaceful transition. There is a transition roadmap of things Cuba had to do to earn the privileged to regain access to the U.S. market. It is an approach that would help the people of Cuba, but most importantly, helped advance U.S. interests, including settling American property claims. It is a policy that puts U.S. national and security interests above all else. This trip, and the recent regulatory changes, some that are illegal, destroy this careful balancing of equities.
Without this dual-track approach conceived by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, President Obama would be unable to take a trip to Cuba this week. You see, but for U.S. law, there would not be a thriving Cuban civil society or opposition movement on the island. While Europeans, Canadians, and other foreign investors coddled the regime, American taxpayers did right and stood with the people of Cuba. By engaging with the enemy, we’ve lost the moral high ground and, to a point, we are no better than other regime facilitators who have helped keep that system in power for decades.