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Using Innocent People As Weapons

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” Frederick Douglas

One of the many unwritten stories of the Obama administration’s disastrous foreign policy of engagement with tyrants includes the silent Cuba migrant crisis. According to a leading research non-profit that documents human rights abuses in Cuba, about 400,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States since 2009. That is nearly 3 times the number of migrants that arrived in the United States during the Mariel boat lift of 1980. The President’s ill-timed and reckless decision yesterday to amend Cuba immigration regulations could exacerbate this problem into a full-blown national security as well as a humanitarian crisis, Mariel II where people will die, or the very opposite of state U.S. policy goals.

Communist Cuba makes it a priority to find loopholes in U.S. laws to undermine U.S. economic sanctions, even if it means using its people to make it so. Since the 1980s, but especially after the end of the Cold War, Communist Party planners to set out to find new sources of income to replace Soviet-era economic and political largesse. It found low hanging fruit 90 miles north and U.S. immigration laws made it real easy for them to create political and economic networks in the United States. Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as Congresses, have repeatedly failed to close these legal and policy loopholes. In some cases, such as Cuban doctor policy of the Bush administration, they made the problem a whole lot worse.

As a result of weak policy responses, or no action by U.S. policymakers, Cuba’s leading source of income today is not sugar or tourism, but money from the United States by Cubans living in South Florida, New Jersey, New York, California, and a few other states. One economist who fled Cuba about a decade ago estimates that remittances from the United States to Cuba are about $2 to $4 billion a year! In an island nation ruled by Communist kleptocrats, that is a whole lot of dough. Regime officials figured out a long time ago, as have other autocrats, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins in Latin America that remittances make for easy money.

U.S. laws with respect to Cuban emigres should’ve been changed long ago. For example, the Cuban Adjustment Act was designed in a different time. While the political conditions of the island remain the same, and in some cases are much worse after President Obama engaged with the regime, the U.S. immigration laws with respect to Cuba remain anchored in the Cold War and the regime is exploiting it. The Cuban Adjustment Act needs to be repealed and replaced to ensure that only victims of Communist oppression benefit from the generosity of the American taxpayer.

The President’s executive order, supposedly, does not impact the Cuban Adjustment Act; however, it will create legal uncertainty and will force the Trump administration to, literally, pick winners and losers on the high seas. This will place a lot of strain on an already stressed Coast Guard and other homeland security professionals. The rescinding of wet-foot/dry foot, as well as ending the preferential parole status of Cuban medical doctors is a concession to the regime and is consistent with ambivalent U.S. policy postures toward Cuba since the end of the Cold War.

In 1995, before going to law school, and the same year wet-foot/dry foot went into effect, I completed a Master’s degree at Georgetown University that included a review of recent changes to U.S.-Cuba policy. One of the conclusions of my thesis was that a recently approved law, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, unduly weakened U.S. sanctions and set us on the wrong path on dealing with Cuba:

“the CDA has either by hook or by crook juxtaposed the moral imperative of the Cuban people, namely to pursue another form of government besides Fidel Castro, to the national interests of the U.S. Sure, a peaceful transition to democracy is a meritorious goal and should be encouraged by the U.S., however, to try to somehow craft the end result through legislation which ignores basic U.S. national interests is disingenuous to all parties involved, especially to the citizens of the United States, and in the end, the Cuban people which look to the United States for leadership. At most, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 is a first-step in a much more protracted process” that requires more, not less targeted economic sanctions and less engagement with the regime.

The CDA was a calculated move to allegedly increase economic sanctions, but also weaken them by allowing U.S. persons to provide telecommunications services to Cuba. The law spawn the “help the Cuban people” or “people to people” shibboleths. It was America’s way of taking a position without really taking a position that, at its core, all it did was prolong the inevitable: regime collapse. Nation-states with communist or socialist, sooner or later, fail. Rather than press on with a robust, targeted, and updated sanctions policy, the U.S. tried to be all things to all people and, in the end, may even make matters worse of the people of Cuba.

The 1995 law, and the Helms-Burton law of 1997 are the best that could be political created at the time but put in motion a process that has weakened economic sanctions and disproportionately helped the regime stay in power by flooding the bank accounts with billions of dollars from travel fees and, more importantly, remittances from Cubans living in the United States.

The highly lucrative remittance pipeline was largely made possible because of the Cuban Adjustment Act, wet-foot/dry-foot, and the medical parole immigration laws. In the process, U.S. foreign and national security interests took a back seat because the incentives were shifted to things other than, such as, requiring Cuba to return fugitives from U.S. law such as cop-killers or terrorists or securing compensation for American taxpayers for billions Communist Cuba stole from Americans during the Communist takeover of the island.

While I did not write in my thesis about the Cuban Adjustment Act or the policy that Obama rescinded yesterday, twenty plus years ago I supported scrapping all preferential treatment for Cubans because, in part, immigration laws were being used by the regime to undermine U.S. economic sanctions by sending people to the United States to set up businesses to send money back to Cuba. Ironically this is the one thing President Obama has done that I support, albeit not the way he and the Novelist in Residence, Ben Rhodes, rolled it out. The White House handed the tyrants yet another propaganda win and, of course, the U.S. taxpayer has absolutely nothing to show for it. Indeed, as Florida Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in her statement yesterday:

“instead of standing up for U.S. democratic values and seeking the return of fugitives from U.S. justice like Joanne Chesimard or seeking compensation for U.S. citizens for their confiscated properties. In another bad deal by the Obama administration ….”.

Another potential danger that could result from this abrupt change is a migration crisis created by the uncertainties that this ill-timed policy shift has created. If Cubans decide to take to the high seas in rickety vessels, many will die. It will stress our homeland security defense and put the Trump administration in a tough political position of having to decide whether to send people back to the Communist gulag. President Obama and his national security team know this and that makes their move especially cruel. In my book, the Obama administration is doing as the Cuban regime has done for decades, using innocent people to advance a selfish and misguided agenda.

Frederick Douglas wrote, “[p]ower concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” It is time to demand more from Communist Cuba and concede list. If we fail to do so, the United States will lose whatever moral authority remains with the people of Cuba, and the U.S. taxpayer, to do right by all of them.

  • Yuri Perez Vazquez

    Jason, excellent article. I agree with most of your arguments, except with your support for ending the program for Cuban medical personnel. The doctors are deserting, they deserve protection and like me, they are not allowed back in Cuba next year, so they don’t contribute to the widespread abuse CAA beneficiaries do. Also the medical parole program benefits a small number of people (I’m sending you the numbers), it is insignificant in terms of future remittances, but it is net loss for the regime in terms of loss of slave labor force, plus it uncovers the truth behind the “Castro solidarity”.
    I think the CAA should be totally repealed, not reformed because the true refugees can still be protected under our existing laws as all the other foreigners with credible claims.
    This is a must read: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/us-cuba-welfare-benefits/

    • Yuri, thank you for the comments. As far as ending the CMPP program, I believe it has outlived its purpose and the circumstances related to US-Cuba matter have significantly changed since it was first implemented during the Bush administration.

      There are also significant security risks inherent in the CMPP program because, frankly, we have no idea if the medical professional allowed into the U.S. are leaving for economic or political reasons or if it provides a backdoor for Cuban intelligence. Based on information provided by experts in this field, Cuba may be using CMPP to undermine U.S. interests.

      When I discuss reforming the CAA, a matter that I have advocated since the mid-1990s, I mean repeal and replace it. However, so long as Cuba remains a Communist gulag, there is a very strong policy argument to extend some consideration under U.S. immigration laws to people fleeing Communist oppression.

  • Yuri Perez Vazquez
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