For decades Republican and Democratic presidents make perfunctory political pilgrimages to South Florida, Havana North, the political home of the Cuban Diaspora. With the exception, I think, of Jimmy Carter, every American President since John F. Kennedy has visited Miami to seek support from Americans of Cuban ancestry or, as President Donald Trump will do this morning, outline a policy vision that will put U.S. interests first, especially enforcing U.S. laws, on the books since the late 1990s, that form the bases of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
These interests include, but not limited to the compensation of American citizens by Cuba of billions of dollars it owes them for stolen properties Cuba took after the Communist takeover in 1959 but that Cuba, as is typical, did not paid for. I’ll discuss many more later in this post.
Shaped by the varied circumstances that give rise to such announcements, every trip of this sort is unique. President Trump will deliver his re-orientation of U.S. policy toward Cuba at a historic site named after the leader of the 2506 Brigade. Trump, of course, is keeping his word to the Cold War warriors who helped his campaign, the only true Trump supporters in the Cuban-American community, as well as hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans who were hungry for an end to cookie cutter politicians who, for decades after Reagan, did not follow Reagan’s approach for dealing with bad guys such as the Castro crime family.
About two blocks where Trump will speak today, in 1983, I saw in person an American president for the very first time, Ronald Reagan. There were a lot of people milling about waiting to catch a glimpse of the Gipper. As is the case with Trump’s trip, Reagan’s visit reset the course of U.S. policy toward Cuba and Latin America, a result of the disastrous foreign policy of the Carter administration and the foreign policy establishment. The Carter administration and the foreign policy establishment put U.S. interests in the back seat to working with Communists and Left wing governments throughout Latin America. The result? Instability and a weaker America and a much more unstable Western Hemisphere.
In addition to the Bay of Pigs veterans and their family members, President Trump will also meet with family members of four young Americans from my generation who were assassinated by the Cuban Air Force during the Clinton administration. The family members of the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down are still waiting for justice. They and other victims of Cuban Communism were ignored by the Obama administration. Trump’s willingness to include them in today’s event is a reminder that justice does not have a sell by date.
During both of Reagan’s 1983 Miami speeches he talked about the future of Cuba, met with community leaders, political prisoners, and other defenders of liberty, and had lunch at a popular local eatery, The Esquina de Tejas (The Texas Corner). Nothing fancy. If it were still around today, it would be featured in celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drives Ins and Dives. However, Reagan also talked about liberty, freedom, and the rule of law.
The details are slowing leaking from official sources about what President Trump will say today. Opponents of the President have spent a week, some of them foaming at the mouth, about what Trump may or may not say. Earlier in the week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted what it is store for today, but none of these people seem to have been paying attention. I’ve embedded at the end of this post a four-minute excerpt of Tillerson’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
There is going to be a re-orientation of U.S. policy today toward Cuba. It will put U.S. interests first and will remind Cuba of a few, but very important things. Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right.
If Cuba wants good relations with the American people, it needs to respect the American people. For example, Cuba needs to pay more than $8 billion it owes American families and companies for stolen properties it ever paid for after the 1959 Communist takeover. Cuba also needs to extradite terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. law. And the Brothers to the Rescue pilots, American citizens, need justice as do many other American families, victims of Cuban Communism.
And, I doubt President Trump will discuss this in Miami, Cuba will need to pick a lane in foreign affairs as well as figure out if engaging in aggressive espionage against the United States and U.S. interests is worth the effort. If Cuba keeps working with terror state Iran and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, there will be consequences. Despite the premature removal of Cuba from the State Department’s state sponsor of terrorism list, Cuba needs to change its behavior or risk being re-listed.
With respect to travel to Cuba by Americans, there will be an adjustment but just to make sure it is consistent with the law. The embassy will stay open and, maybe, fully staffed. All this, and more engagement with the people of Cuba, is a very good thing. And, I expect, there will be plenty of space for U.S. companies to engage in a Cuba market.
Enforcing the law makes up U.S. policy toward Cuba will help American companies engage with confidence, and not in the uncertainty created by the Obama administration’s regulatory morass that made if extremely difficult for U.S. companies to enter Cuba because lawyers could not agree what was allowed and not allowed under the current legal constructs. As Secretary Tillerson said to the Senate this week, if changes need to be made to the law, then the Congress needs to amend the law. America cannot tell private persons to break the law, something that the Obama administration was doing with its regulatory overreach.
Cuban Communism lost. Liberty is winning. President Donald Trump is completing what Reagan started. And that is good. President Trump did not, as his opponents argued this past week, shut it all down.These and many other factors outlined in U.S. law, a law that has been ignored by many administrations, including Republicans, is the roadmap. What the President will announce in Miami today, and the agencies to follow up on in 90 days are initial actions that will help refocus U.S. policy consistent with U.S. law.
The announcement today, much like Ronald Reagan’s in 1983 is about Liberty and Freedom for the entire Western Hemisphere. The ball is now in Cuba’s court. Cuba needs to pick a lane.