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Cuba, Pick a Lane

Hurricane Irma has reportedly caused extensive damage in the Caribbean, including Cuba. Yet whatever damage Irma may have caused in Cuba, it pales in comparison to what socialism has been inflicting since 1959 on the Cuban people and the Western Hemisphere.

There is chatter about sending U.S. assistance to help the storm-ravaged Caribbean region. In the case of Cuba, not one cent should be expended until Cuba meets certain conditions. Cuba has a long track record of rejecting U.S. assistance and I doubt that will change; however, will socialist Cuban leaders dawdle, the Catholic Church provides an alternative vehicle to get help to the island independent of the government.

What does the United States need or want from socialist Cuba? Frankly, not much; however, now America need answers on what has happened to more than 20 U.S. government personnel who were dispatched to Havana to serve at the recently re-opened U.S. Embassy. Until that happens, there should be no other action item on the table. Acoustic? Chemical? Other? Does not matter how it happened, it has been happening since the Obama administration and whoever did it must be held to account (August 26 blog post).

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. President Donald Trump (20 January 2017)

After the U.S. Embassy matter has been resolved, the Trump administration should continue on its America First approach toward Cuba and, indeed, all of Latin America. Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. If Cuba seeks to access the American financial and visa system, there need to be few ground rules. For example, Cuba owes American taxpayers billions of dollars for properties, homes, and businesses that it stole in 1959. Under Cuban laws in force at the time, as well as customary international norms, Cuba needs to compensate the original owners or the current holders of the interest in the claim. U.S. law requires that Cuba show progress in this space; something that many prior administrations have simply ignored.

Putting property rights of Americans and claims at or near the top of the list, and not at the bottom, will set the right tone for other subjects that must be discussed with the Cubans. Seriously advocating for U.S. taxpayers who are owed billions by Cuba is consistent with President Trump’s inaugural statement that “a nation exists to serve its citizens.” It can also set the right foundation to discuss other matters such as human rights in Cuba that are under assault on a daily basis, especially property rights.

A dialogue on property rights can help advance U.S. policy goals in many ways. Remember that Cubans are not allowed to own private property. That is why the socialist government of Cuba does not want to talk about this issue. There are many things socialist Cuban leaders want to punt. That must end. U.S. law provides a roadmap, but there is so much more than can and should be done to properly refocus U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Trump administration has been making that so.

Concurrent with the property rights discussion is the security dialogue, if one is even possible, about Cuba’s relations with American adversaries including, but not limited to, Iran and North Korea, as well as terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Cuba’s meddling in Venezuela must stop; this will take time but it should be a non-negotiable action item. Cuba’s relations with Russia, and to a lesser extent China, also require U.S. attention. Since Cuba lacks natural resources such as oil, Russia and China are in Cuba for geo-strategic, non-economic reasons such as espionage and otherwise cause trouble for American interests in the Americas. Cuba needs to pick a lane, soon.

After 58 years of hardline socialist rule, Cuba is in shambles politically, socially, and economically. The socialists are nervous. Future leaderships and money streams are at stake. If the Cuban people want to stick with that system, that is for the people of Cuba to decide.

The recent set of incidents involving U.S. government personnel in Cuba, and President Trump’s re-orientation of U.S. policy toward the Americas, particularly Cuba, affords Uncle Sam a unique opportunity to recast U.S.-Cuba and Hemispheric relations in a way that few American president’s have had the ability or courage to do.

A new generation of Cuban leaders want to retake their nation and lead it out of the morass. And despite what the naysayers argue, Cuban civil society and opposition leaders are ready for the challenges that lay ahead. They don’t need coddling from the outside, but strong American leadership would help them help themselves.

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