Cuba 'normalization': Euphoria meets reality
By Gardner Peckham
Media reports last week trumpeted the "normalization" of US-Cuba
relations but in the light of day this widespread euphoria crashes
headlong into the reality of the limited running room available to the
Obama administration and it supporters in Congress.
From the early 1960's until the 1990's, nearly all U.S. economic
sanctions aimed at Cuba were imposed by Executive Order under the "Cuban
Assets Control Regulations issued by the U.S. Treasury Department. But,
with enactment of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and even more so with
the "Helms/Burton" legislation in 1996, the economic embargo was
strengthened and codified into legal statute, that is law. As a result,
the only way the economic embargo on Cuba can be meaningfully lifted is
with the advent of Jeffersonian democracy in Cuba or, in lieu of that,
Congress repealing or changing the law. Since the Administration's
negotiators appear to have received no concessions on liberalizing Cuban
governance, it would seem that Congress must act to repeal some or all
of the embargo, or most of what the White House achieved is somewhere
between hope and (prospective) change.
Another significant obstacle for the administration is the fact that
when the Castro regime came to power, it confiscated and nationalized
$1.8 billion of U.S. property, now worth in excess of $7 billion. Nearly
six thousand U.S. owners of factories, oil refineries, mines, and other
business enterprises owned by U.S. individuals and corporations were
seized and many of those property claims remain active. In order to
satisfy Helms/Burton, these claims must be resolved.
Meanwhile, reaction on Capitol Hill was swift and predictable. While
some Republicans and Democrats supported the White House, well-placed
and significant party leaders on both sides denounced the deal with
Cuba. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez
(D-N.J.) said that "President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal
behavior of the Cuban government." House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said "it is still unclear what steps the
Cuban government is taking in return for this change in U.S. policy…. I
am very troubled by the lack of engagement with Congress on this serious
The president is chiefly responsible for the conduct of U.S. diplomacy
and has, within the bounds of the Helms/Burton law, authority to
administer sanctions with some, limited flexibility and licensing
authority. And, he has promised to use more of that authority to allow
family, educational, and other visits to Cuba by Americans. He can
reestablish diplomatic ties with the Cuban government but a U.S.
ambassador must be confirmed by the Senate. He can seek to open an
embassy in Havana, and there is currently a "U.S. Interests Section"
(formally, part of the Swiss embassy, but a separate facility) but must
have appropriations in order to operate it, or buy, construct or restore
a more robust diplomatic facility there.
In announcing this new policy, the White House suggested that the
president is "charting a new course on Cuba." The bottom line is that
while he can chart that new course, sailing the ship of state in this
dramatically new direction will require the cooperation of other members
of the crew, including the Congress. No orders from the Commander in
Chief – Executive or otherwise – can force Congress to agree to this
fundamental course change. Given that fact, failing to notify the crew
of his plans prior to announcing them, was probably not a propitious way
in which to foster a spirit of cooperation with the new Congress.
Peckham is managing director at Prime Policy Group, a DC-based
government relations firm.
Source: Cuba 'normalization': Euphoria meets reality | TheHill -