Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Republican Case for Obama’s Cuba Policy

A Republican Case for Obama's Cuba Policy
The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
A Republican Case for Obama's Cuba Policy

Washington — I WAS born in Havana in November 1953, about six years
before Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba. In July 1960, my family
fled to the United States in search of freedom. Like many Cubans, they
left behind close relatives, a business, property and memories. We lost

My parents' decision to seek exile in the United States has been the
single most important event of my life. Thanks to their vision, and the
safety and opportunity of this country, I have achieved personal and
professional success beyond anything I could have imagined as a
7-year-old refugee in Miami. I became a citizen, embraced my life as a
new American and fell in love with the New York Yankees.

Like many fellow Republicans and Cuban-Americans, I was critical when
President Obama announced in December 2014 that his administration would
begin to normalize ties between the United States and Cuba. After years
of hostility and failed attempts at détente, I wondered: Did the Cuban
government really want better ties with America, or was this simply
another chess move in a tired game? After all, Mr. Obama is not the
first president to try to change the relationship with Cuba — Mr.
Castro's revolution has outlived 10 American administrations.

Today, I am cautiously optimistic for the first time in 56 years. I see
a glimmer of hope that, with Cuba allowing even a small amount of
entrepreneurship and many American companies excited about entering a
new market, we can actually help the Cuban people.

My 30-year career at the Kellogg Company taught me that, at its best,
business can have a transformational and uplifting impact on communities
and whole societies. It is because of that belief that I have always
been proud to call myself a Republican.

As secretary of commerce in the administration of George W. Bush, I was
a voice for American business abroad and saw firsthand that our private
sector could be the best ambassador for American values, such as the
power of free enterprise to raise living standards and the importance of
being free to work where one chooses.

I believe that it is now time for Republicans and the wider American
business community to stop fixating on the past and embrace a new
approach to Cuba.

It has now been six months since Mr. Obama's policy shift was announced.
Both governments have confirmed plans to open embassies, and
negotiations have covered a variety of issues, including the extradition
of American fugitives who fled to Cuba. Almost every week a new
congressional delegation lands in Havana. From a
government-to-government perspective, there has not been so much
communication between the United States and Cuba in 50 years. I never
expected negotiations to get this far.

On the business side, scores of Americans have begun to travel to Cuba
under expanded licenses. American credit card companies have been
authorized to handle transactions in Cuba. Some of the most innovative
companies in the world, like Airbnb and Netflix, have begun to offer
their services in Cuba. The New York Cosmos soccer team has played
exhibition matches on the island, and the National Basketball
Association has sponsored a workshop in Havana.

Some presidential candidates, including the Cuban-American senators
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have argued that Mr. Obama has conceded too
much. The truth is that the changes so far have been incremental and
this will be a long and gradual process.

Contrary to popular belief, President Obama's executive actions do not
allow for free and open commerce with Cuba, nor do they open the doors
for Americans to visit the island as tourists; the Helms-Burton Act of
1996 codified the embargo that prohibits most American companies from
undertaking transactions with Cuba, and travel remains restricted.
Rather, the reforms have allowed some American companies and individuals
to engage in limited additional activities in Cuba.

Perhaps most critical among these activities has been granting Americans
the right to support a new generation of Cuban-born entrepreneurs and
Cuban-run small businesses. This move is a logical response to a change
allowed by the Castro regime in recent years. These small-business
owners and their employees will need tools, supplies, building materials
and training in accounting, logistics and other areas. The new reforms
allow American citizens and businesses to address such needs, and I am
hopeful the Cuban government will allow its citizens to take full
advantage of their assistance.

Cubans yearn not only for these interactions but also for a time when
they can enjoy opportunities to chart their own course in life without
having to leave their home, as I did 55 years ago.

There are those who will always wish for the past, whether it is
pre-Castro Cuba or the days before the current rapprochement. Some of my
fellow Cuban-Americans insist that continuing to squeeze Cuba
economically will help the Cuban people because it will lead to
democracy. I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most
basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this
approach is helpful to them.

America must look to the future instead — and pursue this opportunity to
assist Cubans in building a new economy. There is a lot of work to do,
and progress will be slow. However, the business community and my fellow
Cuban-Americans and Republicans should not ignore the possibilities
ahead. The Cuban people need and deserve our help.

Carlos M. Gutierrez, a former chief executive of Kellogg and secretary
of commerce, is co-chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Source: A Republican Case for Obama's Cuba Policy - The New York Times -

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