Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won't be able to reverse U.S. overture to Cuba
Obama wants to normalize relations with Cuba
Business interests, especially in agriculture, are eager to invest
Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz expected to lead pushback
BY MARY SANCHEZ
Pity Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
The two Cuban-American senators are relatively young, in their mid-40s.
And their political rise coincides with a change in U.S.-Cuban relations
that neither particularly welcomes.
Cruz and Rubio will likely be politically active when full trade
relations with Cuba are finally restored. Though both are vying for the
Republican presidential nomination, it's unlikely that either will be in
the White House when that evolution occurs. That's just as well, as both
have taken the firmly anti-engagement posture of their Republican elders.
Yet the winds of U.S. commerce are blowing strong against the famous
seawall protecting Havana, the Malecon. And these are strong gusts, able
to topple the Cold War-era groundings of Rubio and Cruz.
The coming year will be crucial.
Jan. 1 will mark the 57th anniversary of Fidel Castro's overthrow of
Fulgencio Batista. A year ago, President Barack Obama's announcement to
press for normalized relations kicked off a flurry of activity. Much of
it was organizing by business interests with strong Republican ties,
eager for Cuban markets.
The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a group of corporations and
trade groups, officially stepped forward to press for lifting the
embargo in the month after Obama's announcement. A bipartisan committee
was organized in the House to look at normalizing relations. In May,
Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In
August, in another milestone, the U.S. Embassy was ceremonially reopened
Governors of numerous states have sent exploratory trade delegations to
Cuba, especially those eager to increase agricultural exports. The most
recent trip had Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visiting in late November. Cuba
imports nearly 80 percent of its food.
Despite the movement, it will be impossible to fully unwind the
bureaucratic stalemates between our two countries quickly.
How much can be accomplished between now and the end of Obama's term is
crucial. As with immigration reform and so many other measures, there is
only so much Obama can do through executive action and policy change.
Congressional cooperation will be necessary to lift the embargo and to
manage the details of banking and a related thorny issue: the nearly $8
billion in claims (including interest) of U.S. corporations and citizens
whose assets and property were seized by Castro after the revolution.
Those losses were a key reason for the embargo in the first place.
In early December, the first talks were held in Havana by State
Department officials to settle the claims. Early reporting indicated
they didn't get very far. Some experts have speculated that the Castro
regime threw down its own counterclaim, asking for reparations for the
economic costs of the trade embargo, which Cuba has put at more than
In another year, the U.S. will have a new president, and it is unlikely
to be one as headstrong as Obama has been about opening to Cuba, even if
it is Hillary Clinton.
Rubio, Cruz and other Republicans can be counted on to stall the
progress that Obama has made. But they won't completely stop it.
The crux of their opposition is the dismal human rights record of Fidel
and Raul Castro. Rubio and Cruz don't sidestep the jailing of dissidents
and other human rights abuses as so many Americans, particularly
business interests, conveniently do. Yet they differ from many of their
middle-aged Cuban-American contemporaries, who increasingly support
lifting the embargo.
The two senators have come of political age in a fast-changing era for
Regardless of who prevails in the GOP presidential nomination, Cuba is
no longer a geopolitical threat. And in American politics, the interests
of business come first.
Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, firstname.lastname@example.org, @msanchezcolumn
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