We need a Cuba policy that truly serves the Cuban people
José R. Cárdenas
As the 2016 presidential campaign began heating up - and Florida
appeared more and more winnable - the Donald Trump campaign began
increasing its criticisms of President Barack Obama's 2014 decision to
reverse the United States' longstanding policy towards Cuba. In Miami in
September, then-candidate Trump said, "All of the concessions Barack
Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order,
which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do
unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands."
In October, Trump's running mate Mike Pence said, "When Donald Trump and
I take to the White House, we will reverse Barack Obama's executive
orders on Cuba."
The drumbeat has continued post-election. In late November,
President-elect Trump tweeted, "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better
deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a
whole, I will terminate deal."
A Trump spokesman followed with, "This has been an important issue, and
it will continue to be one. Our priorities are the release of political
prisoners, return of fugitives from American law, and also political and
religious freedoms for all Cubans living in oppression."
Clearly, changes are coming to U.S.-Cuba policy under Trump. But what to
replace Obama's policy with? Certainly no one argues for a return to the
status quo ante. Instead, the president-elect's new team should seize
the opportunity to bring energy and creativity to truly empowering the
Cuban people to reclaim their right to decide their own destiny.
If Obama's ill-fated policy reaffirmed one thing (aside from the Castro
regime's congenital intransigence), it is the Cuban people's enormous
desire for change. But that can't be supported at the same time as
embracing the regime, which Obama failed to grasp. The two are
That being said, the new administration could begin its review of Cuba
policy by focusing on three immediate imperatives:
1. Re-establish common cause with Cuban dissidents and human rights
activists. Perhaps the worst aspect of Obama's policy was shunting these
brave Cubans to the back of the policy bus. Obama may believe the U.S.
lacks moral authority to advocate on behalf of human rights, but the
fact is a strong and unconditional stance by the U.S. serves as an
inspiration to those struggling for basic rights around the world, as
well as sending an important signal about American purpose.
The U.S. must return to a policy that prioritizes providing both moral
and material support for Cuba's dissidents and human rights activists.
Funding for Cuba democracy programs was redirected by the Obama
administration to other activities on the island. Not only should those
programs be returned to their original purpose, but additional support
ought to be sought from the new Congress. Human rights in Cuba must also
be reprioritized at the United Nations, other international forums, and
in U.S. public diplomacy campaigns.
2. Review all executive orders issued by Obama and commercial deals
struck under the Obama administration. They all ought to be judged
according to a single standard: Do they help the Cuban people or do they
buttress the Castro regime? Any activity found to be sustaining the
regime's control rather than directly benefiting the Cuban people should
be scrapped. For example, cruise ships that fill military-owned hotels
are hard to justify. The guidelines could be: Does the activity promote
and strengthen human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly? Does
it improve ordinary Cubans access to the internet and information,
breaking down the Castro regime's wall of censorship placed between the
Cuban people and the outside world, and between Cubans themselves? Does
it help to lessen Cubans' dependence on the regime? Does it allow for
reputable nongovernmental organizations to freely operate on the island?
3. Review Cuban immigration policies. Cubans today are the beneficiaries
of generous U.S. immigration privileges. The Cuban Adjustment Act of
1966 allows Cubans reaching U.S. shores to be automatically paroled into
the country, and a year and a day later they are eligible for permanent
residency. On top of that, the U.S. grants at least 20,000 visas a year
to Cubans in a lottery. What has happened is that the Castro regime has
turned those policies into another economic lifeline. Many Cubans now
emigrating are arriving in the U.S. only to turn around and ferry
consumer goods back to the island. Certainly no one can begrudge Cubans
trying to help their families on the island, but the situation has
become morally inverted. What began as efforts to help Cubans fleeing
tyranny has become a situation in which the regime's victims are now
relied upon to provide it economic sustenance.
An overhaul of Obama's policy toward Cuba is needed, but it does not
have to mean a return to the stasis of the past. With newfound political
will and creativity, it can mean the implementation of a policy that
unapologetically supports the aspirations of the Cuban people for a
future devoid of the Castro regime. U.S. policy should be targeted at
convincing Cubans that such a future exists, and inspires them to work
Source: We need a Cuba policy that truly serves the Cuban people -
Chicago Tribune -