For Obama Administration, Castro is Part of the Solution -- Not the Problem

Thursday, March 12, 2015
By Rudy Mayor of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group:

Last week, a group of young Cuban-Americans under the age of 35 traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with The White House, State Department and Members of Congress to voice their concerns about ongoing negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Castro regime.

The trip was led by the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group, a diverse group of young professionals and student leaders, founded in July 2013 to engage young Cuban-Americans about human rights in Cuba on social media and in their communities.

The following are my impressions about the progress and purpose of the ongoing U.S.-Cuba negotiations, as a young Cuban-American who was given a glimpse into Washington's top policy-makers.

The Obama Administration knows its new Cuba policy is irreversible and its chances of ushering in democracy is extremely speculative, but they’re pushing it anyway. Human history provides no example where the approach of “democracy through tourism” has succeeded. In fact, for decades freedom-loving Europeans, Latin Americans and others have flocked to Cuba’s beaches and resorts with only a record number of political arrests to show for it. Throughout this time, the Castro regime has been perfecting its deplorable art of repression, while manipulating international travel and investment. As long as the Cuban military owns and controls Cuba’s tourism industry, increased American tourism will do more to finance the government’s repression than it will to end it. Although frequently abused, humanitarian and family travel remain the most effective ways of providing purposeful support to the Cuban people -- but these categories of travel were already permitted under current U.S. law.

The Obama Administration’s new Cuba policy is based, in part, on two fundamental misunderstandings: (1) their overcompensation for the power of leisure tourism to effectuate political change and (2) their miscalculation that entrepreneurs are less dependent on the Cuban government today than they used to be. Specifically, the Obama Administration sees the creation of cuentapropistas – or self-employed - categories as an example of Cuba moving in the direction of economic liberalization. However, because the same cuentapropistas went largely unregulated prior to the Cuban government’s “reforms,” the creation of these categories were actually a strategic way for the Cuban government to bring the “black market” within its oppressive control. What the Obama Administration perceived as a favorable economic environment for adopting a new Cuba policy was actually a mirage of the Castro regime’s policy to exert more control over Cuba’s entrepreneurs.

In considering whether to take Cuba off the state-sponsors of terrorism list, the Obama Administration is full of “strict constructionists.” One of the many preconditions to normalization imposed by the Castro regime is that Cuba be taken off the state-sponsors of terrorism list. The evidence reveals that in 2013, Cuba was caught smuggling 240 tons of heavy weaponry to North Korea, which was described by a U.N. panel as the largest and most egregious violation of international sanctions to date. Just last week, a Chinese-flagged ship was intercepted in Colombia carrying an illegal supply of weapons headed for Cuba's military. These included 99 rockets, 3,000 cannon shells, 100 tons of military-grade dynamite and 2.6 million detonators. What could the Castro regime need 2.6 million detonators for, if not to arm our enemies? Cuba also continues to harbor individuals on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, including Joanne Chesimard, who escaped a federal prison after the execution-style murder of a New Jersey state trooper. What is considered cold-blooded murder in any rule-of-law country is seen by the Castro regime as an action worthy of political protection under the auspices of asylum. Cuba also arms and trains Venezuela’s violent paramilitary groups, known as colectivos, which target students and peaceful demonstrators whom have been systematically gunned down by their recently sanctioned government. To facilitate these so-called “historic” Cuba negotiations, the Obama Administration is adopting a disingenuously “strict” interpretation of what constitutes “international terrorism” with the predetermined goal of taking Cuba off the list. Before taking Cuba off the state-sponsors of terrorism list, the Castro regime must also provide “assurances” that it will not support international terrorist acts in the future. One can imagine that Cuba’s own interpretation of what constitutes “international terrorism” will be as hyper-technical and politically motivated as President Obama’s.

To achieve the enactment of its new Cuba policy, the Obama Administration is deliberately excluding the Cuban-American community from discussions and meaningful decision-making. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama told a group of Cuban-Americans in Miami: "I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations." Despite promising a Cuba policy centered on libertad, President Obama deliberately chose not to consult with leaders of the Cuban-American community before deciding on a fundamentally different policy approach. By normalizing relations with Cuba before any political reforms had taken place, President Obama abandoned freedom as a necessary precondition to lifting the embargo. Members of the Cuban-American community were understandably shocked and betrayed by the President’s announcement. Faced with the uncomfortable task of justifying its empty tourism-centered policy to victims of the Castro regime, the Obama Administration has opted to exclude the Cuban-American community altogether until its new Cuba policy is firmly implemented. The result is a new U.S.-Cuba relationship devoid of any input from Cubans or Cuban-Americans but replete with misinformed interpretations of what life is like on that imprisoned island.

The Obama Administration would rather stabilize the Castro regime than promote change in Cuba, if it means avoiding their exaggerated fears of a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States. It's no secret that increasing political and economic instability in Venezuela threatens a sharp downturn in Cuba’s generously subsidized economy. However, the threat of a second “special period” or a replay of the Mariel boatlift is highly unlikely. Expanding tourism and trade with the Castro Regime calms the Obama Administration’s xenophobic fears of a mass Cuban migration, but it does so at the expense of Cuba’s pro-democracy opposition. As the Executive Director of Roots of Hope said after they came out of the political closet -- "The goal is not regime change in Cuba. It’s not to bring down government.” Instead, it is a perverted version of “trickle-down economics” that relies on the Castro regime's goodwill to make the lives of average Cubans better. The Obama Administration has made clear with its actions that the Castro regime is now part of the solution and not necessarily the problem.