By Tom Wrobleski in The Staten Island Advance:
Liberty before profit for Cuba
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to ensure that New York is at the front of the line when Cuba is finally open for business.
Human rights? Yeah, we can talk about that too.
Cuomo has been in Cuba this week to meet with government and business officials. He is the first sitting governor to visit the Communist-dominated island nation since President Barack Obama thawed relations with the Castro regime.
Cuomo got a Cuban cigar, and his eyes lit up at the sight of a '56 Chevy. The governor is a bit of a car nut. He was photographed with a mojito.
Cuomo isn't alone on this jaunt. Traveling with him were reps from JetBlue, MasterCard, Pfizer and Chobani yogurt. All with dreams of newly opened Cuban markets dancing in their heads.
Obama has eased diplomatic relations with Cuba after the country was isolated by the United States for more than 50 years.
An economic embargo is still in effect, even though Obama has lifted some trade and travel restrictions. Following a recent meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro (that's Fidel's brother), Obama removed Cuba from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
So, things are working out pretty well for the Castro boys and the junta that rules Cuba. Folks are coming to call. People want to make investments in Cuba. Money is ready to flow in whenever Congress lifts the embargo entirely.
Whether any of this will actually be good for the people of Cuba is another matter.
Cubans still do not enjoy freedom of expression. Or freedom of assembly. Or the right to choose their own leaders.
Terrorist Joanne Chesimard, convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973, is still walking the streets of Cuba as a free woman after escaping U.S. custody more than 35 years ago. Other U.S. fugitives have also found a safe haven in Cuba. The White House hasn't shown any eagerness to balance the books on those accounts.
It's also worth noting that Cuba does not recognize same-sex marriage, one of those issues that Cuomo led on here in New York state.
In other words, with a sickly Fidel in a sideline role these days, the junta isn't missing a beat with Raul in the driver's seat. Repressive Communist policy has not changed.
The regime has not had to make any real concessions in order to get the U.S. to change policy. Obama is getting less out of the Castro brothers than he got out of the mullahs in the Iran nuclear deal.
Cuomo said that he would raise human rights issues during his trip "when it is appropriate." According to published reports, the governor broached the topic during public remarks at a roundtable discussion with business leaders.
Parroting an Obama line, Cuomo has also said that engagement, not isolation, was the way to go with Cuba.
If Cuba really is ready to open up its markets, then New York by all means should reap the economic benefits. But there have to be guarantees that the Cuban people, and not just the ruling junta, will share in the spoils, meaning political and economic liberty.
The Communists have taken advantage of the Cuban people for half a century. It's imperative that the U.S., including New York state, not now serve as the repressive junta's enabler in the name of economic development.
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