Engaging Castro Won't Free the Cuban People (Nor Benefit U.S. Interests)

Sunday, June 7, 2015
By U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) in The Arizona Republic:

Talking to Cuba now won't free its people

Open relations with Cuba is achievable, but it should be done the right way for the right reasons.

The worldwide promotion of time-tested American values, and the assurance of our own nation's security, must be our principal foreign policy aim.

Pursuing relations with Cuba without first insisting on liberty and human rights for the Cuban people reflects a moral cowardice beneath the values of our great country, thereby damaging our values and our national security. It would be like single-mindedly seeking relations with North Korea.

Helping to free the Cuban people has been our nation's long-standing policy, but the administration's timing is as bizarre as it is unfortunate.

Falling oil prices and the monumental failure of regional left-wing economic polices has dealt us a powerful hand in our efforts to help the Cuban people reach their aspirations for liberty. Cuba's largest benefactor, Venezuela, is imploding economically, providing us a rare moment to steer the conversation to favor the Cuban people.

There has never been a better time to demand the fundamental changes necessary in a system that keeps Cubans impoverished and Raul Castro's family exceedingly rich. Instead, the Obama administration gave this decrepit communist dictatorship a new lease on life without requiring any steps toward democratization in return.

No one thinks of the communist method employed in this island nation when they envision trade. Cuba operates a system where wages are paid directly to the Cuban government, which then sends a pittance to the worker and keeps the rest.

While our administration insists their goal is to empower the Cuban entrepreneur by easing import/export restrictions, regulatory changes fall far short. For example, the administration foolishly allows the Cuban government to be the sole arbiter in defining what constitutes a Cuban "entrepreneur," rendering it unlikely that our new regulations will empower anyone except the Cuban military apparatus.

Perhaps most troubling about these actions concerns our national security.

While serving as chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I saw the Cuban government's continued role in undermining democratic values and its support of terrorist organizations. Cuba has ties to Hezbollah and actively harbors Columbia's FARC and Spain's ETA terrorists just 90 miles from our shores. As recently as last year, Cuba was caught red-handed trafficking shipments of illegal weapons with China and North Korea.

Furthermore, showing their disdain for American justice, the Cuban government continues to harbor U.S. fugitives, and senior Cuban military officials are still wanted on federal indictments for the murder of American citizens.

And let's not forget the Lourdes Signals Intelligence facility, Russia's largest abroad, which the Kremlin signaled intentions to reopen last year, placing a Russian spy site 100 miles south of Florida.

How does the administration respond to these dangerous actions by a communist regime long-desiring to undermine our national security? By removing them from the sponsors of terrorism list.

The promotion of international trade and commerce will always be a priority for me. So too will the protection of our national security. But let's not forget, ultimately, countries like Iran and Russia are closely watching how we deal with Cuba.