Focus on Freedom for the Cuban People

Monday, June 29, 2015
By U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, in The Miami Herald:

Let’s liberate Cuban citizens, not enrich Castro brothers

For far too long, the citizens of Cuba have known only suffering under an oppressive Castro regime. As a firm believer in the power of liberty and an open society, I feel strongly that any decision to shift U.S. policy toward Cuba must focus on liberating Cuban citizens, not enriching the Castro brothers.

Cubans have gained absolutely nothing from the Obama administration’s secret negotiations to “normalize” relations with the Castros. Rather, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations will benefit Fidel and Raúl Castro, who are responsible for the oppression.

Over the past 50 years, the conditions of the Cuban people haven’t improved despite U.S. efforts. Because of Castro’s brutal seizing of power and the shameless stealing of American property, the United States chose to impose sanctions in order to urge the establishment of democracy, allowance of freedom, and justice for people whose property was taken. The Castros have simply refused. The Obama administration’s decision to loosen economic restrictions and reestablish relations only rewards that obstinate behavior and has allowed Castro to drive the agenda.

The regime has asked for the return of the U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay, which would equip Havana with a broad array of security options, including leasing the area to a third party state such as Russia or China, which would endanger our own national security. Similarly, allowing them access to U.S. banks could create money-laundering nightmares.

Perhaps most insulting, Havana has demanded so-called “just compensation” for the “economic damage” inflicted by U.S. sanctions. The Cuban regime deprived U.S. and Cuban citizens of billions of dollars in property and still denies those citizens any form of justice, including compensation.

In a Congressional hearing I chaired earlier this month on the future of property rights in Cuba, we heard from witnesses who shared stories of how their property was stolen by the Castro regime, and the plight of churches whose properties had been confiscated and then have had to pay rent for buildings they own. Inexplicably, Castro confidently asks for compensation without even hinting at a solution to the claims issue. In yet another show of weakness, the State Department has failed to prioritize the claims issue in the current talks involving possible embassies, thereby allowing the Cuban regime to effectively evade the matter indefinitely.

These changes being negotiated by the Obama administration only stand to benefit Castro. Each of the demands stands as a threat to the already perilous position of freedom in Cuba. Should we fail to make demands of our own, we will see no substantive, lasting change for the Cuban people.