In Cuba Policy, Talk is Cheap

Friday, June 26, 2015
By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Change in Cuba-U.S. policy hasn't arrived yet

Easing of relations with Cuba is still a long way off

A friend I admire enormously sent me a copy of an article by former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez.

His comment was short and to the point: "In case you missed ..." with "A Republican Case for Obama's Cuba Policy — The New York Times" as a subject line.

The op-ed column said that while Gutiérrez originally opposed President Barack Obama's policy of reestablishing relations with Cuba, now he is becoming optimistic that it actually might bring about a better life for some people in Cuba.

"Today, I am cautiously optimistic for the first time in 56 years. I see a glimmer of hope that, with Cuba allowing even a small amount of entrepreneurship and many American companies excited about entering a new market, we can actually help the Cuban people," Gutiérrez said.

The former chief executive officer of a major American corporation has changed a lot in his retirement. I cannot imagine him saying that when he was working for a Republican president or when he was working for an American company.

It makes no sense. The announcement by Obama and Cuba's President Raúl Castro came on Dec. 17. They pledged to work to reestablish diplomatic relations as a first step toward normalizing relations in the future.

Six plus months have passed since that announcement. American and Cuban diplomats have met officially and socially several times in Washington and in Havana. They have talked — my how they have talked. They have even put up the flagpole at the Cuban Interest Section in Washington waiting for the day the Cuban flag may once again wave in our nation's capital. Still, nothing has happened.

Relations between Cuba and the United States will not be friendly or normal, not until the Castro brothers are dead and buried and the new leaders in Cuba decide they have to grant more freedom to the people.

Gutiérrez talks about the entrepreneurship opportunities now open to the Cuban people. They have been open for years. They are for mom and pop enterprises, and they can only operate under strict government guidelines.

Big American companies cannot invest in Cuba because:

Cuba must reimburse American corporations for the billions of dollars of properties expropriated by the Castro regime;

Cubans have the lowest per-capita income in the Western Hemisphere — about $20 per month. That does not give them much money with which to buy America products;

Congress banned exports to Cuba many years ago. The president cannot override the law with an executive order. The only exception to the law is granted to companies that sell food and medicine to Cuba providing the Cuban government pays for it in cash ahead of time;

If the United States were to grant Cuba credit to buy food and medicines in this country and Cuba could not pay, the American taxpayer would have to pick up the tab.

Gutiérrez adds that he never "expected negotiations to get this far."

He is right. Both countries have talked to their heart's content. Scores of congressional and business delegations have gone to Havana. Yet nothing has been accomplished.

Gutiérrez says negotiations have covered the extradition of American fugitives who fled to Cuba. I have not seen the Cuban regime agree to that.

In fact, since these negotiations began, more Cuban dissidents are being arrested and beaten up in Cuba than before the talks began. Talk is cheap. Actions come at a steeper price; one that the U.S. Congress is not willing to accept.

More than half a dozen appropriations bills for funding of several government agencies have taken out funds for any improved relations with Cuba. These cover the State Department, the Justice Department, Treasury, Commerce, etc. These cuts to the Obama government proposals have come with votes from both sides of the aisle.

Congress has not been willing to give Cuba the free rein Obama would like. Not until Cuba stops persecuting dissidents. Not until it allows a free press. Not until there are free and multi-party elections. Not until the legal framework allows for foreign investment in the country without part of the business going to the Cuban Armed Forces. (Any dollar-producing enterprise in Cuba must be done in partnership with the Cuban Armed Forces and a close relative of President Castro).

The time will come, but it is here yet.