Menendez: Path to Cuban Liberty Farther Away Today Than 365 Days Ago

Saturday, December 19, 2015
Menendez on 1st Anniversary of Cuba Engagement Announcement

The Cuban path to liberty is undoubtedly farther away today than 365 days ago.”

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) issued the following statement on yesterday’s one-year anniversary of  the Obama Administration’s Cuba engagement policy announcement:

One year ago the President announced sweeping changes to America’s strategic approach to the Castro Regime. In broad strokes, we learned of the forthcoming reestablishment of diplomatic relations – an exchange of symbols with the American flag flying over a United States Embassy in Havana and the Cuban flag flying over a Cuban Embassy in Washington; we learned about a general outline of the process by which Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism would be lifted; and, we learned about the forthcoming transformative effects of a unilateral easing of sanctions to increase travel, commerce, currency, and the flow of information to and from that beautiful island.

For those of us who understand this regime, we cautioned for nuance, and against those broad strokes. At least require the Castros to make certain concessions, which would be as good for U.S. national interests as for U.S.-Cuban relations: Push for changes that put Cubans in control of their own political processes, economic incubators, civil society and governance. Push for changes that honor America’s legacy as a champion for human rights. Push for changes that would ultimately bring Cuba into the community of nations, contributing to – rather than detracting from – a more prosperous hemisphere.

But, most importantly, remember that it is a lack of resources – not a change of heart – that has slowed the Castros’ adventurism and instability-inducing support for those who would pose threats to our national interests.  Think strategically.

Instead, we traded strategy for tactics. Opening channels of communication means nothing unless we are going to communicate our values, champion the material changes that the Cuban people seek, and speak in the language that the Castros understand – the communist revolution has failed miserably, it’s time to step down. The Castros know it, but it’s the antiquated hallmark of the revolution and the iron-fisted rule that came from it that keeps them in power. And, until that’s truly challenged, we can expect to witness the weakening of our leverage.

Indeed, the regime is already breathing new life into its repressive state systems: Since the President’s announcement one year ago, Cubans have been beaten, arrested, and repressed at higher rates than ever before; U.S. fugitives and members of foreign terrorist organizations still enjoy safe harbor on the island; not a penny of the $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros has been repaid; unrelenting censorship and oppression of Cuban journalists continues unscathed; and the Cuban path to liberty is undoubtedly farther away today than 365 days ago.

As predicted, this one-sided deal was a win for the Cuban regime and a loss for the Cuban people. We have witnessed how the regulatory changes announced last year not only circumvented the intent and spirit of U.S. law, they financially emboldened the Cuban government. To date, the Obama administration has spared no generosity in commuting the jail sentences of Cuban spies, easing travel and trade bans, removing Cuba from the states sponsors of terrorism list, indefensibly upgrading its ranking in the trafficking-in-persons report despite its continued slave labor and human trafficking practices, and even acquiescing to shun dissidents from attending the U.S. Embassy's flag-raising ceremony in Havana.

All of this against a backdrop of continued deceit, repression, and violence and not a single iota of reciprocity by Raul Castro towards the restoration of democracy in Cuba.

I stand with thousands of Cuba’s civil society leaders, dissidents, journalists, and everyday men and women who long for the day when the freedom we enjoy in our great country extends to theirs. As long as I have a voice, they will have an ally to speak truth to power against this dictatorship, and against any effort to legitimize it or reward it. We must realize the nature of the Castro regime won't be altered by capitulating on our demands for basic human and civil rights. The trajectory of our policy is unacceptable and I continue to urge President Obama to correct its course. If the United States is to give away its leverage, it should be in exchange for one thing, and one thing only, a true transition in Cuba.