What’s the life expectancy of a failed foreign policy? For more than 50 years, the United States has enforced a trade embargo with Cuba, hoping that this might topple the Castro regime.
In the Cold War, Cuba's connection to the Soviet Union insulated it from the effects of economic sanctions elsewhere. After the Soviet empire's collapse, there was hope that Cuba’s economic crumble would trigger demands for political change. The Castro regime, however, proved resilient.
The embargo continued, and so did the regime — brutal as ever toward political dissidents.
Last week, President Obama announced he would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, starting by opening an embassy in Havana and possibly including visits for leaders of each country
Republican foreign policy leaders immediately pounced
, promising to block funds to open an embassy, stall the nomination of a potential ambassador, and oppose measures to open trade. With Sen. Marco Rubio leading the way, Republicans branded Obama the "appeaser in chief" for his “inexplicable” actions.
It’s unclear what, if anything, Obama secured from the deal except a return of Alan Gross, an American contractor the Cubans held captive for three years, and an agreement to open an embassy. In return for those two “concessions,” Obama apparently agreed to increase travel to the island, expand economic ties, and call on Congress to lift the trade embargo.
Sen. Rubio and other Republicans are right that this isn’t much of a “deal” for the United States at this point. Obama is offering an economic lifeline to the Castro regime and getting little to nothing permanent in return. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Rather than obstruct, Congress should get creative. It should instead pass legislation that makes increased trade and cooperation contingent on real reforms inside Cuba. For example, current law restricts remittances sent from relatives in the U.S. to Cuban nationals to $500 per quarter. Obama has proposed increasing the cap to $2,000 per quarter.
Congress should pass legislation increasing the cap to $1,000 per quarter, but only if the Cuban government removes restrictions on religious freedoms
and the reforms are verified by third-party observers. Increase the cap to $1,500 per quarter if Cuba agrees to release a list of political prisoners. Increase it to $2,000 if Cuba expands the types of small private businesses it allows to operate.
You get the idea.
Instead of blocking funds for an embassy and promising to filibuster any proposed ambassador, Congress should instead insist on an ambassador who will be an unrelenting champion for freedom. Do not send a quiet career diplomat. Send a Cuban-American who will be an unapologetic and fearless advocate for religious, political, and economic liberty.
Former Sen. Mel Martinez? Or a current Cuban-American member of Congress?
Obama’s Cuban deal can claim at least one legitimate change: loosening restrictions on the sale of communication goods and services
. If the regime is ever going to change, it's because Cubans have gained a portal to the world beyond their shores.
Our Cuban foreign policy objective should be freedom and democracy for the Cuban people. That will require regime change. It will also require a citizenry that has sufficient economic freedom to exist without state support, political freedom to organize without fear of being relegated to the Cuban gulag, and religious freedom to inspire and sustain hope for a better world.
As we saw in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the civil society necessary for freedom and democracy to flourish cannot be created in two weeks. Societies that have been crushed by decades of dictatorship don’t usually have smooth transitions to democracy. One dictator is replaced by another, one brutality supplants another. Long-term democratic change requires a vibrant middle class capable of protecting its own economic, political, and religious freedoms.
After 50 years of failure, critics of Cuba policy change cannot realistically believe that success is just around the corner. And even if the Castro regime were to collapse tomorrow, what evidence is there that the Cuban people have the political infrastructure to successfully transition to democracy? It’s equally likely that the Castro regime's collapse would be met by a new dictator.
Obama’s “deal” is no deal at all — not yet. But he got his foot in the door. It’s time for Congress to pull the door open.
Jay Barnes is an attorney and state legislator from Jefferson City, Mo. A conservative Republican, Jay previously worked as a speechwriter for former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and as a reporter for Newsmax magazine. His opinion pieces have been published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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