Democracia y Política

Will Rubio Assume Responsibility For Fixing Our Failed Cuba Policy?

cuba-eeuu-banderasPerhaps if Senator Marco Rubio could articulate how the embargo has helped build multilateral pressure on the Cuban government to embrace democratic reforms, more Americans might support it.

Maybe if the junior senator from Florida could demonstrate how the embargo has empowered Cuban civil society into a force which the Cuban government has no choice but to recognize and reckon with, there would have been little reason for President Obama to announce a bold shift in Cuba policy last December.

The fact is it’s very hard for the Senator, or for any other defender of our status quo embargo policy, to make either point. That is why, in the upcoming Senate and House hearings on Cuba policy this Tuesday and Wednesday, we can expect their focus to be on notching political points against the Obama Administration, rather than exploring what America can do differently to better help the Cuban people.

Ultimately, this strategy will yield limited results for Rubio or other defenders of the status quo. Reform is in the air, and fostering international cooperation and assistance for the Cuban people were the precise reasons why long-standing Cuba embargo sanctions were placed under congressional control in the first place.

It’s right there in the statements of policy of the two principal laws that codify the embargo: the Torricelli Act of 1992, and Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Torricelli declares “it should be the policy of the United States to seek a peaceful transition to democracy and a resumption of economic growth in Cuba through the careful application of sanctions directed at the Castro government and support for the Cuban people” and “to seek the cooperation of other democratic countries in this policy.” Helms-Burton’s stated purpose is “to seek international sanctions against the Castro government in Cuba, to plan for support of a transition government leading to a democratically elected government in Cuba.”

Far from building international pressure against the Castro government or fostering democratic change, the extraterritorial and heavy-handed provisions of Torricelli and Helms-Burton have produced the exact opposite results. They have engendered near universal condemnation of the embargo, blessing the Castros with their most efficient tool for garnering sympathy abroad and pretext for prolonging their iron-fisted rule over Cuba.

On the merits, these laws are indefensible. Rubio knows this, and his response to date has been to wipe his hands clean of any responsibility to fix our Cuba policy so that it finally meets its objectives. His favorite talking point on the subject is “while reasonable people can disagree on the merits of what US-Cuba policy should be in the 21st century, no serious person can argue that America is stronger when [insert whatever the President did wrong here].” It seems he’s too busy building a case for his own presidential run next year to focus on the job taxpayers pay him to do today.

So brace yourself for a litany of goalpost-moving arguments for why Obama made a serious mistake in re-establishing diplomatic relations Cuba and why Congress shouldn’t end the embargo.

They will insist the embargo shouldn’t be lifted until the Cubans meet the all-or-nothing conditions itemized in Helms-Burton. What they won’t recognize is that this conditional approach has placed U.S. policy in the hands of Havana, allowing the Castro brothers to set the timetable for when Americans and exiles get to play a greater role in Cuban society.

They will argue that lifting the embargo provides financial oxygen to a desperate regime in risk of losing Venezuelan subsidies. But the Castros have been pivoting away from reliance on one country and today trade with the rest of the world. Far more beneficial for Fidel and Raul has been the political oxygen that the embargo has provided them over the decades.

They will highlight the views of certain Cuban dissidents who oppose negotiations, and ignore the multitudes of other dissidents, civil society members and everyday Cubans who believe opening relations between our two countries will improve conditions for Cubans to take control of their own destinies.

They will bemoan that there hasn’t been an international investigation into the suspicious death of Cuban dissident leader, Oswaldo Paya, without offering a plan to rally the international community behind such an effort while the embargo is still in place.

They will even veer off into other arguments, like that we shouldn’t normalize relations until Havana pays off the more than $7 billion it owes the United States in property confiscations and other claims. Of course, they always fail to explain how two countries can negotiate settlements for expropriated properties without diplomatic relations.

And when all else fails, they will argue that even if the policy hasn’t succeeded, it must stay in place because it is the “moral” thing to do. This begs the question, what good is it to take a “moral” stance in support of democracy and human rights in Cuba when the very policy you support makes both goals harder, not easier, to attain?

In short, expect a lot of bluster and misdirection from Senator Rubio’s end of the room, but not a single compelling argument for how the embargo actually advances respect for human rights in the island.

As Human Rights Watch’s Jose Manuel Vivanco wrote for TIME magazine, “to promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights. It seems that Obama gets it.”

Senator Rubio has spoken in favor of multilateral solutions to “intractable” global problems in the past, and even sent staff on a Beijing-sponsored trip to China last year, so it is safe to assume that he also gets it, even if he pretends otherwise.

While reasonable people may disagree on the merits of the embargo, Senator Rubio should be reminded that he is one of the distinguished few that can actually do something about it. And if he cannot articulate a case for how the Cuban Democracy Act and Helms-Burton meet their stated objectives, then it is his duty to present an alternative or step aside and allow other lawmakers the opportunity.

Botón volver arriba