U.S.-Cuba policy: Myth vs. reality

In announcing the move to “normalize” relations with the Cuban regime, President Obama referred to U.S. policy as an “outdated approach.”  This claim was reiterated in his State of the Union address, as if repeating it enough would make it true.

A little history and clarification are in order.

{mosads}President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s response to Cuban aggression was prompted by Havana’s systematic assault on U.S. interests.  One of the early affronts was the unlawful confiscation and nationalization, without compensation, of private property owned by Americans. Today, those certified claims are valued at between $8-$10 billion. While it is seldom mentioned in recent debates, this issue is the foundation on which U.S. law and policy was constructed.

As the regime began to purchase weapons from the Soviet Union and distance itself from the civilized world, there was a proportional increase in foreign policy tools used by Washington to address growing threats and policy challenges.

From missiles pointed at the U.S. and sending agents to Vietnam to torture American POWs at a camp called “The Zoo”, to exporting violence, and destabilizing democratic allies, this pariah state has earned every punitive measure imposed by the U.S.  Havana helped create and grow the Western Hemisphere drugs for arms network, as documented in numerous official reports.  Hostile acts carried out by Havana’s spy recruits in the U.S. government are linked to American deaths. 

The regime also continues to collaborate with fellow rogues such as Iran.  It harbors terrorists, as well as murderers and other dangerous fugitives of U.S. justice.  Despite assertions to the contrary, Cuba continues to earn its slot on the state sponsors of terrorism list and that is one of many reasons why the embargo should remain firmly in place.

But the sanctions do not tell the whole story, as they are just one component of a multi-prong U.S. strategy that aims to weaken and isolate the regime, while supporting those struggling to free their island nation from a totalitarian dictatorship.

U.S.-Cuba policy is both punitive, to hold Havana accountable for actions against U.S. interests, and preventive, as it seeks to rein in the regime’s dangerous policies.  It protects American property rights, as well as the U.S. economy and financial system from the regime’s criminal activities.  It has been formulated to ensure American taxpayers are not implicitly or explicitly financing terrorism or subsidizing bad investments.  U.S.-Cuba policy is also formulated to ensure the U.S. will have a privileged standing and relationship with a future democratically elected Cuban government.

These priorities are again in jeopardy.

Leaders of the Cuban resistance movement, many former prisoners of conscience as Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez), have called the Obama administration’s “normalization” efforts “a betrayal.”  Antunez, described as the Nelson Mandela of Cuba, and his wife Yris, were present for the State of the Union address, as guests of Speaker John Boehner.  They described the Administration’s initiatives as benefiting only the regime and creating further roadblocks to freedom. 

This is not, however, the first Presidential attempt at rapprochement with the Cuban regime.  Under President Carter, for example, sanctions were weakened or allowed to lapse.  President Clinton was preparing to go even further when two civilian humanitarian aircraft, piloted by three Americans and a U.S. resident, were shot down by Cuban military jets over international waters.  President Clinton was left with no other choice but to sign the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, known as Helms-Burton. This bipartisan law enshrined the multi-track approach and codified existing prohibitions to ensure these could not be unilaterally abrogated through Executive action.

What specific steps can Congress take to stop the Obama administration? These could include but are not limited to:

  • Resolutions disapproving of the president’s December 17 proposals and subsequent action pursuant to such announcement for potential violations of U.S. laws;
  • Adding Cuba matter to other legislative and legal action pertaining to abuse of executive power;
  • Cross-committee hearings and investigations with the use of subpoenas, as necessary, for documents, U.S. government officials and those acting as representatives thereof;
  • Prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for the implementation of proposals announced on December 17 or related subsequent action, as well as holds on funds for other Administration priorities, until Congressional review and investigations are completed;
  • Prohibition on the use of any funds for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana if the status of the mission or its personnel is altered, without expressed Congressional authorization, from that in effect on December 16, 2014.

The 114th Congress must, as Winston Churchill used to say, “never surrender” to totalitarianism.

Yleem D.S. Poblete is a PhD and former chief of staff of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee. Jason I. Poblete is an attorney and former co-chairman of the National Security Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law.

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