With new a president, we have an opportunity to begin the process of re-establishing relations with Cuba
© Getty Images

A momentous change has come to Cuba: its president is no longer named Castro. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fidel and then his younger brother, Raul, ruled and ruined this gem in the Caribbean. On April 19, Miguel Diaz-Canel became president of Cuba, ending nearly six decades under Castro control.

I have been a serious critic of Cuba since coming to Congress and strongly disagreed with President Obama’s decision to re-establish relations, including his meeting with Raul at the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama and his trip to Havana the next spring.  

ADVERTISEMENT

In re-establishing these relations, President Obama gave legitimacy to an illegitimate regime, and the liberalization of travel benefited the Cuban military, which owns major Cuban hotels. In fact, the United States got nothing in return, even though we have significant security and economic issues with Cuba that need to be addressed.

Now with the Castros out of power, there is a moment of opportunity for the United States.  It is time to begin what will be a long and difficult process to truly open our two countries to one another.

A country that has suffered for so long under this type of regime will not change overnight. It is unrealistic to think momentous change can happen all at once for several reasons.

First, Cuba is still run by the Communist Party under the leadership of Raul Castro. When I visited Cuba in 2015, it was clear that their government officials have little understanding of democratic government, the rule of law, or basic human rights.  

When discussing their communist society, the Cuban Foreign Minister told me communism is the perfection of socialism, and the Cuban government was still perfecting their socialism. Similarly, the Ministry of Trade and Investment seemed unable to comprehend capitalism or basic notions of return on investment.

Second, Cuba could not handle a rapid lifting of the current trade embargo because they lack basic infrastructure to accommodate a huge upswing in tourism or trade. During our visit, Cuban economists explained that their government was simply unprepared for it, and any expansion of trade with the United States would need to proceed incrementally.  

While many in the United States believe trade with Cuba will create a bounty for our exporters, the truth is the Cuban people are so poor as a direct result of nearly 60 years of extreme communism that they cannot afford to buy the things we would like to export to them.

Third, we have some very difficult issues to resolve:

Security: We must have a firm agreement that neither country will attack the other or allow other nations to use its land, territorial waters, or airspace to conduct military or intelligence activities against the other, as Russia is doing right now in Cuba. As the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Admiral Kurt Tidd, said in testimony earlier this year, “From a national security standpoint, Cuba has demonstrated clear intent to target U.S. interests.” It would be irresponsible not to address these issues head on.

Property Rights and the Rule of Law: Cuba must adopt basic property rights, the rule of law, a legitimate court system, and due process protections before anyone will invest in the country. Specifically, they desperately need investment in buildings and modern infrastructure to handle more tourists, trade, and an expanding economy.

Claims Process: We must have an agreed upon process for U.S. citizens to adjudicate their legitimate claims for property taken from their families.

Human Rights: The Cuban government needs to give its citizens basic human rights, like freedom of speech and assembly, and allow faith-based institutions and non-governmental organizations true freedom to operate.

Many years ago, the United States went through a similar process with Vietnam. It took several years and a lot of patience, but look where things stand now. We have an excellent relationship with Vietnam, and the U.S. is popular among ordinary Vietnamese people, despite ten years of war with devastating human and environmental consequences.

I have no illusions about the difficulties in re-establishing full relations and lifting the trade embargo with Cuba, but the time seems to be right for us to begin serious discussions that ensure America’s interests are protected while paving the way for a better future for the Cuban people.

Congressman Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneGOP lawmaker offers resolution to censure Pelosi for holding articles of impeachment GOP rep releases campaign ad ripping Kaepernick, 'The Squad' GOP rep rails against Democrats for rejecting Republican impeachment amendment MORE represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and is a member of the House Armed Services, Education and the Workforce, and Rules committees.