International Affairs

Why liberals should support Trump — not Obama — on Cuba policy

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Was President Obama’s opening to the Castro government motivated by a real belief that it would help Cubans, or was it a vanity project from the start? We will never know for sure, but we do know it violated his Inaugural promise that he would shake the hands of tyrants only if they first unclenched their fists.

Raul Castro has never relaxed his grip on the island he and his brother have ruled for nearly 60 years. In fact, after Obama announced the re-establishment of relations with in December 2014, he tightened it. Since then, Cuban dissidents have paid a heavy price in repression, arrests and beatings.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, politically motivated arbitrary arrests rose rapidly after the opening, culminating in 9,940 last year—a six-year high. In December alone, 14 dissidents were beaten by government officials, according to the Havana-based Commission, whose numbers are reported by Amnesty International.

{mosads}President Obama argued that, by “normalizing” relations with Cuba, the regime would be inspired to grant fundamental freedoms to its people. Yet Obama asked for, and of course received, nothing in return from the Cuban authorities.


President Trump put some of that right yesterday when he announced that he would reverse some of the Obama changes and reinstate some prohibitions on trade with military-controlled entities and persons on the communist-ruled island.

Trump’s changes don’t go far enough. Still, his critics should resist the urge to lash out at him.

Once upon a time, American liberals knew that legitimizing dictators never ended well for those who dared speak their minds. That insight led them to denounce Washington’s support for dictators and call out the moral hollowness in FDR’s fatuous line that Anastasio Somoza Sr. may have been an S.O.B., “but he’s our S.O.B.”

They should not be surprised today that the Washington establishment’s rush to embrace the Castro regime in pursuit increased trade would only further entrench the family’s hold on power. The Obama changes, which facilitated American trade and transfer of convertible currency to the military and the Castro family, only made easier the prospect of their continued rule.

In other words, if you denounced the Somozas, Augusto Pinochet and Ferdinand Marcos, and you want to be considered consistent, you should support the changes Trump announced in Miami.

Those changes are, in fact, narrowly tailored to restrict the aggrandizement of the regime’s military. And they didn’t come easy.

Two factions waged a tremendous struggle to win President Trump’s heart and mind on the issue. On one side were a phalanx of congressional offices that sought to curb the Cuban military’s access to convertible currency. Opposing them were career officials burrowed inside the Treasury and the State Departments, who wanted President Obama’s legacy—the “historic opening” to the Castros—to be left untouched.

Nor was Cuba an idle bystander in the debate. According to Marc Caputo at Politico, the regime launched a last-minute bid to stave off the changes, enlisting Colombia’s help in lobbying Trump. The government of President Juan Manuel Santos reportedly threatened to pull out of a U.S.-led summit on security in Latin America.

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), told the White House to tell Colombia that if it withdrew from the summit, it could kiss the $450 million “Peace Colombia” aid package goodbye. And that was that.

In the end, the Trump Cuba change closely mirrored the 2015 Cuban Military Transparency Act introduced by Rubio in the Senate and by Devin Nunes, (R– Calif.), in the House. The bill prohibits U.S. persons and companies “from engaging in financial transactions with or transfers of funds to” the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, the Ministry of the Interior, any of their subdivisions and companies and other entities owned by them.

In other words, it aims directly at Cuba’s largest company, the Grupo Gaesa holding company (Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, Sociedad Anonima). Founded by Raul Castro in the 1990s, Gaesa is run by the military, more specifically, by Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas—who also happens to be Castro’s son-in-law. It represents an estimated 80 percent of the island nation’s economy.

Its affiliate, Gaviota, SA., owns the tourism industry. If you eat ropa vieja at a restaurant, sip a mojito in bar, play golf in a resort, or sleep in a hotel—you are paying Gaviota. Same with renting a taxi or renting a car. Thanks to Trump’s changes, that cash flow will now be interrupted.

Or Raul Castro can unclench his fist and allow real Cubans to own and run these places, and we really have President Obama’s dream, expressed on a January 14, 2011 speech, of increasing “people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence form the Cuban authorities.”

Shouldn’t liberals support this?

Mike Gonzalez (@Gundisalvus) is a senior fellow in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Cuba Donald Trump Marco Rubio Mike Gonzalez

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