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It's Time to End America's Global Isolation over Cuba

December 22, 2014

There's an old saying that the United States is always fighting the last war. If so, then the apoplectic assortment of Cuban-American irredentists, aging anti-Communist crackpots and knee-jerk, Cro-Magnon conservatives opposing the normalization of relations with Havana are several conflicts behind.
Simply put, the exigencies of the Cold War and the Monroe Doctrine no longer apply. Castro's Cuba long ago ceased being a dangerous client of the Soviet empire, one which ended up on the dustbin of history. There are no Russian intermediate range nuclear missiles and no combat brigades in Cuba. There is no Marxist dictatorship in Jamaica, and no "red menace" in Central America. There aren't thousands of Cuban troops fighting in Angola. (There are, however, Cuban doctors in West Africa, fighting Ebola.) And the thousands of Cubans who land on American beaches or cross over from Mexico aren't met with gunfire, but with the guarantee of a path to citizenship. Yet 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States maintains its anachronistic embargo that helps keep the Cuban people in tatters and Americans alone on the world stage.

Nevertheless, the usual suspects among the shrinking Cuban exile community and the conservative commentariat are still calling for regime change. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose father Rafael fought alongside Castro's force against the Batista dictatorship before fleeing the island in 1957, called President Obama's diplomatic opening to Havana "a tragic mistake." His fellow 2016 GOP White House hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL), the same Marco Rubio who pretended his parents fled Cuba after Castro seized power, called Obama's move a "victory for oppression" and a "precedent" which "places a new price on the head of every American." (Apparently, Rubio was confusing Barack Obama with Ronald Reagan.) Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the face of the large Cuban community in New Jersey, echoed those talking points in his USA Today op-ed:

Cuba is a repressive state, but it will now receive the support of the United States, the world's greatest democracy.
For compromising on bedrock U.S. values, we received zero commitments from the regime to change its ways, to hold free elections, permit dissent, halt censorship and free all political prisoners. We abandoned U.S. policy, while the Castro brothers' stranglehold on power just got tighter.

Writing at Politico, National Review editor Rich Lowry coughed up many of the same sound bites, while adding a few ironic ones of his own. Comparing Cuba to America's greatest economic and military competitor, Lowry declared "Our vast trade with China hasn't made the government there any less repressive (the hope that economic advancement will change it over time if [sic] a very long-term play)." After equating a crumbling Cuba to nuclear armed North Korea, Rich Lowry proclaimed:

If Cuba were a racist apartheid-style dictatorship rather than a Communist one, no one would be so eager to do business with it. Instead, the great and good celebrate as the welcome end of an era changes that will replenish the coffers of a Cold War regime that is stubbornly still standing.

Sadly for the National Review editor, there were no shortage of conservatives "eager to do business" with apartheid South Africa. Among them were the National Review and President Ronald Reagan.
In the face of growing domestic and international pressure, President Reagan nevertheless vetoed the 1985 Anti-Apartheid Act. At a time when the U.S. accounted for about one-fifth of direct foreign investment in South Africa, Reagan called the sanctions bill "immoral" and "repugnant." Yet it wasn't just American commercial interests but Cold War calculus that fueled Reagan's policy of "constructive engagement." "Defenders of the Apartheid regime" in the West, the State Department later acknowledged, "had promoted it as a bulwark against communism." Ultimately, both the House and Senate, joined by the likes of Mitch McConnell, overrode Reagan's veto. As it turned out, they did not want the United States by itself, apart from most of its allies and global opinion.
And until President Obama's announcement this week, alone is where the United States stood when it came to its posture towards Cuba.

For 23 years in a row, the United Nations has voted overwhelmingly for a nonbinding resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. As Reuters reported in October:

As in previous years, the only countries that voted against the declaration were the United States and an ally, Israel. The Pacific island nations Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. The voting result was identical to last year's.

Leaders in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and other Latin American countries were quick to praise the establishment of relations between Washington and Havana. The Organization of American States (OAS), which had ejected Cuba after the missile crisis in 1962, greeting President Obama's with relief. Jose Miguel Insulza, its secretary general, called the decision one of "great vision on both sides, because this conflict, which has significant negative implications for citizens of both countries, has stagnated politically for too long."
That stagnation has hurt opportunities for U.S. companies and farmers, as America's friends and allies long ago ended their restrictions on Cuban trade. As the Brookings Institution reported in 2008:

By 2003 EU countries provided over half the tourists to Cuba, more than half of the 400 foreign investment joint ventures and was the largest single aid donor. In 2001/02 the EU was Cuba's largest trade partner. EU exports to Cuba amounted to €1.43 billion (44 percent from Spain, followed by Italy and France), while imports from Cuba stood at €581 million.

Outside of Venezuela, CNBC lamented in 2010, "The Netherlands and Canada are Cuba's primary trading partners, and Canadian and European tourists have been regular visitors since the late 1990s." And while the EU and Cuba began discussions earlier this year on a new, expanded trading relationship, American businesses remained on the sidelines because of the policy one senior Obama administration official called "an albatross around the neck of the United States in the hemisphere and around the world."
And that albatross didn't just foreclose the United States from reestablishing the natural, historic and preeminent commercial ties it once enjoyed with Cuba. At a time of growing right-wing, anti-immigrant xenophobia, America's dystopian policies give Cuban émigrés alone the "amnesty" so many Republicans say they decry.
As it turns out, the number of Cubans pouring into the United States by sea and land is rapidly increasing. As the New York Times reported in October, some 25,000 Cubans including 24 year-old Leonardo Heredia arrived in the U.S. without travel visas in the past year:

He, like many others, is also an unexpected throwback to a time that experts thought had long passed: the era when Cubans boarded homemade vessels built from old car parts and inner tubes, hoping for calm seas and favorable winds. As the number of Cubans attempting the voyage nearly doubled in the past two years, the number of vessels unfit for the dangerous 90-mile crossing also climbed.
Not since the rafter crisis of 1994 has the United States received so many Cuban migrants. The increase highlights the consequences of a United States immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans and recent reforms on the island that loosened travel restrictions, and it puts a harsh spotlight on the growing frustration of a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba and the 1966 Cuba Adjustment Act--two anachronisms of American foreign policy--are once again having the effect of producing a new wave of Cubans fleeing to the United States. As Peter Weber explained in The Week:

Since 1966, Cuban immigrants have had special protections and paths to citizenship under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Cuban nationals don't have to enter the U.S. at a designated port of entry. There are no quotas limiting the number who can immigrate here. And under a 1995 adjustment to the policy called "wet feet, dry feet," all Cubans who make it to shore are eligible for legal U.S. residency after one year, and eventually citizenship. In other words: amnesty.

But these are not political refugees seeking asylum from the Castro regime and its Soviet paymasters, but better economic opportunities here. And more and more, the Cubans are not arriving, like Elian Gonzales, escorted by Peggy Noonan's magical "dolphins who surrounded him like a contingent of angels." Instead, they are entering in Texas, crossing the same Mexican border Republicans would close off to Central American children.

Mr. La O became one of the more than 22,500 Cubans who arrived in the United States by land last fiscal year -- most of them in Texas. That is nearly double the number who did so in 2012.
Some of those migrants flew to Mexico and then requested entry at the Texas border. Relaxed travel rules in Cuba now allow people to exit the country more freely, a change that experts say plays a part in the surge in Southwest border arrivals. Other people, like Mr. La O, made the first leg of the journey by sea to Central America or Mexico.

It's with good reason that Weber concluded, "there is one big exception to the Tea Party's opposition to 'amnesty': Cuba."
It's long past time for that exception, and with it, the entire edifice of self-defeating U.S. policy towards Cuba to come to an end. The rule of Fidel and Raul Castro will soon come to an end by natural causes. Their revolution may survive them, but probably not unaltered and probably not for long. But the power and influence of the Cuban exile community, one whose claims of "historic rights to the land" and "the right of return" to their homes 90 miles away from Miami, is already on the wane. And those like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and the rest who want to keep America's Cuba policy on its 50 year auto-pilot could well be punished for their quixotic war against a Cold War foe which, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists.
After the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television to take full ownership of his fiasco in Cuba. "I am the responsible officer of the government," JFK told the nation, famously adding:

"There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan."

Years from now, after U.S.-Cuban relations are fully restored, the pointless embargo is ended by Congress and the bizarre immigration policy finally put down, the American people and the American economy will benefit from a more prosperous and peaceful Caribbean. But that victory will have only one father: Barack Obama. And the ideologues and irredentists, the bullies and the bastards who opposed him here at home will be the orphans who missed their chance to catch up to the 21st century.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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