- - Friday, December 19, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

After fifty-some years, and eight presidents later, U.S. policy of relative isolationism towards Cuba all came to an end when President Barack Obama declared a “new day” in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The President’s core message is that after fifty years, our policies towards Cuba have not worked. The fundamental question is: worked to do what? How about this: after fifty years of communism, Cuba is about to crumble, not because of anyone else’s policies; it has failed for the same reason most oppressive, freedom-depriving Communist regimes fail: Communism does not work.

Forget the Missile Crisis, Angola, Venezuela, espionage, Communist excursions in our hemisphere, harboring terrorists and murderers? Americans and Cuban-Americans in particular, are even willing to forgive if the Castros changed their ways and fundamental basic freedoms are restored to the Cuban people.

So, what has happened to warrant this sudden change in policy direction other than a president desperately seeking a place in history as his time in office is running out?

Without a scintilla of reciprocity, President Obama announced that he has asked Secretary Kerry to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of terrorist states and has agreed to open an embassy in Cuba; in essence restoring full diplomatic relations with Havana. Providing total legitimacy to this rogue regime is an enormous concession. Unwise certainly, but even if it were agreed to, it should have been accompanied by transformational changes in Cuba.

Tragically this was not the case. Raul Castro, in terse, short and to the point remarks acknowledged that Cuba had allowed the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States but pledged to the Cuban people that there would not be even one change in Cuba’s governance or policies as a result of this accord.

In other words, the over five thousand political prisoners would remain in horrible jail conditions, their spy facility at Lourdes would remain, the oppression of the Cuban people will continue and their suffering will not be alleviated.

The President was not done. He also ordered the Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) to issue regulations lifting travel restrictions to Cuba and also instructed our Secretary of Commerce to promulgate regulations, which would allow trade and commerce with Cuba.

But wait, in 1996, after the downing of 2 U.S. planes by Cuban-piloted Russian Migs – resulting in the violent deaths of four U.S. citizens over international waters – President Clinton signed into law the Libertad Act, with bipartisan support. It codified U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba and set the ground rules for establishing normalization of relations with Castro’s Cuba. It calls, in part, for Cuba to free its political prisoners, allow labor unions and political parties to form, and at some point, hold free and fair elections.

Since none of these conditions were negotiated or agreed to, Congress will begin debate on the President’s unilateral actions, once again raising balance of power and Constitutional issues, and compounding the already strained relations between the President and the Congress.

One must ask: why give away the store to two octogenarians, on the precipice of death, and not wait for a new regime to better negotiate the future of Cuba? The President took away all of our leverage and got nothing in return except two freed prisoners (one of whom should never have been jailed), in exchange for three convicted spies, one of whom had been convicted of murder. The President will get his inevitable picture hugging Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas. How tragic!

And lastly, to add insult to injury to hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans, including two US Senators and seven Members of the House, the President apologized to Castro for America’s colonialism of Cuba in the past. Cuba is the island where I was born, with a history I know only too well. A history which included Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill with American soldiers and Cuban patriots to defeat Spain and help Cuba gain its independence. The only thing the United States left in Cuba were the blood and bodies of our soldiers who were fighting for Cuba’s freedom – a freedom which has now been torn away from its people.

Mr. President, December 17, 2014 will forever be remembered in the annals of U.S.-Cuban history as a sad day indeed.

• Al Cardenas is the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

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