Change in U.S. policy toward Cuba

Sen. Marco Rubio: [Last week’s] announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost. Like all Americans, I rejoice at the fact that Alan Gross will be able to return to his family after five years in captivity. Although he is supposedly being released on humanitarian grounds, his inclusion in a swap involving intelligence agents furthers the Cuban narrative about his work in Cuba. In contrast, the Cuban Five were spies operating against our nation on American soil. They were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.

The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power. This administration’s attempts to loosen restrictions on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime. While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear. Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America’s enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime. That is why even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.

I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy.

When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.

 

Sen. Rand Paul: Senator Marco Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry: President Obama’s decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba will advance United States’ interests and those of the Cuban people. The 11 million people of this island nation have waited far too long — over half a century — to fulfill their democratic aspirations and build closer ties with the rest of the world in the 21st century. Our new U.S. policy on Cuba reflects the reality that past policies — although well-intentioned — no longer suit today’s situation. The president’s announcement reflects a historic turning of the page on enmities born of a different era and toward a brighter and more promising future.

Early in his administration, the president took steps to ease restrictions on Cuban-American visits and remittances that opened new pathways for family reunification — and later expanded this to include religious, academic and cultural exchanges for all Americans. Last week’s decision builds boldly on those initial measures and will increase communications, commerce and travel between our two countries. The State Department will lead discussions to restore regular diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961 and re-establish an embassy in Havana. In our bilateral discussions, the United States will seek to advance cooperation on issues of mutual interest, including counter-narcotics, migration, combating trafficking-in-persons, the Ebola crisis and shared environmental challenges.

The president has made clear that a critical focus of these actions will include continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and supporting the freedom of individuals to exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly. For these reasons, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release more than 50 political prisoners, expand Internet access for Cuba’s citizens and allow better human-rights monitoring by the International Red Cross and United Nations. Our firm support for progress in these areas will be unwavering, and we will continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.

As Albert Einstein said long ago, it’s just not rational to continue doing the same thing in the expectation of obtaining a different result. Since U.S.-Cuban relations were frozen, the world has been transformed; the Cold War ended a quarter century ago. Over time the U.S. effort to isolate Cuba began to have the reverse effect of isolating the United States especially in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, Cuban leaders used our stance as a source of propaganda, to justify policies that have no place in the 21st century. It has been an open secret that the relationship has been in a rut that benefits no one on either side. The time has come to cease looking backward and to begin to move forward in the interests of both freedom-loving Cubans and the United States.

What, specifically, has the president decided to do?

First, he has authorized U.S. officials to expand travel, increase remittances and grow bilateral trade. To facilitate this and ensure proper oversight, the Treasury Department will also make banking easier and allow the use of U.S. debit and credit cards in Cuba. In addition, it will strengthen the monitoring and transparency of financial flows between the United States and Cuba by allowing American financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban banks. One effect of all of the changes will be to increase the ability of Americans to provide business training and other support for Cuba’s nascent private sector, which already includes 500,000 employees. In this regard, the Commerce Department will ease current export limits on a variety of products that would help Cuban small businesses grow such as construction firms, agricultural companies, automobile repair and others.

Second, the president’s decision will support new efforts to tear down the digital wall that isolates Cubans. The country has an Internet penetration rate of 5 percent, among the lowest in the world. Prices are high, and services are limited. Under the new policy, we will permit the sale of technology that will begin to unleash the transformative effects of the Internet on the island.

Third, the president has ordered reforms in the application of U.S. sanctions to Cubans in third countries.

Fourth, the president has asked the State Department to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism to ensure that any such designation is guided entirely by the facts and law.

All this is in addition to the start of talks aimed at the restoration of normal diplomatic relations. Next month, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the U.S. delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration talks, and the Commerce Department will lead a business delegation to the country in the coming months. In the spring, President Obama will travel to Panama for the 2015 Summit of the Americas, where we are encouraging full participation by representatives of Cuban civil society. Meanwhile, the United States has welcomed home USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who was wrongfully jailed in Cuba for more than five years, and also an American intelligence agent who had been imprisoned for two decades.

President Obama’s announcement last week is forward-looking and emphasizes the value of people-to-people relations, increased commerce, more communications and respectful dialogue. It will enhance our ability to have a positive impact on events inside Cuba and to help improve the lives of the Cuban people. It will put American businesses on a more equal footing. And it will enhance the standing of our own country in the hemisphere and around the world.

 

Sen. Robert Menendez: [Last week’s] policy announcement is misguided and fails to understand the nature of the regime in Cuba that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years. No one wishes that the reality in Cuba was more different than the Cuban people and Cuban-Americans that have fled the island in search of freedom. In November, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights & National Reconciliation (CCHR) documented 398 political arrests by the Castro regime. This brings the total number of political arrests during the first eleven months of this year to 8,410. This is a regime that imprisoned an American citizen for five years for distributing communications equipment on the island.  Releasing political prisoners today in Cuba is meaningless if tomorrow these individuals can be arrested again and denied the right to peacefully pursue change in their own country.

It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American President believes that if he extends his hand in peace that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists. A majority of democratic activists on the island, including many that I have met with, have been explicit that they want the U.S. to become open to Cuba only when there is reciprocal movement by the Castro government.  They understand that the Castros will not accede to change in any other way.

The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline.  With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world. This is a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve and this announcement only perpetuates the Castro regime’s decades of repression.

[Last week’s] regulatory changes, which are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and the U.S. Congress, present a false narrative about Cuba that suggests that the U.S., and not the regime, is responsible for their economic failure. Cuba’s economic struggles are 100 percent attributable to a half century of failed political and economic experiments that have suffocated Cuban entrepreneurs.  In Cuba, private business is controlled by the Cuban government, with the benefits flowing to the regime’s political and military leadership.  Cuba has had political and economic relations with most of the world, but companies choose not to engage because of political, economic and even criminal risks associated with investment on the island, as exhibited by the arbitrary arrests of foreign investors from Canada, England and Panama in recent years.

To suggest that Cuba should be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism is alarming while Cuba harbors American fugitives, such as Joanne Chesimard, who is on the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists for murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and despite Cuba’s colluding with North Korea to smuggle jets, missile batteries, and arms through the Panama Canal.

With respect to the President’s decision to attend the Summit of the Americas, I’m extraordinarily disappointed that we intend to violate our own principles, laid down in the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, on the Summit being a forum for the hemisphere’s democratically-elected leaders.  This action disavows the Charter and sends a global message about the low priority we place on democracy and respect for human and civil rights.

When the new Congress convenes in January, I urge incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker to hold hearings on this dramatic and mistaken change of policy.”

 

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Published: Dec. 25, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 37