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Rand Paul: Let’s ‘Co-Opt Cuba,’ Force Open Elections With The Power Of Trade

Some comments from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), made during a radio interview this week, seem to make it appear as though he supports President Barack Obama’s move to open relations again with Cuba.

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Paul said in an interview on with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia. “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.

“In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea,” Paul added.

But there’s much more to Paul’s position on Cuba.

In a separate radio interview with Iowa talker Jan Mickelson, Paul further explained his position—and the preconditions that must exist before the U.S. would lift the trade embargo with Cuba that’s existed since the days of President John F. Kennedy. Essentially, Paul argued that the Castros—the dying Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro—would need to give up power to the Cuban people through free and open elections before such trade negotiations would begin.

“I think the other thing that goes into this is that if you’re negotiating to open up trade, you would expect something on their side of the coin,” Paul said in that interview. “They would be opening up the ability of their citizens to have communication with us—that’s part of trade, communication. The other thing would be you would be hoping they would open up and allow for elections. There’s always been talk about beginning trade again but in exchange for actually having elections in Cuba.”

Paul’s position is obviously different from Obama’s because, under the president’s approach, the Castro brothers will almost certainly remain in power. Paul also differs with Obama on the way he’s going about doing this. Some of the embargo with Cuba was put in place by executive actions from various presidents over the past half century, but much of the embargo was passed by Congress. Paul said during the interview with Mickelson that for the U.S. to lift the embargo with Cuba—if it was put in place by Congress, which it was—that Congress must lead the way, not the executive branch.

“You know we’re having this debate also over Iranian sanctions,” Paul said. “They started with legislation and they’re being undone with executive orders. Can they permanently be undone if he makes an agreement or does Congress have to approve it? I tend to think that if we started the ball rolling through Congress then we have to undo it.”

Paul did disagree with Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) description of opening up talks with Cuba as something that would “appease the Castro brothers” because he thinks there is an opportunity to use trade to influence the political system there—and force elections that haven’t existed for generations.

“I’m not sure if I’d call it appeasement,” Paul said when asked by Mickelson about Rubio’s comments:

I can remember when I was a kid. There’s probably not any more anti-Communist family than ours. We used to meet with an old guy who fled the Ukraine and actually fought against Joseph Stalin in the original days of Russia. We were about as anti-Communist as they came. We were opposed to opening up China. But then in the end we kind of softened our position and my position now is that trading with China, even though they are Communist, makes it a lot less likely that we fight. Over the years, they have actually opened their society more—they still have a great deal of tyranny and not much political ability for people to have freedom or freedom of speech—but it’s much better than war over trade. I think we could actually co-opt Cuba by trading with them.

Paul also pointed to new polling data from Miami’s Florida International University which found that the majority of young Cuban-Americans—not the first generation of Cuban-Americans who fled Castro, but the younger crowd—thinks that trade can burst the Castro regime. In a June 2014 article, Fox News Latino highlighted the poll—which found that 62 percent of Cuban-Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 “oppose continuing the embargo that the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1962.”

“I think it will be interesting to see what shakes out of all of this,” Paul said in the Mickelson interview. “But even among Cubans there’s no longer a monolithic opinion on this. The first generation that escaped from Castro obviously is opposed and is in favor of this embargo. But actually over half of the younger Cuban population thinks trade is a way where we can ultimately win the war against the Castros and against Communism.”

Paul said that the reason why this new tact may work—if it’s implemented the right way, meaning that Obama doesn’t do it the way he’s doing through unilateral executive actions—is because Cubans have been able to “withstand” the embargo’s effects.

“They’ve also shown the ability to withstand,” Paul said:

They’re poor there. There’s not much of an economy and they’re not able to export anything. But at the same time, they’ve actually withstood the embargo. So, which would influence them more? Not trading with them or actually trading with them? I think if they were able to see the goods that America makes and to be able to actually purchase our stuff, I think that is an overwhelming flood into the economy and it’s irresistible—the things that a modern economy can make—so I think that perhaps trading with them may be the way that we ultimately do get rid of Communism.

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