On Monday’s Breitbart News Daily, Jose Cardenas, who served as Acting Assistant Administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development under President George W. Bush, strongly supported President Trump’s Cuba policy.
“Basically when President Trump reset President Obama’s policy towards Cuba, the basic overall thrust of what President Trump did was that with President Obama, he basically gave the Castro regime everything it wanted, and wanted to see what would happen then. What Donald Trump did was, he placed the onus back on the regime,” said Cardenas, building upon points he made in a recent Foreign Policy editorial.
“President Trump’s approach, he wants the benefits of U.S. engagement to reach the Cuban people and not the Castro regime,” he continued. “To do that, what he did was, for example he has restricted U.S. companies and U.S. travel from accessing, for example, tourism entities owned by the Cuban military. He has also pulled forward the issue of Cuban dissidents on the island, which President Obama tried to shunt to the sidelines.”
He said the essential statement from President Trump’s Cuba speech on Friday was, “If the Castro regime wants better relations with the U.S., then let them demonstrate it. Let’s not make all the concessions ourselves.”
Cardenas granted SiriusXM host Alex Marlow’s point that liberty is not easily brought to a long-established authoritarian state like Cuba.
“That is the challenge. It is a totalitarian system. The government’s presence down there is everywhere: secret police, neighborhood watch groups,” he said. “Basically, we’re going to have to have good people writing the regulations and staying on top of any information that can be gleaned from the island about, for example, what entities are truly owned by the Castro regime, or are somehow independent. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very difficult. But it sends a signal to the Cuban people and to the regime that it’s not going to be business as usual.”
“Anything that keeps the regime off-balance is a good thing,” he declared.
“What President Obama did is he end-ran the U.S. embargo of Cuba to relax the travel restrictions,” Cardenas explained. “Those restrictions were of course to attempt to deny hard currency to the regime. President Obama opened up a whole bunch of new opportunities for people to travel down there as groups.”
“Yes, they are propaganda tours,” he said. “They are controlled by the government. But on the margins they allow for interactions or contacts between average Americans and average Cubans, those that are lucky enough to be somewhere near the tourism industry.”
“The Obama openings also were abused by individuals who blew off the requirements for what we call people-to-people contact,” he continued. “They went down simply as tourists to drink mojitos on the beach. Donald Trump’s regulations are scaling those individual travel licenses back.”
“You have to go as a group,” he explained. “Yes, they are still propaganda tours, but President Trump sort of – he had to slice the baby and make concessions in one area while tightening up in others. Americans can still travel to Cuba. You go in educational tours organized by reputable companies. But you cannot go now any more as an individual just looking to have fun.”
“It’s an attempt to try and restore the integrity of what they call people-to-people travel, meaning Americans intermingling with Cubans. What Donald Trump was trying to do there is curb the abuses,” Cardenas explained.
He said it was important to recognize that Cuba is an “intransigent ossified Communist regime that is not going to willingly relinquish any power.”
“What I think is the important part of that part of the speech was, it puts the United States back on solid moral ground in its approach to the regime, in making those demands and making those non-negotiable points,” he said, referring to President Trump’s list of conditions for normalized relations with Cuba to resume.
“What President Obama did was muddle the moral difference and try to basically meet the regime on its territory, and shied away from making those sorts of moral demands,” Cardenas contended.
“That’s what Donald Trump did. He put U.S. policy back on the moral side of what the Cuban people need now, not sometime in the future. We’re not going to coax the regime to make those types of reforms. It’s very simple. They need to do it now. It’s 2017. The Wall fell thirty years ago. And yet, this poor island is still in the grip of a totalitarian Communist regime,” he said.
Marlow asked Cardenas if he agreed with President Trump’s criticism that President Obama’s policy “only enriched the Cuban regime,” not the people of the island.
“Alex, that’s the practical effect,” Cardenas replied. “What happened was that in response to President Obama liberalizing trade and travel, the Cuban military began to expand its control over all aspects of the economy, principally in the tourist sector. The Cuban military, through front companies, owns nearly the entire breadth of the tourist sector – meaning hotels, meaning restaurants, meaning car rental companies, all owned by the Cuban military. So all of this American travel that Obama allowed was basically putting money right into the Cuban military.”
He said President Trump’s remarks also lampooned “the Obama administration’s negotiating style.”
“It demanded no concessions from the Castro regime for any of these liberalizing policy changes that it made,” Cardenas said of Obama’s approach. “What Donald Trump is saying is that one-way street is over now. The United States is going to demand real, tangible actions on the part of the Castro regime before it responds with any response policies, taking into note that the regime has made an effort.”
“We’ll have to see what happens. It may return to stasis. But the fact is that the United States is back on the right side of freedom and democracy, and the Castro regime realizes that there’s no patsy president in the White House any more,” he said.
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