President Obama announced sweeping changes to the United States’ approach to diplomacy with Cuba yesterday, in a statement broadcast simultaneously with a speech by President Raúl Castro in which he declared the changes a step towards “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”
Many on both sides of the aisle are expecting President Obama’s policies to bring about significant improvements in the lives of average Cubans– and, were President Obama’s promises to ring true, this might well be the case. However, the President is promising the Cuban people something that, without the Castro government yielding to any demands, is simply impossible. Below, a line-by-line analysis of every inaccurate statement and unfulfillable promise in President Obama’s speech yesterday that he does not have the power to fulfill, and for which there is no evidence that the Castro regime will help.
“Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions… it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.”
The idea that the embargo has not had any effect on the Cuban government’s ability to function is a hugely flawed one, based almost entirely on the fact that it has failed to dethrone the Castro brothers. It ignores the ambitions for international influence that led Cuba to send soldiers to fight in far-off wars in Africa– most prominently in Angola, where an estimated 10,000 Cubans died fighting for communism– and advisors to Venezuela. Thanks in large part to Cuba’s influence, Venezuela’s socialist government has turned an OPEC nation into a place where products such as oil, eggs, and even water are either rationed or bought on the black market. Had the Castros enjoyed an influx of millions from the American tourism industry, it is feasible that dangerous ties to even more distant nations like Iran and China could have been strengthened, threatening American interests.
While the embargo failed to create regime change, it certainly has not “had little effect” on the Castros.
“As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba. These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.”
It is true that the United States has eased its restrictions on travel to Cuba. It is not true that restrictions no longer exist. In September, the Cuban government applied more restrictions on travel by family into Cuba, possibly in response to the US government easing its own restrictions, which significantly limit the amount of necessary goods that enter the country. It does not limit tourism or how much a foreigner without family on the island can bring to the country, but those with known relatives in Cuba will have their goods confiscated if they bring too much underwear or shampoo for their families in their luggage.
This is not so much a lie on the President’s part as it is misdirection. It blames the American government solely for any distance between Cuban Americans and their families, when the Castro regime made very clear this year that it will work diligently to keep those family ties broken. And as this current deal demanded nothing of the Castro regime but the release of Alan Gross and an unnamed U.S. agent, there is no guarantee that any of these reforms will have an effect.
“Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.”
America has no shared interests in any of these fields. For America, health is a humanitarian mission, one into which the government pours billions of dollars internationally. For Cuba, health is an $8 million a year slave trade (doctors are paid only a “living stipend” when they are forced to leave the country for medical work, which hardly pays for food and shelter). Similarly, migrating out of Cuba is a near impossibility. Restrictions have grown so much in 2014 that Florida is seeing the highest influx of exiles braving the 90 miles on rafts since the 1994 balsero exile. While America leads the international war on terror, Cuba provides safe harbor for the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the biggest non-jihadist terrorist group in the world— which is also one of the largest drug trafficking operations on earth. And so on.
“I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism… at a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.”
It is complete misdirection to imply that, because Cuba does not have openly known ties to jihadist groups, it is not supporting terrorism internationally. As mentioned above, the Castro regime has been indispensable to the FARC.
“So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions. And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.”
There is no way for President Obama to guarantee that “it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba” without the cooperation of the Cuban government. There is no indication that President Obama demanded and received the cooperation of the Cuban government. While it is true that, now, U.S. exporters may attempt to do business in Cuba without having to worry about American sanctions, there is no guarantee that the Cuban government will not punish them, or expropriate their inventories on the island as they did in 1959.
“Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe. So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.”
Without Raúl Castro’s approval, businesses will not be able to sell anything on the island. Yes, this new policy means businesses will not face legal action in the United States for trying to sell these items, but there is no guarantee they will not face retribution from the communist government.
José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”
José Martí actually said: “Libertad es el derecho que todo hombre tiene a ser honrado, y a pensar y a hablar sin hipocresía”– “Liberty is the right that all men have to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.” Wonder why President Obama left that out?
Much of the rest of President Obama’s rhetoric that does not directly address the reforms– his homage to Miami as “a profoundly American city,” his call to “leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections”– rings disingenuous given how little the Castro regime has had to sacrifice in order to attract the piggy bank that is American tourism, if he chooses to allow it. But most disturbing are the details that he provided on how America will approach this nearby enemy, and how little it appears the United States will actually do to empower a viable opposition movement in Cuba, or even protect American companies who dare do business on the island from any future expropriation.