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martes, diciembre 23, 2014

Obama’s Cuba mistake: A Q&A with Roger Noriega

By Roger F. Noriega -  IASW


On Wednesday, President Obama announced that he would take steps to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, reversing a policy of isolation that has stood for over a half-century and through 10 presidential administrations. Below, AEI scholar Roger Noriega answers several important questions that have arisen in the wake of Obama’s dramatic move.

People refer to the Cuba sanctions as an anachronism. After all, we trade and work with many dictatorships. For example, what’s the difference between Cuba and Communist China?

Cuba is in our neighborhood—in a region whose governments have committed themselves to representative democracy and respect for human rights. Yes, we should expect more from that government, particularly in justifying a dramatic policy change. By relaxing these standards to accommodate a totalitarian regime, other governments will find it easier to justify undemocratic behavior that hurts their people and undermines stability in the region.

The question today is how we should go about lifting the Cuba sanctions. Do we do so to encourage key reforms, or do we do so in a unilateral gesture in exchange for nothing? Inexplicably, President Obama chose the latter course.

The refusal of the Castro government to open up in any meaningful way for the last 55 years—in response to pressure from the United States or engagement from the rest of the world—demonstrates that the regime in Havana, not US policy, is the problem. So, Obama has forfeited leverage that might be useful down the road in way that buys the Castro regime more time in power.

In recent years, we’ve opened up a good deal towards Cuba. Tourism is up, and hotels are being built. Isn’t that actually helping the Cuban people? And if not, why?


The tourism industry, like the rest of the Cuban economy, is dominated by military-run enterprises. Foreign companies that do business in Cuba today must accept as their partner the Cuban state. Employees are provided by the state, which receives payments for wages from the foreign company in dollars or euros and passes on meager peso salaries to the exploited workers.

To the extent the state can use this revenue to sustain its internal security apparatus upon which it depends to smother dissent and remain in power, Cubans pay a very dear price for foreign tourism.

There’s no question among serious people that the Castros have mismanaged Cuba’s economy and that the island floats economically on a sea of Venezuelan oil. But Maduro in Venezuela has his own economic problems and the price of oil is really hurting his dictatorial regime and the Venezuelan people. How do you see the intersection of Obama’s opening and the oil price crash for Venezuela and Cuba?


President Obama is throwing a lifeline to the Castro regime, precisely at a time when its survival strategy of sustaining itself off Venezuelan oil is threatened by the impending collapse of their patrons in Caracas. In recent weeks, the Maduro government has reduced from 90,000 to 40,000 barrels per day, which should just cover Cuba’s internal consumption. Surely, the administration knows that the Cuban government will be severely tested as Venezuela’s largesse dries up. In that case, US leverage on Havana will increase. Therefore, the decision to give Raúl Castro diplomatic relations without conditions is even less defensible.

Another commitment Obama made to Castro was to take Cuba off the terrorism list. He can do that unilaterally if he certifies to Congress that Cuba is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. Can Secretary of State Kerry do that in good conscience? Why is Cuba on the terrorism list?


Cuba is on the terrorism list for its historic ties to European and Latin American terrorist organizations and for its refusal to renounce terrorism. The administration has turned a blind eye to Havana’s associations with rogue states, so it can claim that it does not have more information upon which to retain the terrorist designation.

The policy decision by President Obama leaves very little doubt that the State Department will rationalize a decision regarding Cuba. The Bush Administration removed North Korea from the terrorist list in 2008 in an effort to salvage nuclear talks, in a move many criticized at the time as unjustified.

Why did President Obama make this decision now?


By making this decision now, the President is able to jumpstart his engagement of the Americas rather than be on the spot to defend a policy he obviously did not support. The normalization of diplomatic ties also is a bid for the history books.

The release of Alan Gross, a US aid worker held for over two years by the Cuban government, created a pretext for action.

Moreover, since the president’s election, the Cuban regime began to rally Latin American and Caribbean governments to its cause—pressing the United States to end its policy of isolation toward Havana. In several encounters in regional summits, virtually every regional government—including key allies like Colombia—have insisted that Cuba be invited. The next summit is scheduled for April in Panama. President Obama had to decide whether to boycott that meeting or sit down with Raúl Castro.

What is the role of Congress in making Cuba policy, and what is expected in the coming year?


Congressional leaders already have indicated their opposition to unilateral concessions to the Castro regime, and any meaningful relaxation of the economic sanctions will require an act of Congress. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 codifies the US economic embargo, and restoring normal trade or commercial ties with Cuba will require an act of Congress. There is a strong bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress that has resisted unilateral relaxation of the embargo.

Granting diplomatic recognition is wholly within the authority of the president in his normal conduct of foreign affairs. The Senate must grant its consent to the designation of any US ambassador to Havana. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs next January, already has expressed his opposition to this normalization of relations and designation of an ambassador.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who will lead the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, has announced his opposition to spending money to normalize relations. The United States already maintains an “interests section” in Havana, which is staffed by US Foreign Service officers and headed by a “chief of mission”; most of the costs of maintaining that staff and facility already are appropriated, so no new money will be required for these activities.

Regarding the travel and banking measures announced by the president, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury writes the regulations to implement US law and executive action; these changes do not require an act of Congress. Early in his term, the president exercised a degree of discretion to allow more family travel and cash remittances to the island. In light of the president’s intention to further relax existing travel and banking restrictions, OFAC’s proposed regulations will likely be scrutinized closely by Congress.

Last big picture question: What will this mean for Cuba after the dust settles? Real  change? Or…? 
Those who know the intransigent nature of the Castro regime expect no meaningful steps toward liberalization of any kind—particularly because it has been handed a major victory in exchange for doing nothing. The normalization of diplomatic relations will have very little positive impact on the lives of Cubans, unless President Obama rallies other countries to join us in pressing for economic and political change on the island. If he fails to do follow up with a vigorous pro-democracy campaign, his decision will be proven as a blunder that prolonged the Castro dictatorship and accomplished little else

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posted by Aserne Venezuela @ 1:17 p.m. 

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