Foreign Policy

On Cuba, Score One for… the Popes? And Who's Against Opening Relations Anyway?

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Soldiers raising Cuban flag
yeksa/flickr

The Associated Press reports on some of the first moves that led to the announcement the United States would re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba, from the Vatican:

Pope Francis rightly got credit for helping bring the U.S. and Cuba together and free U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross. But it was actually Francis' predecessor, Emeritus Benedict XVI, who made the first high-level Vatican manoeuver to release Gross, spurred in part by an unlikely group of papal lobbyists.

The Associated Press has learned that the American Jewish Committee was one of several Jewish groups that approached the Vatican before Benedict's March 2012 visit to Cuba to ask that the German pontiff raise the issue on humanitarian grounds with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Benedict is the first living former pope in more than 600 years. The U.S. cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba more than 50 years ago.

The president's move does not lift the embargo, which only Congress can do. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) backs the move, and more, saying the embargo hasn't worked. And it hasn't for a long time. Despite that, some vested interests have helped keep the status quo going along for decades. Larger Communist countries, with larger markets, have  been treated as normal-ish trading partners for almost twenty years.

Who opposes the president's move? Here's Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.):

Most concerning is that the decision to open relations with Cuba fails to understand the nature of the Castro regime that has exerted its authoritarian control over the Cuban people for 55 years.

There is no reason that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that, if he extends his hand in peace, the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists.

The opposite is true.

The changes to U.S. policy are clearly intended to circumvent the intent and spirit of U.S. law and Congress. It presents a false narrative about Cuba, suggesting that the United States and not the regime is responsible for its failings.

Cuba's economic struggles are the result of 50 years of failed political and economic experiments

As are the struggles of many places, some in New Jersey, that have been controlled by Democrats like Menendez for decades. They've been victim to failed political and economic experiments too, but shouldn't be punished with economic sanctions for continuing to vote for the same failed policies.

Most of the opposition, however, comes from Republicans. Here's Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.):

"Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama.  But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union.  Their government can continue to detain individuals like Alan Gross indefinitely without process—as the many political prisoners still languishing in the Castros' prisons can attest.  They retain their close, long-standing ties with hostile nations, notably Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.  They will continue their support for terrorist organizations from FARC to Hezbollah and Hamas.

North Korea is far closer to what the Soviet Union was than anything in Cuba today but throwing out a laundry list of loosely associated "enemies" of the U.S.  illustrates the bankrupt foreign policy thinking a lot of establishment Republicans keep holding on to. Cuba's not North Korea. The North Korean regime wouldn't be interested in diplomatic relations or, more importantly, free trade, even if offered.

Menendez writes that Obama has offered the Cuban regime an "economic lifeline." Free trade is an economic lifeline, to the people living in a country, creating new economic opportunities and new wealth, making people freer. It stands in stark contrast to foreign aid, which is an economic lifeline to the people ruling a country, allowing them to keep the populations under their control dependent on their services.

Public opinion appears overwhelmingly in favor re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba and lifting travel restrictions. Importantly, a majority also oppose the trade embargo, and even more admit it's failed.

Cuba policy's been hanging in the air there, a softball waiting to be hit out of the park. For Cubans' sake, and Americans', hopefully President Obama did. And maybe Republicans will follow voices in their party, like Paul's and Rep. Justin Amash's, that understand the link between supporting free trade with Cuba and the principles their party says it stands for.

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91 responses to “On Cuba, Score One for… the Popes? And Who's Against Opening Relations Anyway?

  1. I see this actually causing a nice little rift between Democrats. A rift that the GOP will be too stupid to exploit (because it’ll cause a rift there, too, I suppose).

    1. Something tells me Rubio and Cruz are much more interested in enlarging the rift between themselves and actual conservatives than they are in causing any dissention among the Democrats.

    2. More likely Republicans will come down on the wrong side of this issue (opposing freedom), and cost themselves Florida and 2016. The great majority of Americans want the embargo to end, and the majority of Floridians do as well.

      1. Nothing says freedom like the ability to buy some cigars from a state-owned plantation in Cuba.

        If only the north would have bought some more freedom cotton from the south, I’m sure slavery would have ended in no time.

    3. It is pure comedy gold that 3 Marxist dipshits got together in a room and talked about feigning liberty and more open markets.
      We should foster better relations with cuba only if we are allowing free markets to prove the failure of communism. That ain’t gonna happen.

      This scenario will only prove further how much of a chump Obama is. It will not result in a better condition for the Cubans. They will still be driving cars from the 50s because the average Cuban earns $20 a day.

  2. Is anyone else getting the sense that Obama is rooting around under the sofa cushions for anything he can do before the senate changes hands? It’s just odd, because all this executive action crap would have been just as possible after the changeover. What’s the rush?

    1. I think it’s all the “controversial” stuff he would have done 6 years ago if he hadn’t had to get himself and a bunch of other Democrats elected. Now that his campaigning is over and the midterms are done, I think we’ll see a bunch of stuff like this in the next 2 years. Some of it will be decent, some will be horrifying. I’d say on balance, mostly it will be horrifying.

      1. Aprez moi, le deluge? Going to be a long two years.

        1. Especially for a lot of Democratic politicians that still have elections to win.

  3. So does this mean the Pope will finally be coming over in a battleship?

    /anti-Al Smith voter

    1. Thanks for the reference, I was unaware of him.

  4. Ted Cruz: Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama.

    Cuba trades with every country on earth except for one, and they have been in power longer than you have been alive, jackass. If they didn’t have legitimacy and economic stability already, Obama certainly can’t grant it to them.

    1. C’mon, Hugh, Cruz is pandering to the Cuban expat community. They’re the only group who really feels strongly about this.

      1. But what about Menendez? Is his continued employment contingent upon the good will of Cubans?

      2. SOmeone posted a poll back on NRO that showed even a majority of Cuban-Americans want normalization of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Since the 90s it has gone from like 80% opposition to only 36% today.

        I think this just reflects the fact that much of the Cuban American community is now 2nd generation cuban americans.

        The problem that Cruz-et al have to deal with is that its those older immigrants who give money to the GOP and he needs to keep them happy. Paul has to know that he would never win the Florida primary anyways if Rubio, Cruz and Jeb were to run against him.

    2. If they didn’t have legitimacy and economic stability already, Obama certainly can’t grant it to them.

      Especially as our economy moves firmly into second-rate status.

    3. Having no support from the USSR or Venezuela has put them in worse condition. There’s certainly reasons to think the Castro regime is at a crossroads. If it doesn’t receive some economic relief…

      1. Woah you can’t be saying that. It goes against the narrative.

  5. The Republicans’ response to this is more proof, as if we needed any, that team red’s position on any issue is whatever the opposite is of team blue. Ugh. Perhaps they’ll change their tune in a few years when their crony capitalist companies start shoveling money to them to expand normal relations with Cuba.

    1. I’m guessing that you didn’t actually read the article.

  6. It’s not just a matter of the island being Communist. There are outstanding property seizure claims.

    The problem I see with normalizing trade with Cuba is that any assets the Cuba government sends to the US for the purposes of trade would, and should, be subject to immediate seizure for the satisfaction of the property claims of US citizens and permanent residents. That could be hairy fast. It would be like the current Argentina imbroglio, but 100 times as complex.

    1. Good point, Fluffy.

      No idea what the legal posture of any claims for seizure of property would be, but assuming they have enforceable judgements, I could definitely see a big legal furball every time a ship with Cuban goods makes port, or any time revenues payable to an official state firm pass through a US bank account.

      And, you know what? I’m good with that.

    2. The island is communist and the sea surrounding it is socialist. The very minerals exhibit collectivism.

      1. /jk

        But you do raise a good point.

    3. ” It would be like the current Argentina imbroglio, but 100 times as complex.”

      Yes, but few of those claimants vote Democrat. So, I think we can reasonably expect the Obama Administration to pretty much ignore their claims.

    4. Well, the trade embargo hasn’t ended and if the Castros are as desperate, clinging to the ropes and at a crossroads as many of the JUST 50 MORE YEARS embargoers claim, then we ought to get some concessions here and also around travel restrictions when we normalize. This did happen with China.

      The good news is there will soon be an Embassy in Cuba, if the GOP doesn’t block it. That is the start of negotiating a trade treaty.

  7. So, now we’re under the rule of Popery?

    New government program: Cubans for Clunkers!

    1. Stop trolling Eddie!

      1. I’m not crowing, just revelling in my triumph.

  8. The president’s move does not lift the embargo, which only Congress can do.

    Why?

    1. It takes an act of Congress to counteract an act(s) of Congress.

      1. Does it? And I’m being serial. Can’t the President issue an executive order, or one of those newfangled Memo thingies they were talking about yesterday?

        1. It’s certainly possible that Krayewski is clinging to quaint notions of separation of powers and Constitutional limits on authority.

          It’s also possible that Obama doesn’t think he will be able to get away with such a blatant incursion into Congressional turf.

          It’s also possible that Obama hasn’t completely thought this move through and doesn’t realize that his grand legacy coup is in the hands of an Obstrublican Congress.

  9. Hardly any news here: Leftists supporting leftists seems quite normal.

    Obama, Kerry and the rest would be quite comfortable at a dinner table with Fidel, Che, Pol Pot, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh?.and all the rest.

  10. Menendez was on the radio this morning arguing that normalized relations with China and Vietnam have failed to bring about democracy and real respect for human rights. Which, I guess, if your only benchmark is totally free and open elections and no politically motivated arrests, etc., is correct. But that completely overlooks the actual progress both countries have made. The China of 2014 is better by many objective standards than even the China of 1989. And that’s just 25 years. In double that time, the Cuban sanctions have done even less. Hell, if it takes 50 years for normalized relations for Cuba to allow real market reforms and some dissident political speech, it will still be more successful than sanctions have been.

    1. Hell, Menendez might pause for a moment and consider whether we have a “real respect for human rights” in this country.

      There’s a certain film-maker in jail. Unaccountable and immunized state enforcers roam our streets, killing, stealing, and assaulting at a whim. Our jails are full to the brim with people who have committed only victimless crimes. Our prison conditions map pretty closely onto the “torture” in the recent Senate report.

      On and on.

      1. But AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALZM!

      2. Yeah, we’re just like Cuba, how dare he judge!

    2. If Republicans cared about results, they would end the War on Drugs. But they cant, because intentions.

  11. North Korea is far closer to what the Soviet Union was than anything in Cuba today

    Regardless of what you think about trade with Cuba, that is just a fucking lie. Cuba is a horrible police state on par with East Germany, Romania or the old USSR at any time other than during the Stalinist terrors.

    It is one thing to argue to end the embargo. I am agnostic on the subject. But how fucking dare anyone pretend that the Cuban regime is anything but the evil, oppressive piece of shit that it is or in any way pretend or minimize how horrible it is. That is fucking appalling. Take that back ED.

    1. I agree with John on this: claiming the North Korean Govt is more evil than the Cuban is a quite defensible argument. But that in no way falsifies the fact that Cuba is totalitarian police state modeled after that in the Soviet Union.

      When a guy points out that Cuba is evil, saying “but… but… but… North Korea!” isn’t a rebuttal – it’s a distraction.

      The Cubans still have people exiled internally to the ‘villages’ that were openly being used as concentration camps in the 70’s. The way workers are paid *is* slavery. They get to keep $20 of their marginal productivity, and last I checked being unemployed was a felony there.

      I am opposed to the embargo – but let’s not kid ourselves; Cuba was a first world country that has been ground into fourth-world poverty by a small oligarchy that enriches themselves by ruling with an iron fist, that is willing to massacre innocents and are complete and utter pieces of shit.

      1. In many ways Cuba is worse than the USSR or the old eastern block ever were. The average Russian in the USSR (outside of WWII and the famine) was better off than average Cuban today. It is just fucking horrible. And I can’t fucking believe Reason let a statement like get published.

        1. “In many ways Cuba is worse than the USSR or the old eastern block ever were. The average Russian in the USSR (outside of WWII and the famine) was better off than average Cuban today. It is just fucking horrible. And I can’t fucking believe Reason let a statement like get published.”

          This is absolutely true, and also North Korea is vastly worse than the USSR ever was.

          Basically Ed got everything in that comparison wrong. Cuba and the USSR are actually very apt comparisons, whereas North Korea is more of a nightmare than either of them. I’d rather have been an East Berliner in the 70’s than a North Korean today.

          1. My guess is that Ed doesn’t know shit about the actual history of the USSR and the eastern block an is talking out of his ass here.

            1. Think of it this way: The Holodomor is remembered as a great and terrible crime against humanity, but it only lasted for a fraction of the existence of the Soviet Union.

              North Korean starvation, on the other hand, has been ongoing for 60 years.

              North Korea is the Soviet Union if it were more repressive and the Holodomor never ended.

              1. North Korea might be the worst regime in the history of the world. Pol Pot is the only nightmare state that can compare, but it only lasted four years. North Korea has lasted almost 70.

          2. “I’d rather have been an East Berliner in the 70’s than a North Korean today.”

            …and I’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona.

    2. I’m pretty sure Ed thinks the Soviet Union was evil, too. I don’t know much about what conditions are like in Cuba, but I’ve read a bit about North Korea.

      So unless Cubans are starving to death by the hundreds of thousands if not millions, being sent to prison camps where their children will also have to live their entire lives, kidnapping the citizens of other countries to serve as sex slaves for the Castros’, and actively shooting at the boats of neighbouring countries, I’d say North Korea is a lot worse than Cuba.

      1. You miss my point. My problem is not with saying North Korea is worse. It is. My problem is Ed’s pretending that Cuba is better than the old USSR. That is just horse shit.

        1. I misread Ed’s statement. I thought he was saying Cuba is closer to the USSR than North Korea.

        2. My problem is Ed’s pretending that Cuba is better than the old USSR

          Their weather is better…?

      2. Think about what Ed is saying here. He is saying that even North Korea isn’t as bad as the old USSR, which is not true and that North Korea is “far closer” to the USSR than Cuba, meaning Cuba is a long ways from being as bad as the USSR. That is an appalling lie.

      3. The ecology of Cuba is more forgiving than that of North Korea. If you want to eat anything (bugs included) in in March, in NK, you would have to had have planned way ahead.

    3. North Korea is worse.

      1. Sure it is. But North Korea is worse than the old USSR by a long shot. Cuba is absolutely on par with the USSR. The fact that North Korea is worse is as Tarran says, a distraction.

  12. Free trade is an economic lifeline, to the people living in a country, creating new economic opportunities and new wealth, making people freer. It stands in stark contrast to foreign aid, which is an economic lifeline to the people ruling a country, allowing them to keep the populations under their control dependent on their services.

    Ending the embargo is not “free trade”. Stop peddling that bullshit. We will never have free trade with the Castro regime. We will at most have trade that is completely under control and done entirely for the benefit of the Castro regime. Stop talking about this like it is NAFTA for Cuba. It is not. Us being willing to trade with Cuba in no way means the Cubans have to or will create a free market in Cuba.

    1. Properly described, what Obama is proposing is that Americans be allowed to trade with the Cuban State, and Cuban State-owned and controlled companies.

      Because that’s what it will be initially and probably for quite some time.

      Which isn’t to say I support the embargo. I just don’t like bad arguments, even in support of things I favor.

      If he was smart, Obama would put one and only one condition on lifting the embargo:

      That Castro allow anyone who wants to leave Cuba to do so.

      1. One, Obama is not smart. Two, even if he were, Obama likes Castro and Cuba and would be sorry to see the regime fail. Three, Castro knows allowing people to leave would be a death sentence for his regime and thus would never agree to it.

        Ending the embargo is just going to result in Obama cronies trading with Castro cronies and making some money and not much else.

        1. Maybe the Castro brothers finally want to cash all those checks for renting Guantanamo.

      2. That Castro allow anyone who wants to leave Cuba to do so.

        In order for people to leave Cuba they have to have someplace to go. If Obama lets them come here he’s importing voters who have experienced extreme progressive government, and who may vote republican or libertarian.

  13. The Wikipedia entry on Fidel Castro is kind of interesting to me. I always look at the right pane first, to see when the subject in question was born and died (with a dash if not yet). Castro has done neither.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fidel_Castro

    1. Sorry, scroll down for that. Buy a bit unusual that that’s not on top.

  14. As are the struggles of many places, some in New Jersey, that have been controlled by Democrats like Menendez for decades. They’ve been victim to failed political and economic experiments too, but shouldn’t be punished with economic sanctions for continuing to vote for the same failed policies.

    I am intrigued by your ideas, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  15. understand the link between supporting free trade with Cuba and the principles their party says it stands for.

    Republicans support Free Trade?

    Also didn’t the US have diplomatic relations with the USSR during most of Stalin’s rule?

    1. During all of it. We always had diplomatic relations with the USSR.

      1. Not until 1933.

      2. No, the US didn’t establish diplomatic relations with the USSR until 1933.

        1. But STalin didn’t take power until the 27 I think. And the famine didn’t start until 32 and the show trials and terror not until 37. So, we had diplomatic relations throughout the worst of the USSR.

          1. So, we had diplomatic relations throughout the worst of the USSR.

            Yes, I was saying that diplomatic relations is no panacea.

            1. Shocking isn’t it?

  16. I’m guessing the Castro regime raised the maximum wage up from $20 per month? I’m sure all that money will go to the people. What an amazing accomplishment conceding to do what a totalitarian wants without getting shit in return.

    1. I thought socialists paid a living wage?

      1. They do, anyone who dies can file a grievance report.

  17. Hey guys, remember when we traded with Stalin and sold him all of those weapons, food and fuel so he could fight the Nazis? Remember that? That trade sure ended his regime didn’t it?

  18. “………(N)othing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
    G. Washington, Farewell Address

    Why do those who oppose diplomatic recognition of Cuba hate George
    Washington??

    1. WTF? I don’t hate Cuba. I hate Castro. If the rat bastard is ever hanged like he should be, I will be the first one demanding free trade with Cuba.

    2. It’s amazing how badly you misunderstood what you just posted there.

    3. I’m assuming this is out of context because Washington led a war against a nation. And wars generally have animosity.

      1. You are welcome to read the whole speech. While we can’t know Washington’s mind, he seems to be saying that he would not have endorsed the 50 year hatred of Cuba.

  19. If I were Obama, I’d negotiate a treaty covering (a) an end to the embargo, (b) compensation for property stolen from U.S. business, (c) getting the Cubans to stop playing footsie with U.S. enemies. Once the treaty was negotiated I’d send it to the Senate, to reassure skeptics that I wasn’t trying to bypass Congress.

    By tying these issues into a single treaty, the embargo could be used as a bargaining chip to get the Cubans to behave better and finally pay up for what they stole back in the 60s.

    Before finishing the treaty, I’d have Kerry and the Cuban Sec State make a joint announcement in NY or Geneva or somewhere that We’re Starting Negotiations to improve relations between Our Two Great Nations, etc. This would prepare the public and anticipate leaks.

    1. GKC,

      You have to remember, you are bothered by the fact that Castro stole all of that property, supports US enemies, and is generally horrible. Obama views these things as admirable. So why would he want to negotiate about things he likes and risk messing up being able to let his cronies get rich trading with Castro?

      1. That could well be the explanation.

        I am also open to the possibility, however, that Obama is initiating confidence-building measures preparatory to a broader deal.

        “First we get our contractor back and relax trade restrictions. Then in that climate of trust, we work on other items of interest!”

        1. So I suppose a more limited confidence-building measure could have been more tourists in Cuba and more, say papapa imports (or whatever Obama’s campaign donors want to sell to the Cubans).

          Oh, and legalizing cigars.

    2. Just cancel all those undeposited lease payment checks for Guantanamo and use that for claims.

    3. If I were Obama,

      President Obama is a worldly man. He grew up as a kid in Hawaii, the most multi-racial state in the Union. He spent his adolescent in Indonesia. He got a taste of urban politics by living in Chicago. He has smoked pot with white kids in choom vans and graduated from Harvard law school. I doubt he’s ever rode a horse, played ice hockey, or milked a cow (other than as a stunt), but he’s about as eclectic a president we could expect in this day.

      Like him or not, he is hard to match. You can’t wear his shoes. Otherwise your (a), (c)’s seem reasonable.

      1. I know at least a dozen people who are ten times more eclectic and cosmopolitan than Obama. He went to school for a few years in Indonesia. Big fucking deal. Tons of people have lived overseas. Hell, a few of them even learned something while there.

        1. I know at least a dozen people who are ten times more eclectic and cosmopolitan than Obama.

          Not a political tigers like Obama though. From a Hawaii kid to president in 48 years, stopping only to be senator for 2. Never a full term senator or congressman, a general, an industrialist, a small business owner, or even the mayor of East Peoria.

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  21. Any bets on where the next Major League Baseball franchise will be? I’m betting several in Cuba – Havana, Santiago & Camag?ey. Baseball is popular enough in Cuba that smaller cities will support franchises.

  22. Well, whether the Cuban government decides to stop oppressing its people, I fully support the U.S. Government ending its oppression of us, by ending the trade embargo with Cuba.

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