GOP Senator: Economic Liberty Will Free Cubans Faster Than Embargo (Duh)

"The economic agenda *is* the human rights agenda," says Arizona's Jeff Flake.


No politician of either major party has been more dedicated over the past 15 years to helping the people of Cuba than Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican. Flake is among the Americans traveling with President Obama on his historic trip to Cuba this week.

While party-mates such as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (who both have Cuban roots) talk about continuing economic boycotts and diplomatic isolation despite the clear failure of such policies to improve the life of people left behind on the Castro brothers' island prison, Flake has two basic arguments about why we should be trading with Cuba.

First, as he told Reason in an exclusive interview during a late-January trip to Havana, "These aren't sanctions on Cubans, these are sanctions on Americans. When others who I normally agree with—Marco Rubio and others—say these latest moves by the president are a concession to the Castros or to the regime, they're wrong. It's not a concession to allow your own population to travel. That's an expression of freedom."

Second, as he writes in a piece for the Tucson Daily Star,

The cash-strapped Castro regime has laid off thousands of government workers and has expanded legal opportunities in the private sector. This has given way to a dramatic rise in the number of entrepreneurs running restaurants, bed and breakfasts, taxi services, barbershops, beauty salons and much more. In fact, it is estimated that as many as a third of Cuba's 5 million workers are now operating in Cuba's private sector.

This exponential expansion of Cuba's entrepreneurial class would not have happened were it not for U.S. policy changes in 2009 that have led to an explosion of travel and remittances among Cuban Americans. Some suggest that remittances to the island are responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the capital used in small businesses in Cuba.

Economist Milton Friedman wrote that economic freedom is "an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom." Far from being concessions, changes in our policy toward Cuba are reinforcing and advancing opportunities for Cubans in the private sector. Citizens who are totally dependent on government for their livelihood are subject to the whims of all-powerful leaders in a way that those who are economically independent are not.

Read more here.

Flake isn't a brain-addled lefty complaining that Cuba is about to be "ruined" by a profusion of Starbucks or new cars. He's somebody deeply committed to helping the wreteched of the Earth prosper through economic and political freedom. As he told Reason, "Cuba is poor because they have a bankrupt socialist system here. Full stop." Indeed, one of his reasons for lifting the travel ban was that more Americans should see how a government-controlled economy destroys everything. He told us that Lech Walesa, the great Polish anti-communist rebel, told him: "I have no idea why you guys have a museum of socialism 90 miles from your shore and you won't let anybody visit it."

For decades, Cuba has subsisted on allowances from the Soviet Union and, later, Venezueala. Those regimes are either dead or dead broke, which is one of the reasons why the Castros have allowed an increase in private-sector economic activity. As Flake and Milton Friedman suggest, that's a genie that doesn't go easily back into the bottle, especially if as many as a third of the Cuban workforce is now in the private sector. With money comes an appetite for more freedom in how to spend it (and how to earn it).

Certainly Flake's right that U.S. Cold War policy toward Cuba has failed spectacularly to bring down the Castro regime and he's boldly crossed party lines to praise President Obama for lifting all sorts of restrictions on American citizens (the trade embargo must be changed by Congress). There will still be problems, of course, and it's hardly heartening that the Cuban government arrested a bunch of peaceful protestors just hours before Obama landed yesterday. But change doesn't happen by simply doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome. With Obama's trip to Cuba, there is at least some chance that the island nation will become not just more prosperous but more free too.

Related video: In 2012, Kennedy interviewed former Reason staffer Michael Moynihan about "the politics of travel guides," particularly when it comes to fetishizing Cuban poverty. Take a look:

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  1. “”””Cold War policy toward Cuba has failed spectacularly to bring down the Castro regime “””

    Cold War policy (Nixon opening) toward China has failed spectacularly to bring down the Chinese Communist regime which is now more secure and rich then ever before.

    As opposed to the policy of restricting trade which brought down the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pack and left Cuba and North Korea as basket cases

    1. “Cold War policy (Nixon opening) toward China has failed spectacularly to bring down the Chinese Communist regime which is now more secure and rich then ever before.”

      While the Chinese PEOPLE are far better off than they ever were.
      But I guess the aim of our policies should be to punish some old men; who cares if that means millions are starving?

      1. I am not Chinese. If they don’t care about living under a communist dictatorship why should I care?

        “”””punish some old men””‘

        They got 87 million members in China. So not old and not some.

        Any many of them are getting rich renting out their sweat shops to the ‘free traders”

        Here is a link to some of the Communist owned “business” the ‘free marketers” trade with

        1. DJF|3.21.16 @ 9:58AM|#
          “Here is a link to some of the Communist owned “business” the ‘free marketers” trade with”

          Yep, starve ’em if the gov’t owns businesses.

      2. There is a question of national security. I’m all for free trade, but if you’re funding an enemy, it may not be so smart.

        Would you want free trade with Cuba in the 60’s when missiles were being installed there?

        How about with China when its funding the VC in China or the Khmer Rouge?

        Its a lot easier to stomach when at least the citizens can get some benefit, as in China now.

        Its not so apparent that will happen in Cuba. Citizens need some free markets to exercise their economic rights.

        I don’t want to trade eavesdropping equipment, stun guns, and passive restraints in return for slave sugar and rum, for example.

        1. Would you want free trade with Cuba in the 60’s when missiles were being installed there?

          Perhaps not, but the fact that an embargo is government using force of arms against its own citizens so that they make the “correct” choice is evil.

          If you don’t want to trade with [blank] to due their evil government, by all means go for it. If you don’t want me to do it either, convince me to stop. Don’t try to use aggression just because you didn’t get your way.

    2. Meanwhile, Chinese citizens are both wealthier and more free than their North Korean and Cuban counterparts…

      1. Everyone knows that the only way to save the village is to destroy it.

        1. Everyone knows the way to subsidize the communist regime is to feed it.

          1. You’re welcome to protest by not buying Chinese products.

            1. I am also welcome to protest the “free traders’ who have narrowed down the meaning of free trade to just not having quotas or tariffs instead of meaning free trade is something free people do.

              Today according to the “free traders’ the trade between North Korea and Cuba of executed political prisoners body parts is free trade as long as they don’t have government imposed quotas and tariffs on the trade.

              1. That’s a mighty big straw man you’ve got there.

                And if it’s authoritarian regimes you’re after, I suggest we start by putting tariffs on Saudi oil.

                1. Why is it a straw man, what is the meaning of ‘free trade’ used by the free traders? Isn’t just the status that free trade occurs if it does not have quota or tariffs? Outright communist organizations are included under free trade definition as shown in China and Vietnam..

                  Why not include the body parts of political prisoners? No quotas, no tariffs.

                2. I have lived in both Saudi Arabia and the Peoples Republic of China.

                  The PRC is much more free than Saudi Arabia. It is not close. It’s an order of magnitude in difference.

                  So, yeah, if tariffs should be imposed on the basis of relative freedom, Saudi oil should be taxed to the hilt.

                  1. The PRC is much more free than Saudi Arabia. It is not close. It’s an order of magnitude in difference.

                    Freedom House begs to differ. Both are “Not Free” and China’s scores are only slightly better.

              2. If you “don’t care” whether the Chinese live under a Communist dictatorship (like you wrote above), then why do you want to restrict American trade with China?

                Also, how do you feel about buying Saudi Arabian oil?

                1. I care about me and don’t want any business or labor I do to be undercut by communists under the lying banner of ‘free trade’.

                  I am against the subsidizing of Saudi defense and their importation of oil into the US

                  1. DJF|3.21.16 @ 10:36AM|#
                    “I care about me and don’t want any business or labor I do to be undercut by communists under the lying banner of ‘free trade’.”

                    Please tell me what you make. I don’t want to subsidize jingoist thugs

                    1. Jingoist Thugs, sounds like the Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, North Korean government

    3. Was that ever a real — ie, not rhetorical — goal of Nixon’s China policy? I thought he just wanted to pry apart China and the USSR. You also can argue that the regime is no longer communist; they adapted away from dogmatic Marx-Mao standards and survived instead of collapsed.

      And, as others pointed out, the Chinese people have in general benefited immensely. Yes, they don’t have full political rights, at least not yet, and their capitalism is cronyist and corrupt as fuck but they are far better off than they were in the 1960s. Political reforms are impossible when people of economically optimistic and the Chinese regime has delivered (or at least seems to have delivered).

      1. It was more intended as a way to make Russia more talkative by making them a little more paranoid but not greatly so.

      2. China and Soviet Union were already pried apart, they had border wars, they condemed each other, Mao hated the Soviets for denouncing Stalin and his one man rule.

        There was plenty of propaganda about opening China would bring democracy and the fall of the communist government. That has all disappeared once the communist government got rich

        The last time I have heard the US government pointing out Chinese lack of freedom is when that blind dissident climbed over the wall of a US embassy in China and the US government had to deal with it. And you notice that nobody talks about the guy now he is in the US. He might as well be back in China, he would have more press notice.

    4. …the Chinese Communist regime which is now more secure and rich then ever before

      This is very far from a given, unless you’re Tom Friedman…../70282.htm


      There are 80 other links I could post on the same topic. The regime is far from secure, and is still dealing with massive debt and asset bubbles. If they drop the ball and the peoples’ quality of life starts to return to what has been the norm under the ChiComs, it will collapse quickly.

  2. It’s not a concession to allow your own population to travel.

    But we’ll be exporting American dollars to Cuba. President Trump will be forced to negotiate us out of that trade deficit.

  3. There must be some entrepreneurial young Cuban we can trade Obama for.

  4. OT: Speaking of brain-addled leftist friends of Cuba… The Castros’ best bud in NYC Deblasio is throwing another “affordable” housing plan at the wall to see what sticks. It’s only 526 pages and it’s totally going to work this time!

    1. Watching that asshole play with the capital created by generations of (mostly) free people and act like he’s doing us a favor is …

      1. Yeah, adjustments to local zoning laws are another step down the road to serfdom.

        1. One person’s “adjustments” is another person’s handout to connected developers and voting blocs.

          1. I don’t disagree. But your comment made it seem like that fact of human nature was somehow unique to “brain-addled leftist friends of Cuba.” If you can identify any society anywhere at any time that wasn’t somehow corrupted by people in power doing favors for people who support them, please let me know.

            1. You were addressing staffinrun’s comment, which contained no reference to Rhywun’s “brain-addled leftist friends of Cuba.” Neither made the point you criticize, so it seems you’re arguing just to argue.

              1. My first response was to staffinrun. My second was to what Rhywun wrote in reply to me. Why do you think that it’s wrong for me to then reply to Rhywun?

        2. Maybe not alone, but have you ever heard the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”?

  5. For decades, Cuba has subsisted on allowances from the Soviet Union and, later, Venezueala.

    Gosh, I haven’t seen that commercial with one of the Kennedy scions extolling Venezuela for helping NYC’s poor with their heating oil bills. Wonder why that is.

    1. Well, with gas prices increasing, maybe we’ll see them again, and we’ll start to hear what a socialist paradise Venezuela is again.

      And I love that the one-commodity economy of such an exemplar of socialist paradise is completely at odds with progressives’ hatred of fossil fuels.

      Next time a progressive rants against fossil fuels, ask them why they hate Venezuelans so much.

      1. Gas prices are never going to get back to the level Venezuela needs. Fracking has seen to that.

  6. Flake wavers between full retard authoritarian and somewhat libertarian. He confuses me.

    1. This statement is true for many politicians on both sides of the isle.

      1. That is because they see things in terms of “left-right” and not “authoritarian-libertarian”.

        This also explains why they’re so stupid, because using such an unwieldy thought process (when a much more simple one exists) will result in many incorrect conclusions. It’s like trying to do math without having a concept of the number 7.

  7. Flake isn’t a brain-addled lefty complaining that Cuba is about to be “ruined” by a profusion of Starbucks or new cars

    The lefties who complain about such things break down into two groups. The first are the poverty fetishists. They’re the sort that enjoy widespread third-world poverty, suffering and despair for a few hours per day before retreating to their hotel for a proper meal and good night’s sleep, and the opportunity to complain about how capitalists are to blame over cocktails, compliments of some NGO, government, academic institution, or media outlet. “Ruined” in this context means more prosperous. The second are those leftists whose main concern is that the cost of third-world adventure travel and its local hookers is going to increase when their favorite destination opens up to a larger market. “Ruined” in this context means more expensive.

    There’s some overlap between these two groups. I don’t know which group is larger.

    1. Most I’ve talked to treat these countries like their own personal sociological and cultural museums. They want to keep these people downtrodden because it’s “quaint” and “charming”.

      1. That’s the overlap between poverty fetishists and lefty third-world adventure travelers.

    2. I had a friend from UT who loved that his job let him go to China on a regular basis because they had cheap incredibly gorgeous hookers. He has hated life the last 8 or 9 years, because those hookers have either been able to get jobs or become prohibitively expensive, and he blames capitalism. He’s in Berkeley now, coincidentally.

  8. I saw a report that the Cuban government wants 51% ownership in all businesses that invest in the country.I’m all for free trade.This looks more like ‘give’.Give us money and control.You have to be a idiot to invest under those conditions. They are looking for a way to line the pockets of the government.The people will continue to suffer.The people who work for this companies will likely have to remit large portions of their pay to the government.

  9. So doing business with the Cuban government and allowing them to fund their police state is going to make Cubans more free?

    1. Not doing business with the Cuban government makes me more free since they won’t be able to undercut my business or my labor with sweat shop labor.

  10. Flake isn’t a brain-addled lefty

    No, Flake is an authoritarian-centrist who votes for anti-liberty shit at every turn since his election to the US Senate.

  11. By this logic why did commerce withe the antebellum South not free the slaves? If commerce makes people free, why didn’t it end slavery?

    1. Are you interested in running our foreign policy regarding Cuba based on what you think is best for Cubans, or for Americans? How is it in America’s interest to refuse to engage in trade or otherwise normalize relations with Cuba?

      1. I think we should trade with Cuba,we buy their stuff and they buy ours.Investing in that prison is not wise unless they let companies and employees control their property.China has some of the same problems,though some do well.Still,most people in China are very poor.They do have the ability to make and export goods,Cuba does not and needs huge investment to do so.The Cuban government wants controlling interest in all investments that will enrich the party,not the people.

    2. If the antebellum South had been embargoed by a significant portion of the world, who are the first people who would’ve starved?

      1. Wouldn’t the inability to feed and care for their slaves made the system untenable? Even if it didn’t, trading with the South certainly didn’t undermine the system. It in fact cemented its existence. The drafters of the Constitution were not worried about slavery because they thought it would die out. It was only the invention of the cotton gin and the explosion of cotton trade that came with it that prevented that from happening.

    3. I hate this line of thinking in American politics. Why do we have to have a higher purpose with regard to all foreign policy decisions? Instead can’t we simply seek to end a failed and dated policy that has resulted in nothing but negatives for both sides?

      1. If your position is, fuck it we will trade with anyone, that is at least realistic. The position that “we will trade with people because it makes them free” is strikingly naive and stupid in cases like Cuba.

    4. What is the difference between American slaves and modern Chinese workers?

      1. I am not sure to be honest. And maybe we shouldn’t be buying from China either. There are other values in the world beyond “give me my cheap shit”.

  12. Cuba on the Edge of Change: It’s a land of endless waiting and palpable erosion. Yet after all these decades, an uncanny openness among the Cuban people remains.

    1. The only thing that looks kept up are the military weaponry, the taxis, and the picture of Marx.

  13. Obama’s Castro Slave State Bailout – bringing child prostitution tourism closer to our shores.

  14. Reason is being unnecessarily ideologically hidebound. Giving billions of dollars to the Castros isn’t going to liberate anyone. Practical example – do you see the Castros allowing Cuban players to in the MLB keep their millions of dollars? Of course not.

  15. ‘Economic liberty will free Cubans’? That’s horseshit. China practically owns all the major businesses in the U.S. and that hasn’t stopped their communist totalitarian regime, or the imprisonment of dissidents.

  16. Cuba Arrests, Jails Dissidents Before Obama Visit | Truth Revolt…..bama-visit

  17. Cuba has had open trade with Europe since the 60’s….their impoverishment is not the fault of the US, but can be laid directly at the feet of the the Castro Bros.

  18. Jeff the Flake?

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