A New Relationship with Cuba May Be a Good Thing, Just Not Necessarily For Who You Think

Cuban Embargo

There are several arguments being bandied about regarding President Obama’s desire to normalize relations with our little Commie friend to the South, Cuba. And they run the gamut: some think it’s a sign of weak negotiating prowess and simply bad policy (we give more than we get, etc.); some think the embargo a failed prospect that should be, in the interests of the Cuban people, tossed to the wind, but that Congress should have been included in the decision; and others think it’s all just a swell idea and hurray because Cuba and the USA are about to be besties! (I’m sure there’s a selfie joke in there somewhere).

Congress, understandably, is pushing back — again, something that will likely be a common theme over the next two years — with Marco Rubio making as clear a statement as any I’ve heard on the matter:

“I anticipate I’ll be the chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee” in the new Congress, Florida Senator Marco Rubio said in a press conference hours after the release of American prisoner Alan Gross from a Cuban prison was announced along with the administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba, including opening an embassy there.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

“I intend to use every tool at our disposal in the majority to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” Rubio said…

“This Congress is not going to lift the embargo,” Rubio said.

It’s hard to argue that strategically it’s a good idea to get Cuba on our side, as it were. And of course the humanitarian angle — that lifting economic sanctions will bring some prosperity to the long-suffering Cuban people — is noble and gives everyone that kumbaya feeling we like here in America. But there is the very real possibility that this shift in policy has a political agenda that feels more like a bailout of a faltering economy that will ultimately keep some pretty nasty guys in power, as The Washington Post points out:

To be sure, President Raúl Castro is in a world of trouble, what with his failing economy and the likelihood that declining oil prices will force Havana’s Venezuelan sponsors to reduce their subsidies.

The one thing he does have is a clear goal, keeping himself and Cuba’s Communist elite in power, and a time-tested approach for doing so: permitting the minimum economic and political liberalization consistent with total control, and nothing more.

Greater engagement with the United States does indeed pose risks to the regime, not the least of which is that incoming tourists and businessmen will start to erode a pervasive system of social and political control.

But Cuba’s authorities have years of experience manipulating foreign investors from Latin America, Canada and Europe, and with controlling Cubans’ interactions with foreign visitors, who tend to be more interested in exploiting the local population than liberating it.

And there is the part that I keep coming back to, willing to concede though I am that making nice with Cuba is — if it works — not a bad decision to make. Just what high level discussions were had that made us decide that the Castros were willing to work with us instead of living by that old adage, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”? Because honestly, I feel like Russia is in here somewhere, especially in light of Congress pulling a fast one with the sanctions legislation they passed against The Bear, which Obama is supposed to sign tomorrow.

The Jerusalem Post thinks that opening up relationships with Cuba is, like these new sanctions, a further check on Russia:

While these critiques are more than legitimate, Menendez, Rubio, and a panoply of cable news pundits and right-leaning talk radio hosts fail to see that in this particular case Obama may be severing a political limb to bolster the patient’s national security.

Alarmingly, the Russians in recent months have been using Cuba to build up a menacing Cold War-era presence at America’s doorstep. Cost-benefit calculations here might find rapprochement with Cuba outweighs the risks of a Soviet reemergence a short boat ride away from the Florida Keys.

I suppose that’s as good an argument as any. Except I recall a time not long ago when Obama was caught on a hot mic letting then Russian President Medvedev know he’d have more “flexibility” following his election (which at that time wasn’t guaranteed). And that, along with this from April 2013, is enough to cast at least a very critical eye on this emerging flip between the US and Cuba:

Russia is urging the quickest cancellation of the U.S. trade and economic embargo against Cuba, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“Our stance on the issue is well-known. Russia, as well as the majority of the global community members, supports the quickest cancellation of the trade, economic and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba, which is a relic of the ‘cold war’ times,” the Information and Press Department of the Russian foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Tuesday.

Perhaps Putin was right when he suggested that Russia will only be suffering economically for a few years.

Perhaps there’s nothing to this line of speculation at all. But one thing’s for certain: our Congress and our President appear to be working at cross-purposes on foreign policy so the next two years may end up being rather exciting to watch.

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