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"Normalizing" Relations with Cuba?

January 5, 2015

On December 17th the President announced plans to “normalize” relations with Cuba and opening a U.S. embassy in Havana.  The effort, which was initially spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also included a prisoner exchange --  Cuba traded an American contractor for three Cuban spies. 

For Cuba, the advantage of this deal is bringing in hard currency as its primary patrons (Russia/Venezuela) are facing a major economic downturns.  The disadvantage to us is that the President’s actions will do little to bring democracy or economic freedom to the Cuban people – which was the intent of the embargo in the first place.

There’re a number of questions worth considering in the wake of the President’s unilateral actions.

  • First, are the sanctions working?  The answer is clearly no.   The embargo’s goal is to bring democracy and economic freedom to the Cuban people.  This has not happened during the fifty years the embargo has been in place.

  • Second, will this new policy accomplish our long-term goal of freedom and liberty for the Cuban people?  We doubt it. On December 19th Cuban President Raúl Castro declared victory for the Cuban Revolution and said the deal didn’t mean the end of Communist rule in Cuba.  In the mind of Cuban governmental leaders they’re getting their cake and eating it too!

  • Third, what is motivating U.S. business support?  Within hours PepsiCo, Caterpillar and Marriott International were developing strategies to introduce their products/services into Cuba; to a market where Cuban workers earn between $17 and $30 per month and won’t be able to afford to buy foreign goods or services.  So who will reap the economic benefits?  It’s most likely the Cuban government will reap the benefits of this deal with little, if anything, trickling down to the average Cuban.

  • Fourth, did we get a fair (balanced or a good) deal?  To our way of thinking we didn’t.  The President isn’t a good negotiator.  Time after time he gives away the store while getting little to show for it and this is just one more example. 

  • And finally, did the President follow the law? The answer is No!  The Helms-Burton Act was passed by the Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in March 1996, codifying the Presidential proclamation initiated by President Kennedy.   This law requires – as a condition of lifting the embargo – that the Cuban government give its people a number of rights including the rights of association, speech, and political activity.  This has clearly not been agreed to by the Cuban Government.   In addition Cuba is still on the list of sponsors of terrorism and under the Helms Burton Act the Cuban government may not be recognized as long as either Fidel or Raul Castro are part of it.

Are we in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba?  Yes, but only under certain circumstances.  First, any recognition of the Cuban government needs to be tied to assurances that its people will be given the freedoms and liberties spelled out in the Helms-Burton Act.  Second, we don’t have a problem with American business interests – including the Port of Galveston – profiting from improved relations with Cuba but we would like to see the benefits of the normalization flowing to the average Cuban, not its communist leaders.

Embedded in Helms-Burton is a provision giving the Congress (House and Senate) the authority to override any Administration actions to recognize Cuba.  We encourage the Congress to exercise this authority until a better deal that helps the average Cuban is negotiated.

Bill, Mark and John