The big news this week was President Obama’s announcement that relations between the United States and Cuba would be normalized. For three returned Cuban spies, he got a prisoner held for five years for trying to establish a telecommunications network outside government control, a U.S. spy in a Cuba prison for almost 20 years, and 53 political prisoners. Cuban citizens will also be permitted significant access to the Internet, and human officials from the Red Cross and the United Nations will be allowed to be inside the country. This is the first serious change since Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba caused the U.S. to impose its embargo against Cuba almost 54 years ago.
In addition, the policy change will restore full diplomatic relations and expand the import and export of goods. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, Cuba has progressed toward some private ownership of property and employment in private-sector jobs as well as encouragement of foreign investment. The Republicans believe that opening up trade and investing opportunities push countries toward an American-style economy. That was the party’s philosophy in opening up relations with China several decades ago. Their belief in this progress appears limited to GOP moves, however; as usual, President Obama’s actions are wrong simply because he is a Democrat.
The policy shift was announced after 18 months of secret talks between the two countries with the support of Pope Francis. The details were finalized after a 45-minute telephone conversation last Tuesday. Leaders of the two countries had not spoken directly to each other in over 50 years.
President Obama’s new Cuban policy put him in the midst of swarming wasps led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who is still claiming that his parents, who came to the United States five years before Castro took over, are “exiles.” Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared Rubio the expert in this area. The media have given Rubio an inordinate amount of time and ink as he whined about possible trading with an oppressive government.
Cuba seems to be the only oppressive government that Rubio hates. In August, top aides to Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) “took an all expenses paid trip to China … courtesy of the Chinese government,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. At a cost of “10,000 a person,” the trips included meetings with Chinese government officials. Rubio’s spokesman Alex Conant explained that diplomatic relations with China could spread freedom and democracy. “Staff travel … is sometimes necessary in helping advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues.” That’s pretty much the same thing that the president said about Cuba.
Another possible presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, has also jumped on the denounce-Cuba-relations bandwagon. Because of his position, Bush will lose over $1 million a year as an advisory board member of Barclays. The corporation had to pay a $298-million fine to the U.S. government for illegal transactions with countries subject to U.S. sanction—including Cuba. Bush also made money from foreign investments in China and personally visited Hainan, a Chinese province. He “praised Hainan’s environmental and economic development and spoke hopefully of establishing stronger ties between Hainan and Florida.”
According to the Human Rights Watch, “[China’s] government remains an authoritarian one-party state. It places arbitrary curbs on expression, association, assembly, and religion; prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations; and maintains Party control over all judicial institutions.” Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic pointed out, “Of the 16 countries identified by a recent Freedom House report as the world’s worst human rights abusers (Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and Libya), only four lack a U.S. diplomatic presence (North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Somalia, which is restoring relations).”
Rubio also doesn’t mind Saudi Arabia, a place that punishes homosexuality with floggings, lashings, and death—including hanging and beheading. Treated like property there, women are arrested for driving. Rubio also supports giving foreign aid to African countries where LGBT people are imprisoned for their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the United States, Rubio opposes civil rights such as job protections and marriage equality to LGBT people.
Elliott Abrams, who had pled guilty to withholding information Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, is concerned that the world will react negatively to the U.S.’s policy shift with Cuba, specifically in the Middle East, Asia, and European countries near Russia. His excuse was that the U.S. has pursued the ineffective policy for over a half century, and it should remain consistent for the sake of stability. Simon Maloy paraphrased Abrams: “How can they trust the U.S. when we’ll only adhere to a policy position for five decades for no discernible reason?”
Abrams missed the great approval from Latin America which called the president’s change, “historic steps … [and] courageous.” The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, said, “This is a decision of great vision on both sides, because this conflict, which has significant negative implications for citizens of both countries, had stagnated politically for too long.” French and Canadian officials have also announced enthusiastic support. No country has made any negative announcements about President Obama’s announcement about Cuba.
The GOP is divided about President Obama’s announcement. The two Cuban senators working toward a presidency, Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), are trying to outdo each other in their rage at President Obama. On the other hand, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked. In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was on the plane from Cuba that brought Alan Gross back after five years and has said that he will sponsor legislation to expand travel from the United States to Cuba. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) promises the same in the House, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced his support for the Obama administration’s policy. GOP allies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce really like the idea of profits through Cuban trade, leaving the conservatives’ opposition to figure out how to fight business interests.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) complained that this shift “is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world.” His position is in comparison to the McCain of 2000, facing off George W. Bush for president, when he said that the U.S. could normalize relationships with Cuba in the same way that it did, with his help, in changing its policy toward Vietnam. The Miami Herald reported in 1999 that McCain was the only GOP presidential candidate at that time who believed “there could be room for negotiation on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”
A recent survey shows that 56 percent of people in the United States—and 52 percent of Republicans—want “normalizing relations or engaging more directly with Cuba.” Over half of Cuban Americans in Miami agree, according to a Florida International University poll. This percentage rises among Cuban Americans ages 18-29, 62 percent of whom oppose continuing the embargo. Similarly, 58 percent of those arriving since 1995 oppose continuing the embargo. A large majority of 69 percent favors diplomatic relations with Cuba with 90 percent of younger respondents strongly backing the policy shift. Younger respondents—89 percent—overwhelmingly endorse this policy shift as do 80 percent of the most recent arrivals.
If Rubio is fighting the president to get the vote, he may be disappointed. Asked if they would vote for someone who supports diplomatic relations with Cuba, 53 percent responded very or somewhat likely. Younger voters expressed the strongest support, 75 percent of those ages 18 to 29.
The subject of Cuba called for several questions at President Obama’s end-of-the-year press conference. More notable than his answers to eight journalists—at least to conservatives—is that all eight of these people are women. The right-wing responses went beyond sexist to racist. Fox White House correspondent Ed Henry criticized the women because then didn’t “press” the president. Male journalists who were not called on to provide questions shouted out two questions: did the president have resolutions for the new year, and did the president plan to start smoking Cuban cigars? Not exactly intelligent and thought-provoking—much like the complaints about the president’s new policy with Cuba.