Build new bridges with U.S.-Cuba

July 8, 2015

AJC, July 8, 2015:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

More than a quarter century since the Cold War ended, and after more than 50 years of oppressive policy, President Obama is pursuing a new course with Cuba based on diplomacy.

With this new direction, America is re-opening our embassy in Havana and easing sanctions. It is now time to admit the Cold War era strategy has failed.

The United States’ 53-year-old policy towards Cuba has been to isolate and embargo this small island nation, which was designed to cause the collapse of the Communist government of Fidel Castro.

Despite America’s policy, which has made life harder for the Cuban people, Cuba’s economy has weathered the U.S. embargo while maintaining positive growth for most of the last four decades.

President Reagan added Cuba to the State Sponsor of Terrorism list in 1982 when Cuba was actively supporting the FARC guerrilla movement in Colombia and the Spanish Basque terrorist group ETA. According to the State Department, this activity ceased decades ago.

Today, Cuba poses no threat to the United States militarily, economically or otherwise.

So why should America continue pursuit of a failed strategy? Opponents of diplomacy point to the lack of human rights the Cuban government affords to its citizens, including the lack of free speech protections, and the generally slow pace of democratic changes within Cuba.

These are real and pressing issues of legitimate concern to the United States, but even President Obama’s opponents admit that the isolation of Cuba has not produced the desired result.

Just as economic sanctions have failed to cripple Cuba’s economy, they have also failed to incentivize improvement of Cuba’s human rights record. We are more likely to see democratic changes emerge in Cuba through negotiations, open dialogue, and the free flow of ideas and commerce.

The rest of the world agrees. Not only has the United Nations General Assembly voted 23 times calling on the U.S. end to its embargo, but 97 percent of nations throughout the world oppose our policy.

It also makes economic sense to normalize relations, which would give U.S. banks access to Cuba’s financial system and decrease barriers to free trade, benefiting both nations.

Perhaps most importantly, by opening relations the U.S. can show good faith to the people of Cuba and all of Latin America by affirming that sovereign people have the right to choose their own destiny, how they are governed and how they are educated without fear of foreign intervention.

For decades, United States policy has been illogical and driven by a small but powerful lobby. For Congress to appease this lobby by impeding the Administration’s use of diplomacy – and continue to pursue the same tired policy of the past – is the very definition of insanity.

I have supported normalizing our relationship with Cuba since I was elected to Congress in 2007.  As a cosponsor of the Free Trade with Cuba Act, the Export Freedom to Cuba Act, the Promoting American Agriculture and Medical Exports Cuba Act, and the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, I have consistently pursued policies that will improve the lives of both Americans and Cubans.     

I agree with a majority of Americans. A recent Gallup Poll indicated that nearly 60 percent favor reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Similarly, a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post said 97 percent of Cubans favored the normalization of relations with the United States.

The verdict is clear.

It is time to thaw America’s outdated policy towards Cuba, which was frozen in a Cold War past. Well-reasoned diplomacy, open dialogue and the easing of restrictions on trade is the way forward. Let us tear down the old barriers of a bygone era to build new bridges towards progress with Cuba.


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