Should U.S. normalize relations with Cuba?

Moderated by Rick Badie

On Dec. 17, President Barack Obama announced a historic Cuban thaw: The U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years. Today, a Georgia congressman hails the Cuba-U.S. deal, citing the expansion of Georgia imports to the island and gains of U.S. influence in the region. Meanwhile, a U.S. representative from South Florida calls the initiative a threat to national security that must be thwarted.

New course for Cuba

By David Scott

President Barack Obama recently set a new course by opening relations with Cuba. The changes will allow more travel for Americans to Cuba and allow Americans to bring back more goods from their visit. Cuban-Americans also will be able to send more money back to relatives. In addition, businesses will be able to have easier financing for trade.

While full diplomatic relations are not restored, these changes will make it easier for Georgians to conduct business in the Cuban marketplace. Georgia businesses have new opportunities, such as poultry exports and tourist flights from the airport. Cuba is only 621 miles from the Port of Savannah. It imports roughly 80 percent of its food and products from as far away as New Zealand.

Even with the embargo, the United States has been Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner since 2007. This was boosted in part by President George W. Bush’s decision in 2003 to authorize exports of U.S. agricultural products to the island. However, no export assistance or credit guarantees were made available. Exporters were denied access to U.S. private commercial financing, and all transactions had to be conducted in cash in advance or with financing from businesses in third countries.A 2009 study by the U.S. International Trade Commission found that without financing restrictions for agriculture exports to Cuba, trade would have increased from 38 percent to as much as 64 percent. Among U.S. agricultural products that could have benefited most were wheat, rice, beef, pork, processed foods and fish. Now that such restrictions are set to be eased, Georgia agriculture is poised to grow.

Agriculture employs roughly one of six Georgians. It contributes roughly $72.5 billion annually to our state’s $786.5 billion economy.

Georgia leads the United States in the production of peanuts, pecans, watermelon and broilers and is a top producer of peaches and blueberries. Each day, the state’s poultry industry creates roughly 29 million pounds of chicken, 6.3 million table eggs and 5.5 million hatching eggs. This industry has the most potential to grow, since Cuba already is Georgia’s sixth-largest poultry export market.

Beyond the dollar impact an expansion of Georgia’s goods into Cuba would bring, we must also recognize that renewed ties between the United States and Cuba would increase our standing and influence in the region and the world. An influx of American travelers and increased trade will further expose the Cuban people to free enterprise and American ideals. The regime will not change overnight, but that has not stopped the U.S. from being a strong trading partner with China and Vietnam. President Raúl Castro can no longer blame the embargo for all of Cuba’s ills.

We need to move beyond the Cold War mentality so we can focus on terrorism and other modern threats. Governments antagonistic to U.S. interests have long used Cuba as a foreign policy tool in America’s backyard. With the Russian and Venezuelan economies faltering, Cuba will need to find a new economic partner. What better way to push Putin away from the Caribbean than to bring Cuba into our orbit?

With greater inter-American cooperation and trade comes greater access to our culture of democracy and values. We must shine our light on places where human rights need improvement. We must stand with our Georgia businesses and farmers to ensure they are in as advantageous a position as possible on the global stage. Now is the time to turn the page on the United States’ foreign policy with Cuba.

David Scott, a Democrat, is U.S. representative for Georgia’s 13th Congressional District.

Cuba shifts harms national security

By Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

President Barack Obama’s sudden and surprising announcement to upend the United States’ long-standing foreign policy toward Cuba was as imprudent as it was imbalanced.

That the White House failed to consult members of Congress who represent large Cuban-American constituencies underscores the fact the president knew there would be strong and vocal opposition to his radical policy shift. Yet, as is the case with his approach to the Iran nuclear negotiations, he has once again chosen unilateral executive action rather than a deliberative process, giving further credence to the sentiment that this is indeed an imperial presidency.

The Castro brothers are using the Iran playbook. They are using the president’s naivete to force concessions from the United States in exchange for cosmetic and easily reversible changes that, at best, won’t bring real reforms to Cuba. What the Obama administration should have pushed for is real and tangible democratic reforms, the release of all political prisoners, and free, fair and transparent elections.

Instead, Obama capitulated to the Castros’ demands, released three convicted Cuban spies – one of whom was also convicted of attempted murder and directly linked to the cold-blooded murder of three American citizens and one U.S. resident. The status quo on the island remains.

The president traded convicted spies and terrorists for a man who was wrongfully imprisoned by the Castro regime, thus implying some kind of moral equivalence between him and the spies. Just like with the Taliban 5 swap, the president is establishing a dangerous precedent that the United States does in fact negotiate with terrorists, putting a target on every American’s back and jeopardizing our national security.

In addition, the administration touted the Castro regime’s promise to release 53 political prisoners as a major coup for diplomacy, but never bothered to read the fine print. The list included individuals who had been released as far back as a year ago, people whose time in jail was already set to expire, and others who were merely put out on parole.But the most audacious part is several of these political prisoners have already been rearrested, while hundreds more have been arrested or detained in the intervening weeks. This has implications around the world, especially as we strive to make respect for human rights universal. Now, when Obama lectures about human rights, his words fall flat and only erode America’s credibility, and that is seen not only by our allies, but our enemies who would seek to exploit our vulnerabilities. So instead of being credible, trusted or feared, the world sees America as feeble and unwilling to support its allies.

Congress and the American public must stand opposed to this shift in policy toward Cuba, and on the side of the 11 million Cubans languishing under the Castro regime. And we must remain vigilant as the president uses his normalization efforts with Cuba as a test case for establishing diplomatic relations with another U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism, Iran. The administration hasn’t met an evil dictator it doesn’t want to appease, and the president consistently undercuts our position as the world’s sole superpower.

There are very real and very dangerous threats to our national security, perhaps more so now than ever. We cannot afford to have an executive who projects the idea that the U.S no longer possesses the courage to defend our ideals and principles, or that we will stand up for human rights only when it is politically expedient or convenient. That is not what America stands for; but by going down this road with the Castro regime, that is where we are headed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairs the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.


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