The Cuban Thaw

Moderated by Rick Badie

In May, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror. Last week, steps toward diplomatic renewal continued with the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time in more than half a century. Today, a Georgia Republican congressman writes that a recent fact-finding trip to Cuba left him quite concerned about President Barack Obama’s measures toward the island. The other column, written by a Georgia Democrat, supports renewal of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties.

Cuba: Not enough has changed

By Earl L. “Buddy” Carter

Though it sits just 90 miles to our southernmost point, travelling to Cuba is like traveling back in time. On a recent mission there. I was struck immediately by what we would consider antique cars and crumbling buildings that date back to the 1950’s.

This is an important time to visit Cuba as the Obama administration continues efforts to normalize relations with the Castro regime. I was joined by four other members of Congress there to answer the same questions as me:

What’s changed?The first sign of the shifting dynamics between our countries came almost immediately. In meetings with Cuban officials, we were welcomed through the front door and met in a room with American and Cuban flags on the table – something our hosts, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, made clear would not have happened until recently. Much was said in these meetings about how lifting the embargo would benefit Cuba, but strikingly absent was how things had changed there.

Some of the most eye-opening experiences of the trip were interacting with individual Cubans. Whether meeting with the Cardinal of Havana or Afro-Cuban rappers, all the evidence of censorship was clear, but no one accepted that it was taking place. It begs the question whether some had heard stories for so long that they had convinced themselves that what the Castro regime has been telling them is true.

We met with some entrepreneurs who had been allowed to open businesses such as a taxi service, auto repair service and paladors — small restaurants people open in their homes. It was promising to hear of their success until we were told about one palador who was forced to close their business for several months because it had become too successful.

While at another palador, I had the opportunity to sit between an 83-year-old retired journalist who had been part of the underground movement during the revolution of 1959 and a 23-year-old student. It was striking that both, despite the distance in their years, laid the majority of the blame for the problems facing Cuba squarely at the feet of the United States, the embargo and capitalism.

Whether these individuals were truly speaking their minds or were somewhat hesitant to express their true sentiments for fear of retaliation was hard to determine. What is not, however, is that they deserve the freedom and opportunity they are currently being denied.

On this front, the Cuban government has signaled very little change in my opinion. Since 2014, the Castro regime has put 9,000 Cubans in prison for “political crimes.” More than 2,000 of these arrests have come since President Barack Obama’s push to pursue normalization.

The Obama administration’s attempt to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list defies reality. Cuba is known to provide key intelligence to Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. It has engaged in arms smuggling with North Korea. Cuban military and intelligence agents are also actively involved in deadly repressions against pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela.

I went to Cuba with an open mind, and although I believe the people of Cuba want and need the embargo lifted, I returned reaffirmed in my belief that President Obama is misguided in his effort to normalize relations between our countries at this time.

Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, a Republican, represents Georgia District 1.

Build new bridges with U.S.-Cuba

By Hank Johnson

“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 Barack Obama is pursuing a new course with Cuba. With this new direction, America is reopening 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 Ronald Reagan added Cuba to the State Sponsor of Terrorism list in 1982 when Cuba was actively supporting the 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 protectionsand 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 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 encourage improvement of Cuba’s human rights record. We are more likely to see democratic changes emerge in Cuba through negotiations, open dialogueand 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 co-sponsor 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 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.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, represents Georgia’s 4th congressional district.

 


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