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“In American Politics, Business Interests Come First”: Rubio And Cruz Won’t Be Able To Reverse U.S. Overture To Cuba

Pity Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

The two Cuban-American senators are relatively young, in their mid-40s. And their political rise coincides with a change in U.S.-Cuban relations that neither particularly welcomes.

Cruz and Rubio will likely be in office when full trade relations with Cuba are finally restored. Though both are vying for the Republican presidential nomination, it’s unlikely that either will be in the White House when that evolution occurs. That’s just as well, as both have taken the firmly anti-engagement posture of their Republican elders.

Yet the winds of U.S. commerce are blowing strong against the famous seawall protecting Havana, the Malecón. And these are strong gusts, able to topple the Cold War-era groundings of Rubio and Cruz.

The coming year will be crucial.

January 1 will mark the 57th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s overthrow of Fulgencio Batista. A year ago, President Barack Obama’s announcement to press for normalized relations kicked off a flurry of activity. Much of it was organizing by business interests with strong Republican ties, eager for Cuban markets.

The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, a group of corporations and trade groups, officially stepped forward to press for lifting the embargo in the month after Obama’s announcement. A bipartisan committee was organized in the House to look at normalizing relations. In May, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In August, in another milestone, the U.S. Embassy was ceremonially reopened in Havana.

Governors of numerous states have sent exploratory trade delegations to Cuba, especially those eager to increase agricultural exports. The most recent trip had Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visiting in November. Cuba imports nearly 80 percent of its food.

Despite the movement, it will be impossible to fully unwind the bureaucratic stalemates between our two countries quickly.

How much can be accomplished between now and the end of Obama’s term is crucial. As with immigration reform and so many other measures, there is only so much Obama can do through executive action and policy change. Congressional cooperation will be necessary to lift the embargo and to manage the details of banking and a related thorny issue: the nearly $8 billion in claims (including interest) of U.S. corporations and citizens whose assets and property were seized by Castro after the revolution. Those losses were a key reason for the embargo in the first place.

In early December, the first talks were held in Havana by State Department officials to settle the claims. Early reporting indicated they didn’t get very far. Some experts have speculated that the Castro regime threw down its’ own counterclaim, asking for reparations for the economic costs of the trade embargo, which Cuba has put at more than $100 billion.

In another year, the U.S. will have a new president and it is unlikely to be one as headstrong as Obama has been about opening to Cuba, even if it is Hillary Clinton.

Rubio, Cruz and other Republicans can be counted on to stall the progress that Obama has made. But they won’t completely stop it.

The crux of their opposition is dismal human rights record of Fidel and Raul Castro. Rubio and Cruz don’t sidestep the jailing of dissidents and other human rights abuses as so many Americans, particularly business interests, conveniently do. Yet they differ from many of their middle-aged Cuban-American contemporaries, who increasingly support lifting the embargo.

The two senators have come of political age in a fast-changing era for Cuba-U.S. relations.

Regardless of who prevails in the GOP presidential nomination, Cuba is no longer a geopolitical threat. And in American politics, the interests of business come first.


By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, December 23, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Businesses, Cuba, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cuban Embargo Is Way Past Its Usefulness”: An Outdated Strategy That Accomplished Absolutely Nothing

It’s about time that a U.S. president had the courage and common sense to end our ridiculous policy toward Cuba. It was a relic of the Cold War, an outdated strategy that accomplished absolutely nothing except to give the Castro brothers an excuse for the dire poverty in which their citizens live.

President Obama deserves plaudits for his decision to open full diplomatic relations with the island nation for the first time in more than half a century. So does Pope Francis, who intervened to try to break the stalemate between the two countries. The announcement that the United States will open an embassy in Havana was a fitting tribute to the season in which Christians ostensibly turn our attention to peace on Earth and good will toward all men.

Not that there was an outbreak of good will on Capitol Hill. As any fifth-grader could have guessed, Obama’s announcement, which followed more than a year of secret negotiations, was met with outrage among the usual suspects — a bunch of hardliners who insist that the Castros’ dictatorship is such an affront to international norms that a full embargo should continue until… well, until.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the embargo — established in 1962, back when the Soviet Union was enemy No. 1, when the Berlin Wall still divided East and West, and the war in Vietnam was in its infancy — has not done anything to change Cuba’s internal politics. In fact, the opposite may be true: The embargo has hardened the resistance of Fidel Castro, who has found it convenient to blame his economic disasters on the United States.

(Technically, Obama cannot lift the embargo, which was imposed through a series of laws. He can, however, use his executive authority to circumvent much of it.)

Do Fidel and his brother, Raul, engage in human rights abuses? Absolutely. They imprison their critics and have been accused of murdering their rivals. They don’t tolerate free assembly and they restrict speech. They look for excuses to detain Americans, as they did Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who was working to improve Internet access for a Jewish organization. His release helped to set the stage for détente.

In other words, the Castros are dictators. So is Xi Jinping, the president of China, another communist country. Yet President Nixon decided in 1972 that the best way to influence China was through diplomatic contact, and he set about normalizing relations. Few politicians now disagree with that strategy.

The Chinese government tolerates no dissent, imprisons its critics and even restricts religious liberty. But American businesses freely engage in trade with China; U.S. citizens visit as tourists; Chinese students matriculate at our universities. Why should Cuba, which doesn’t have a fraction of the economic or military clout that China has, be regarded as more of a threat to our interests?

In my three reporting visits to Cuba over the last 15 years, I found a country of resilient people who had a strong affinity for the United States. They kept up with Major League Baseball; they circumvented government controls to watch American TV shows; they begged relatives and friends to bring in the latest American music and fashions. The best way to steer them toward a thriving democracy is to encourage more contact between the two countries.

And the fact is that Obama didn’t take a big political risk, despite the hardliners and their continuing drumbeat of criticism. The president enjoys support among Cuban-Americans, even some — like Atlanta political consultant Angelo Fuster — who fled Castro’s takeover. “I think we are on the right path,” Fuster, who has led trade missions to the island, told me.

A Florida International University poll in June found that 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized diplomatic relations, and 52 percent want to ditch the embargo. As pollster Guillermo J. Grenier told The Atlantic, “We are witnessing a clear demographic shift with younger and more recently arrived Cubans favoring a change in policy toward the island.”

Regardless, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba is the right thing to do. In this season, that ought to be reason enough.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 20, 2014

December 21, 2014 Posted by | Cold War, Cuba, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hypocrite Alert!”: Republicans Believe In The Power Of The Free Market—Except In Cuba, Apparently

On Thursday, the White House announced that Alan Gross and an unnamed Amercan spy would be released from Cuba in exchange for three Cuban spies. President Barack Obama, who campaigned on normalizing relations with Cuba in 2008, has described Gross’s captivity as one of the main impediments to negotiations with Cuba. Speaking from the White House shortly after Gross’s release, Obama described plans to re-establish diplomatic relations, open an embassy in Havana, and ease travel and trade restrictions.

“It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” said Obama. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.”

Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio, a strong believer in the democratic power of free trade, nonetheless denounced Obama’s decision. “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country,” he told Fox News Wednesday morning. “It’s absurd and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.”

Earlier this month, Jeb Bush told a gathering of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, “I would argue that instead of lifting the embargo we should consider strengthening it again to put pressure on the Cuban regime.” Bush, who essentially announced on Tuesday that he’s running for president, has not yet commented on the White House’s policy shift.

Opponents of normalizing relations with Cuba say easing sanctions rewards a dictatorial regime that oppresses its people. However, this notion flies in direct contradiction with the theory that free markets breed democratic institutions. While there are obvious limitations to the democratizing effects of capitalism, the Republican Party has long touted itself as the vanguard of free-trade economics.

For several decades, America’s policy has been to funnel money into democracy promotion efforts in Cuba that have no proven efficacy (and endanger the lives of the Americans implementing the projects). In 2009, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs estimated that the U.S. had spent half a billion dollars over the past 20 years enforcing blockade restrictions and broadcasting pro-democracy messages on Cuban radio and TV stations (which were often blocked by the Cuban government).

There is no precedent for setting full democratic reform as a precondition to economic relations. Since 2011, Raul Castro has implemented 250 economic reforms modeled after the system in Communist China. In the 1970s, the U.S. normalized trade relations with China, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary after they took similar steps to implement preliminary economic reform. Even after economic normalization, the U.S. continued to pressure these countries to improve their human rights practices. As Obama said, “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”


By: Jessica Schulberg, The New Republic, December 17, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Free Markets, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nuttier By The Day”: The Right Wing Is Eating Its Own, Again

The nut jobs on the right are getting nuttier by the day.

A new national survey for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News indicates that only one in four Americans (24 percent) support the tea party. The events of the last week demonstrate why the wingnuts in the Republican Party are so unpopular.

Overnight, tea party poster boy Paul Ryan became a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Ryan negotiated the new budget deal with his Senate budget counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has not been accused by liberals of being a DINO (Democrat in Name Only)

I don’t understand why the wing nuts have gored Ryan so hard for being a RINO. Ryan embodies everything the GOP is all about: indifference to the plight of the poor, insensitivity towards the rights of women and toadyism to the super rich. He is getting pilloried for supporting a budget that denies unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, reduces nutrition assistance payments to almost 2 million Americans, preserves tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and restores billions of dollars to the bloated Pentagon budget. How dare he? The tea party should give this guy a medal.

Right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Newt Gingrich, the spiritual grandfather of the wackjobs, are taking flack for praising the recently deceased former South African President Nelson Mandela. These two guys are giants of right-wing extremism, so the wacko birds are eating their own young. But I can understand why right-wing extremists are so upset. Mandela fought for universal human rights and suffrage for blacks, goals which the wacko birds completely disdain.

Will Ryan, Cruz and Gingrich be disinvited to the holiday – excuse me Christmas party – at the Heritage Foundation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Then the wingnuts went nuts when they saw President Obama shake hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. The right considers the greeting grounds for removing the president from office. But the wing nuts would demand his removal from office if he issued an executive order for the U.S. to celebrate Mother’s Day twice a year instead of once.

But the right clearly underestimated the power of social media. Immediately after the handshake went viral, the web was full of pictures of Republican leaders shaking hands and chatting with dictators. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of the first Republicans to pounce on the president. And sure enough, the next thing you know, reminders of the senator in a tote a tete with Libyan dictator Mohamar Gaddafi popped up on the web. Then the social media produced pictures of the first President Bush chatting with communist dictator Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Donald Rumsfeld glad handing Saddam Hussein.

Compared with Gaddafi and Saddam, Raul Castro is a joke as far as dictators are concerned. Cuba has been toothless since the Soviet Union went under a quarter of a century ago. And Obama’s handshake with Castro doesn’t even begin to compare with Ronald Reagan’s sale of missiles to the Islamic radicals running Iran. I’d take a handshake with a dictator over an arms sale to one any day.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Right Wing, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Level Of Immaturity”: Ted Cruz Manages To Get Even More Repulsive

OK, Sen. Ted Cruz showed me: I accused him of hypocrisy for his Nelson Mandela praise last week – praise that horrified his racist wingnut Facebook fans – and he followed up by attending Mandela’s memorial service this week.

That’s nice. But far from getting into the “What Would Mandela Do?” spirit of the day, he made headlines by walking out on the speech by Cuban President Raúl Castro. President Obama, meanwhile, is being torched by the right for shaking Castro’s hand, and even seeming to “bow” to the Communist leader; can’t some tall conservatives, at least, explain that what we saw was a tall man greeting someone shorter? Nah.

Of course, Cruz couldn’t pull off his walkout with quiet dignity. ABC News broke the story, and its headline reads “Cruz says he walked out of Mandela service when Raul Castro spoke.” Get that? It appears Cruz wasn’t spotted walking out, he announced it, with a hectoring statement from his spokeswoman to ABC: “Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela. For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners. He should hold free elections, and once and for all, set the Cuban people free.”

I can very much promise you that Ted Cruz has not learned the lessons of Nelson Mandela.

Communist Cuba did indeed help the African National Congress and Mandela always expressed his gratitude. Castro had as much right as Obama to speak at the service. In fact, one lesson of Mandela applies to Cuba today: We should stop seeing the world in Cold War terms – which is what led the U.S., particularly Ronald Reagan and the American right, to support Mandela’s jailers and their apartheid rule — and realize that we can do more to support democracy in Cuba by engaging with Castro than by walking out on him.

Also: Are we supposed to think it’s a big deal that Cruz won’t endorse Steve Stockman against “liberal” Texas Sen. John Cornyn (he of the second most conservative voting record in the U.S. Senate, which is saying something). Because it’s not. “As the senator has said many times, he will likely not get involved in any incumbent primaries,” Cruz’s communications director told Jonathan Martin. (That’s a promise he made to mend fences with his GOP colleagues after his government shutdown fiasco.)

Of course, anyone who cared about either the state of Texas or the state of the Republican Party would “get involved” in that race. They’d stand up and say Steve Stockman isn’t fit to be a rodeo clown, let alone a U.S. senator, and endorse Cornyn. If Cruz’s staying neutral is supposed to represent a new maturity, I’d hate to see what’s considered his juvenile behavior.

Well, we’ve already seen it. But still, what a low bar for Ted Cruz’s “maturity.” Even Rand Paul is backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell over his 2014 Tea Party challenger – and Matt Bevin, said challenger, isn’t a racist nutjob. If Cruz won’t support Cornyn, that’s because he’s hoping he can get an edge on Paul with the racist nutjob vote in 2016. Good luck with that, Sen. Cruz.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 11, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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