If Obama’s intended reversal of our longstanding policy towards Cuba were an improvement, we would naturally expect Cuban-American politicians to be among the first to welcome it. By the same token, we would naturally expect the President to have listened closely to that group, in weighing potential changes to our Cuba policy: “They are the best interpreters of the opinion of the almost three million Cubans and descendants of Cubans living in the United States,” as Carlos Alberto Montaner, a Cuban-born author, journalist and syndicated columnist, points out.
Instead, we find a schism between these leaders and Obama. A few months prior to Obama’s December 2014 call for “normalization” of our relations with Cuba — which would naturally include removal of our trade embargo and sanctions against that country — one of these leaders, U.S. Representative Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Florida), noted that “there is not one Cuban-American elected official, state or local level or federal level, who does not support the sanctions, and does not support the embargo.” And six months after Obama’s announcement of his intended change, these politicians are still all opposed to normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. Indeed, as Obama knows quite well, these leaders will likely be his policy’s staunchest opponents in Congress.
The incongruity of such a schism raises serious questions about Obama’s shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba: What do the Cuban-American leaders disagree with, in Obama’s radical policy change? Why do they find his argument for it unpersuasive? And — since, clearly, he is not catering to Cuban-Americans with this radical shift in policy — to what constituency (if any) is he catering? Let’s take these questions in turn.
- What do the Cuban-American leaders dislike about Obama’s policy change?
The main argument that Cuban-American leaders use to counter Obama’s proposal is that his plans to allow trade with and investment in Cuba will only enhance, not reduce, the Castro regime’s power. Far from easing or ending the oppression of the Cuban masses (as Obama suggests), the actual effect of his changes will be to make the Communist regime’s power more secure and unaccountable.
The basic reason for this is that, under Obama’s new policy, no change of ideology or practice is required of the Communist — and thus, socialist — government of Cuba. And, in any socialist country, the government owns the means of production, i.e., the “businesses” producing everything people buy. Thus, doing business with Cuba is, really, doing business with the Communist regime. And that will not free the Cuban people; on the contrary, it will help their oppressors — as Rep. Díaz-Balart points out (in an interview by a New York Times reporter):
There are around 200 plus countries in the world, I believe but two or three have relations with the Castro regime, I believe most of them do business with the Castro regime, Canada, being one of them, Mexico … they do business there, tourism and everything else. Has that, has doing business with the vast majority of the countries of the world, has that freed the Cuban people? Has that done something to free the Cuban people? … No, what it has done is just the opposite. It has allowed the revenue for the regime in order to continue to oppress its people.
It is true that in recent years the Cuban government has, after the fashion of the Chinese government, seemed to “loosen” its grip on the economy a bit, allowing a few ostensibly private businesses to be created. But by the most generous estimates, the Cuban government owns outright, still, more than 80% of the economy.
But the crucial point economically is not who owns the businesses in name, but rather whether the government controls these assets. That is exactly why fascism — in which non-governmental parties “own” the businesses, nominally, but all the decisions are made by government — has the same economic features as socialism.
It is obvious that Cuba’s “loosening” of its grip on the economy amounts to nothing more than a tactical, meaningless substitution of fascism for a fragment of its socialist economy. Taking a position contrary to his employer’s, Jorge Benitez, director of NATOSource and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, has argued strongly against lifting the embargo, partly for this reason:
The most overlooked fact in this debate is that every euro, ruble, peso or Canadian dollar invested in Cuba goes directly to Castro and his cronies. Foreign businesses are not allowed to pay wages to their Cuban employees. Instead, they are required to turn the money over to the state. The Castro government keeps most of the foreign money and hands out only pennies to the Cuban people. Lifting U.S. sanctions would only add our dollars to this corrupt trade.
Rep. Díaz-Balart also argues adamantly against the use of American dollars to increase the fascist segment of Cuba’s economy and he further insists that lifting sanctions unilaterally is against the wishes of the majority of the internal Cuban opposition, who want a path to be free.
He reminds us that, given their de facto control of the entire economy — whether in socialist or fascist style — the Cuban regime can easily ensure that only companies that endorse it will be able to carry on operations there:
[Y]ou can’t take away the fact that the regime has been there for 55 years, controls the entire financial structure in Cuba, decides who can open a private restaurant in Cuba or not, and if … you are someone unfavorable of the regime it would be very difficult to do that, that is just the reality of life there.
So here is the question, do we then, unilaterally lift sanctions not asking for something in return. And if we are going to ask for something in return, what should that be? I think there are some basic freedoms that have to be demanded in return for lifting the sanctions: freedom of press, otherwise you have no freedom, whether we like it or not …; independent labor unions …; political parties, freeing the political prisoners. Or do we go there and invest and go there with our flipflops to the beaches while Cubans are being held in prisons just for their beliefs?
- Why do Cuban-American leaders find Obama’s argument for his change unpersuasive?
The main argument of Obama, and of other partisans of his changes, goes basically like this: “We have been following the old policy for half a century now, and what has it achieved? The Castro regime is still in power, still oppressing the Cuban people. It’s time to try something new.”
On the surface, this argument seems powerful. But lying beneath the surface, it contains a couple of unstated assumptions, which — as relevant premises of the argument — need scrutiny.
First, the argument assumes that the only way we can know whether a policy will work is to try it out for a reasonable length of time and see what it produces. But what if we made this claim in regard to economic policies? It would amount to claiming that we can’t know what a particular policy will produce, from an economic standpoint, until we put it in place for a few decades and check the result. Most economists, I think, would be quite surprised to hear this. So, the argument’s first hidden premise claims too much.
The second is no less doubtful: It holds that the goal of the policy was — or at least, should have been — the removal of the tyrannical, Communist regime from power. Now, the founders of our country would never have conceded the idea that any part of our foreign policy (i.e., outside of our own self-defense) should have as its ultimate goal to remove a foreign tyranny from power. Before he became our sixth President (in 1825), John Quincy Adams was already distinguished as a diplomat and a brilliant crafter of foreign policy: In 1823, while serving as Secretary of State, he authored what became known as the Monroe Doctrine, one of the longest-standing tenets of U.S. foreign policy. On July 4, 1821, in a historic address on U.S. foreign policy, Adams made this clear-sighted statement:
America … has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings…. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own…. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standards of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
Nor for Cuban-American leaders, such as Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, was regime-change ever the foreign-policy goal. He affirms repeatedly that his goal for, and the purpose of, the longtime policy is to refrain from helping the Communist regime; and, in this and other, limited, targeted ways to “help the Cuban people free themselves from this regime.” And certainly, the embargo and sanctions have presumably a goal of keeping Americans from unwittingly undermining their own security interests. All of this falls well short of the intent to undertake regime-change ourselves.
Nor was there a hint in Rep. Díaz-Balart’s discussion of the old policy that he considered this policy a failure: it has obviously blocked (some) help to the tyrannical regime, and also helped the Cuban people to be in a better position to free themselves from the rule of the Castros. And that is all that it was intended to do — at least, from Rep. Díaz-Balart’s perspective.
So the two assumptions implicit in the above argument would, to Cuban-American leaders, be doubtful at best. The argument dependent on them would, therefore, naturally seem unsound to these leaders.
But another argument appears sometimes. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has over the last decade been perhaps the strongest proponent in Congress for normalization of our Cuban relations. He offers the argument that “engagement” of Americans with the Cuban people will increase the latter group’s taste for liberty; and that this, in itself, will put more pressure on the Castro regime. Sen. Flake offered this argument as early as 2003:
A genuine get-tough policy with Cuba would export something Americans know a little about: freedom. Let’s get rid of travel license applications altogether…. All Americans should be free to go to Cuba without government interference…. Cuba would be flooded with American visitors — and American ideas. For Fidel Castro, that would be the toughest policy of all.
Recently Flake used it again, asserting that “When people get more freedom, they want even more of it.” Now, the unstated assumption here is the outlandish proposition that people who are isolated from the rest of the world, with no freedom of speech and under a repressive dictatorship, will have rather less of an appreciation for liberty. In fact, it is precisely (and fairly obviously) those who have the least liberty, who will appreciate it and “want more of it” the most. We may safely assume that the Cubans living under this oppressive, Communist dictatorship have — already, and without our intervention — at least as much appreciation for the value of liberty as do Americans today in general. Sen. Flake’s proposition is an outrageous insult to the good sense, and even to the humanity, of the Cubans living under this oppression.
Christopher Sabatini — who is the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas and founder and editor in chief of their hemispheric policy magazine Americas Quarterly — and also chairs the AS/COA’s “Cuba Working Group” — stated the argument, in October 2014, with even more audacity:
Human rights abuses continue in Cuba and U.S.A.I.D. contractor Alan Gross remains in prison. But it is precisely for that reason that President Obama needs to continue to lift the veil of isolation the U.S. has placed over Cuba — doing so will promote a greater flow of information and independent activity that has led to political opening across the world. It’s no coincidence that there’s never been democratic change in a country under as tight as an embargo as the one the U.S. has had on Cuba for 53 years; and it’s no coincidence that it has failed. [Emphasis is ours.]
Now, as indicated above, Cuba has been trading freely with almost the whole rest of the world for quite a while. So Sabatini’s suggestion that our own embargo may have placed such a “veil of isolation” upon Cuba as actually to prevent democratic change there, falls to the ground. But notice the extreme boldness of the statement which we have emphasized (in bold, appropriately) that the continuing repression is — not a sign that we have a brutal, tyrannical regime (90 miles from our shore) that is the enemy of liberty as conceived of in America, and therefore we should avoid helping this anti-democratic, despotic regime — no, rather it’s a sign that we need to lift the embargo, the travel restrictions, the sanctions — in short, normalize our relations with the admittedly brutal dictators. How can you get any bolder than that? But Cuban-American leaders repudiate this astonishing line of reasoning.
- To what constituency, then, IS Obama catering, with this radical shift in our Cuba policy?
Very few Americans have even heard of, much less are familiar with, the groups (and their publication) that Mr. Sabatini helps lead. But those groups are a prime example of the very small but very powerful foreign-policy lobby that has apparently been driving Obama’s Cuban-policy shift. Here are links to an open letter they wrote to President Obama in May 2014, detailing changes they want to our Cuba policy, and a follow-up open letter to him they published in January.
This lobby includes not only the Americas Society and the Council of The Americas, but also the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) and the Forum of the Americas. These groups all have at least two things in common: they have been pushing for decades, the changes that Obama is now promoting; and, they were founded by David Rockefeller.
In fact, David Rockefeller has been by far the biggest driving force in Western Hemisphere foreign policy over the last several decades. For example, he has been almost the whole driving force behind the Summits of the Americas, which are intermittent gatherings of heads or representatives of many nations of the Western Hemisphere. President Obama attended the seventh, most recent such Summit, held in Panama City, Panama on April 10-11, 2015; and there he met with Cuba’s President Raul Castro.
Dr. Rockefeller’s deep foreign-policy interests and experience range far wider than the Western Hemisphere. It would take a while to detail a reasonable sample of his prominent involvements in foreign policy, starting as far back as World War II. (In June 2015, he had the good fortune to celebrate his 100th birthday). Significantly, he was for 15 years the Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and is currently an Honorary Chairman of that group. One good place to go for helpful background on this little-known, relatively small yet super-powerful group — which has virtually controlled U.S. foreign policy since before World War II — is the recent book by Don Fotheringham, The President-Makers. Members of that hugely influential group also include the President and CEO of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, Susan Segal; and Obama’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson. (A recent interview of Ms. Jacobson by Ms. Segal is posted here.)
Now, let us consider: Would anyone with the foreign-policy experience — probably unsurpassed — and expertise of David Rockefeller think, seriously, that normalization of our relations with Cuba would be in the interests of American-style liberty in the Western Hemisphere? Would he not see quite clearly that it can only help to prop up the reigning Communist regime?
Well, note that the CFR’s “Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies” and Director for Latin America Studies, Julia E. Sweig, has been outed as a long-standing friend and supporter of some of the most extreme elements in Cuba’s Communist regime — including two indicted (and then deported) terrorists. Reportedly, “Sweig’s promotional services for the Castro regime reached a level where the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency top Cuba spycatcher, Chris Simmons (now retired), named her a Cuban ‘Agent of Influence.’” So, based on his CFR chairmanship alone, we may reasonably doubt that American-style liberty could possibly be Rockefeller’s paramount goal.
In fact, he has made clear that his real goal is something else entirely: According to his own admission, published in his own autobiography, his aim has been the convergence of all nations into a one-world economic and political order:
For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents such as my encounter with Castro to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions. Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as internationalists and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure — one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it. [From his 2002 autobiography, Memoirs, p. 405.]
That’s a startling admission — of which most Americans will not have been informed by their news media. But what could bring a supposed capitalist like David Rockefeller to “conspire” with Communists and socialists to build a one-world political and economic order? A long-time Brazilian political observer and writer, Olavo de Carvalho, explains:
I believe that this absurd surrender of the winners [of the Cold War] was also stimulated by powerful globalist circles, whose interest in establishing worldwide bureaucratic controls converges with the objectives of the communists. The number of billionaire companies which came to openly contribute to leftist parties is enormous. I call “meta-capitalists” the individuals and groups which grew so wealthy with the market economy that they can’t stand anymore being at the mercy of the free market and seek, instead, to control everything, supporting bureaucracy instead of capitalism. Meta-capitalists are natural allies of the communists…. The “ideological” contrast serves only as propaganda. What we have is a gigantic symbiosis of all globalist and statist forces around the world.