The Obama talking point being repeated by the administration’s note-takers in the media is that it makes sense for the president to try a different approach on Cuba because the policy of isolating the dictatorship has not “worked.” Naturally, what is meant by “worked” is not stated.
I’m trying to figure out what exactly the supposed flaw has been in the policy of isolating a brutal regime diplomatically and imposing a trade embargo on it – one that is a lot more like a screen than a wall – in order to pressure it to reform.
American presidents have vast foreign policy powers and plenary control over which regimes the United States recognizes and conducts diplomatic relations with. The Cuban embargo, by contrast, was established by statute and can only be repealed by Congress. Thus, it has many times been repeated over the last 24 hours that, in reestablishing diplomatic relations, President Obama has gone as far as he can on his own – the rest being up to lawmakers.
Several laws control the embargo. Among the most recent is the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act (codified in Chapter 69 of Title 22, U.S. Code). Section 6005 of the law outlines sanctions imposed against Cuba – the qualified blockade, prohibition on some financial transactions, and limitation on remittances.
But then there is Section 6007, the waiver provision. This tells us that, while it is true that it would require an act of Congress to repeal the restrictions on Cuba, no legislation is necessary to ignore the restrictions. The act empowers the president to do that on his own. All he needs to do is represent to Congress that the Cuban government
(1) has held free and fair elections conducted under internationally recognized observers;
(2) has permitted opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign for such elections, and has permitted full access to the media to all candidates in the elections;
(3) is showing respect for the basic civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Cuba;
(4) is moving toward establishing a free market economic system; and
(5) has committed itself to constitutional change that would ensure regular free and fair elections that meet the requirements of paragraph (2).
Similarly, Section 6006 enables the president to provide humanitarian aid (food, medicine, and medical supplies) to Cuba … provided he represents to Congress that the Cuban government
(1) has made a public commitment to hold free and fair elections for a new government within 6 months and is proceeding to implement that decision;
(2) has made a public commitment to respect, and is respecting, internationally recognized human rights and basic democratic freedoms; and
(3) is not providing weapons or funds to any group, in any other country, that seeks the violent overthrow of the government of that country.
In other words, it has been American policy for decades – the policy Obama says does not “work” – that the United States may and should provide significant aid as long as Cuba, in return, stops terrorizing its citizens, respects basic human and civil rights, respects democratic freedoms, refrains from arming terrorists and insurrectionists, liberalizes its economy, establishes a free press, and lays the groundwork for free and fair elections.
So, if that hasn’t “worked” to encourage Cuban reform, what is the president suggesting will “work”? Giving Cuba aid and legitimacy without requiring the regime to change? Why would we want to give an American taxpayer dime to, or help legitimize in any way, a regime that rejects these basic elements of a civilized society?