A Senate Democrat blasted the Obama administration for directing a “profound shift away from our own commitment to the rule of law and the processes of democracy as we have always known them” with its Cuba concessions.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the new amendments to ease economic relations as much as possible without Congress lifting the embargo were intended to “break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications.”
President Obama said his goal was to make the Cuban outreach so entwined in the private sector that his successor would not be able to reserve it as he tries to force Congress’ hand on the embargo.
Obama said his directive takes a “comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible.”
The directives section on human rights begins with a statement that the U.S. will not try to unseat the Castro regime.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) declared that “once again, the administration has it wrong about what’s right for the people of Cuba.”
“Today, the administration has announced new regulations that blatantly violate the laws of the United States in a legacy-attempt to further normalize relations with Cuba in the next 100 days, supposedly to benefit businesses, but the only beneficiaries of the Administration’s legacy-largesse are the Castros themselves,” Menendez said in a statement.
“Since the announcement of the change in American policy toward Cuba nearly two years ago, the Castro regime has only grown stronger. It has continued its policies of repression, has continued to jail the Ladies in White, has continued to suppress the freedom of expression, and the promotion of anything resembling democracy.”
“Today’s regulatory economic changes from the White House not only benefit state-owned Cuban businesses and bolster the coffers of the Castro regime, but mark a profound shift away from our own commitment to the rule of law and the processes of democracy as we have always known them.”
Menendez added that the the new regulations “simply and blatantly violate both the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and the Libertad Act of 1996, which codified the embargo against Cuba, and indicate that the United States government will now actively ‘authorize contracts and violations currently prohibited by the embargo.’”
“While the administration may not like the embargo or agree with it, it remains the law of the land,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is outrageous that our own government would seek to break the law and blatantly acknowledge its intent to do so.”
On a call with reporters today, a senior administration official was asked how the administration plans to work around the embargo that is still U.S. law.
“With respect to the fact that it is the U.S. policy as articulated in the directive to promote the lifting of the embargo, we obviously operate under the legislative restrictions that are imposed by the embargo. At the same time, what we have done over the course of the last year and a half is try to find whatever way we can consistent with the law to promote commercial openings, to promote people-to-people exchange, to promote increased travel and connectivity to and from the island,” the official said.
“So the U.S. government, the executive branch has been working to try to facilitate whatever opening we can working within the limits of that law…. We obviously do not cross the clear lines of that legislative restriction, but we do try to seek to find ways to create openings within that construct.”
“….Again, the most efficient way to open things up is lift the embargo, but as long as it’s in place, we will continue to try to find ways to promote openings as we can consistent with the law.”
The official said the elements that make Obama’s actions “irreversible” include opening a U.S. Embassy in Cuba, the direct flights that now occur to and from the island, and the “commercial opportunities” with “an increasing number of U.S. businesses and institutions that are building partnerships in Cuba.
“…So anybody who would think to turn those changes off would be cutting against the grain of opinion here in the United States including with the Cuban-American community. An important element of the presidential directive that was announced today is that this is the formal guidance under which each of our agencies operates with respect to engagement with Cuba. So that institutionalizes through presidential guidance how agencies will operate, and that continues under the next administration because this presidential directive supersedes all previous presidential directives with respect to Cuba policy. So that too is a step to make these changes irreversible going forward.”