This week on Twitter, President-elect Donald Trump threatened to put an end to the "normalization" of US and Cuban relations initiated by President Barack Obama. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people, and the US as a whole,” Trump wrote as news sources flooded the internet with stories about the death of the Cuban dictator, “I will terminate [the] deal.”
The Obama administration has done little to lift the barriers to trade.The following day, Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, commented on the incoming president’s threats, adding that severing the blossoming business and tourism ties between the two countries is “just not as simple as one tweet might make it seem.”
“There are significant diplomatic, economic, [and] cultural costs that will have to be accounted for if this policy is rolled back,” he added.
But despite his remarks, the Obama administration has done little to emphasize the importance of simply lifting barriers to trade between the two countries altogether, a problem that has prompted several freedom and free market advocates to say more must be done.
Cuban Fascism and Diplomatic Ties: Why America Must Trust Americans on Cuba Again
In a country where people who are born differently or who subscribe to different ideologies have been prosecuted, imprisoned, and murdered over the decades – much like US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia – hope for Cubans used to materialize in the shape of makeshift boats sailing through the waves toward Florida.
But in December 2014, Obama and Raúl Castro, the late Cuban dictator’s younger brother, announced both countries would re-establish diplomatic ties. The move secured the reopening of the US embassy in Havana and brought Obama to call the then-ongoing policy of isolation embraced by the United States an “outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests.”
Despite his inspiring words, Obama’s approach to normalizing the countries’ relationship fell short of what could have truly given the Cuban and American people a glimpse of what freedom looks like.
Instead of spurring real change in light of Obama’s push to have Congress lift certain economic restrictions, disagreements among lawmakers led to the change and regulation of travel policies. On November 28th, commercial flights between Havana and the United States were reintroduced.
This was a move that brought hope to residents of the small island who have been radically isolated due to Cuba’s hardline policies and because of the United States’ insistence on turning its back to the individuals hurt the most by Castro’s dictatorship.
As news sources focus on Obama’s decision to bring both nations closer while they attack Trump over his online comments, the remaining Castro brother continues to hold on to power with the same dedication demonstrated by his older (and now dead) brother. But as the governments of both countries become closer, one must look at the current leader’s corporate ties before praising him for the economic policy changes he has managed to implement since the historic warming of ties in late 2014.
With Raúl Castro’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez, sitting as “chairman of the largest business empire in Cuba,” a dossier by Bloomberg’s Michael Smith from 2015 explains, any foreign investor looking into making deals in the newly “opened” Cuba must first strike a deal with Rodriguez, who is also a general within the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Cuban officials pledge never to allow free markets to rule over the tiny Caribbean island.As a chairman of “a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and operated under a rigid set of financial benchmarks developed over decades,” Rodriguez ensures the Cuban government has a monopoly over any business being created in the new, post-normalization Cuba. To critics of the regime, the obvious discrepancies between the late Castro’s rhetoric and the actual state of Cuba’s government-run economy are hard to ignore. Nevertheless, Cuban officials pledge to never allow free markets to rule over the tiny Caribbean island.
But even as the fascist links between the current economic policies in Cuba come to light — some of which are eerily similar to policies being embraced in the United States — many are still unaware of the economic reality in Cuba.
While the island’s residents are now allowed to own cell phones and purchase vehicles and homes, and while private farming and cooperative businesses are also becoming more common and hotels are now finally allowed to welcome locals, the current president continues to keep a tight hold on big-money industries; his own son-in-law manages the conglomerates which are only allowed to operate on the tiny island if they are being run by the Cuban State.
By September 2015, companies run by Rodriguez’s Grupo de Administración Empresarial accounted for “about half the business revenue produced in Cuba,” according to Bloomberg. Other economists, however, believe that figure may be “closer to 80 percent.”
Instead of lifting, or at least pushing for a lift of all restrictions imposed by America after 50 years of failed, isolationist policies — finally allowing Americans to make their own decisions as to whether they want to risk going to Cuba or attempting to trade with locals on their own — Obama decided to make the US government an intermediary player in a fascist economic scheme. Despite Republican voices in Washington urging colleagues to put an end to the economic sanctions, the US government is now picking which companies get to take Americans to Cuba, for instance, and keeping other airlines from brokering their own deals, offering competitive prices, and bringing down the cost of travel for the common tourist.
The idea of having the government broker deals between businesses and foreign governments is not something Americans should be proud of. Instead of looking at the details of Obama’s decisions and how Cuba runs its own economy, the public prefers to panic over what the President-elect has said.
How about taking a hard look at what the current president has enabled, which will allow the incoming president to be even more of a corporate hack than he is? Is Obama 100 percent right just because of his “historic” first step? Why won’t he do more?
Instead of allowing freedom to prevail for the first time in 50 years, America has, once again, allowed people in power to choose winners and losers while the people who need freedom the most continue to suffer.
President, the Embargo, and What to Do Next
While opening up formal trade policies between America and Cuba would require a unified Congress to lift these restrictions, it’s important to remember that the Cuba embargo started “as a creature of executive discretion in 1962 when [President John F.] Kennedy imposed it.” While Congress acted in 1992 and 1996 to tie the hands of the executive in this sense, making it nearly impossible for the president to unilaterally lift restrictions imposed on Americans doing business in Cuba, Obama showed no signs he understands why economic sanctions are wrong.
It's more important than ever to highlight the immorality of economic sanctions.Now that a dictator is dead and his brother, who’s younger and just as power-hungry, is in power, it’s more important than ever to highlight the immorality of economic sanctions – and to do so as often as we can. After all, throughout history, the United States government has initiated countless unnecessary conflicts by imposing these types of policies.
Instead of keeping them in place, we must finally understand that such policies are seen as acts of war and that they do not hurt the ones they are intended to. Instead, only the poor and working classes in nations targeted by these embargoes suffer the consequences.
Obama may have helped to boost the hopes and dreams of countless Americans and Cubans who have always dreamed of peaceful exchanges between their countries, but his inability to put an end to the corporate welfare culture that has plagued his administration — even as he put an end to the cold war policies of decades past — proves his commitment to open trade between the nations is skin-deep.
Unless we begin discussing the importance of lifting restrictions and once again trusting the American and Cuban people to make their own decisions, President-elect Trump can only make things worse.
This first appeared at the AntiMedia.