Republican senator and 2016 Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio of Florida, son of Cuban immigrants, is not down with Obama moving to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba:
“… [G]iving the Castro regime diplomatic legitimacy and access to American dollars isn’t just bad for the oppressed Cuban people, or for the millions who live in exile and lost everything at the hands of the dictatorship. Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.”
Rubio makes the case in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal that the Castro regime is a terrible, brutal, oppressive one – and he’s right. Few would argue that. He goes on to point out “it has been the policy and law of the U.S. to make clear that re-establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba is possible—but only once the Cuban government stops jailing political opponents, protects free speech, and allows independent political parties to be formed and to participate in free and fair elections.”
For Rubio, this is the only correct response from America to a brutal and oppressive regime. So for Obama to open the door to normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba means, “the regime in Cuba won’t have to change.”
America’s embargo of Cuba has been in place for over 50 years, restricting basically all American imports and exports to the country, with the stated goal of removing the Castro regime, or at the very least, forcing it to cease its human rights abuses and adopt modern democratic capitalist norms.
This has manifestly not happened.
In fact, if anything it has strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power, and served as justification for the regime to crack down on civil rights touted as necessary to “protect a country at war.”
America’s embargo has made life demonstrably worse for Cuba’s everyday citizens for more than five decades though, while doing precisely zero to affect the behavior of the Castro regime in the ways America says it wants. In fact, sanctions have been admitted to have a mixed record at best, even by the Government Accountability Office. Albert Einstein famously said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don’t think Senator Rubio is insane, but he is certainly not demonstrating insightful thinking on this issue.
With senator Rubio’s parents having fled Cuba to seek better economic fortunes in the US, this appears to have motivated his healthy American interest in punishment as revenge. Daniel Larison makes a convincing case in The American Conservative that Rubio is talking nonsense because he just hates diplomacy. Meanwhile his silence on the numerous other odious regimes America maintains normal diplomatic relations with speaks volumes to his hypocrisy on Cuba. These include the world’s worst human rights abusers: Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, Chad, China, Laos, and Libya.
Engaging with countries you disagree with is not a reward for good behavior, unless you are a six year old; it’s the bare minimum required for any adult. American foreign policy hawks who make the case for treating other countries as if they were errant children are the ones most in need of growing up. It’s a lot harder to change others’ behavior when you have no engagement with them, and setting an example yourself is extremely powerful, particularly on things like oh, I don’t know – torture.
As Moises Naim notes in The Atlantic, “in the long run, it will be hard for the Castro regime to maintain a tightly controlled political system if it allows more freedom of communication, travel, commerce, and investment. It’s easier to keep a lid on politics when a country is closed, hungry, and isolated than when it’s more open to the world.”