Right-wing media figures attacked President Obama's announcement of an agreement on diplomatic relations with Cuba, claiming that it is “appeasement” and tantamount to “prop[ping] up another communist dictator.” But foreign policy experts and commentators have long supported a deal with Cuba to loosen the embargo and improve relations.
Obama Admin. And Cuba Agree To Restore Full Diplomatic Relations
Obama Announces Deal On Diplomatic Relations With Cuba. On December 17, Obama announced that the United States will establish a U.S. Embassy in Cuba after the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for five years. As The New York Times reported:
The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.” [The New York Times, 12/17/14]
Right-Wing Media React Angrily To Agreement With Cuba
Fox Contributor John Bolton: Deal Is “Appeasement.” In an appearance on the December 17 edition of Happening Now, Fox News contributor John Bolton characterized the deal as a “very, very bad signal of weakness and lack of resolve by the President of the United States” and described it as “appeasement.” [Fox News, Happening Now, 12/17/14]
Limbaugh: “We Are Going To Use Taxpayer Dollars To Prop Up Another Communist Dictator.” During the December 17 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh said the U.S. making a deal with Cuba meant that "[w]e're going to use taxpayer dollars to prop up another communist dictatorship in our hemisphere, 90 miles away." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/17/14]
Fox's Rove: Deal Is “A Very Bad Signal To Our Adversaries Around The World.” Appearing on the December 17 edition of Happening Now, political contributor Karl Rove criticized the Obama administration for making a deal with Cuba. Saying that he agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), he called the deal “very disturbing” and said it's “a very bad signal to our adversaries around the world.” Later claiming that all Americans get out of the agreement are cheap vacations, Rove said “the Cuban people don't get much out of this” either. [Fox News, Happening Now, 12/17/14]
Experts And Commentators Have Long Advocated For Ending Embargo, Calling The Policy A “Failure”
Brookings' Huddleston: “Cuba Embargo's Usefulness Has Run Its Course.” In a 2008 op-ed in the Miami Herald, Vicki Huddleston, former co-director of the Brookings Project on U.S. Policy Toward a Cuba in Transition, wrote that the Cuban embargo's “usefulness has run its course.” Explaining that isolating the country “did not and cannot bring about the end of the revolution” there, Huddleston wrote that by ending the embargo the U.S. could “speed the forces of change” in the country:
But how fast and how far the revolution evolves depends upon U.S. policy. If we remove the barriers to communication, we will speed the forces of change. Just as was the case in Eastern Europe as a result of the Helsinki agreements, the Cuban people will be empowered by human contact, the free flow of information, and the support and encouragement of Americans and Cuban Americans from Florida to California.
If U.S. policy can deal with Cuba -- not as a domestic political issue -- but as one sovereign state to another, then we will resume official diplomatic relations with the exchange of ambassadors and begin -- once again -- to talk about matters that affect the well being and security of both our countries, namely migration, anti-narcotics, health and the environment. Starting a dialogue will allow us to press Cuba's leaders to respect the principles that we and the region hold dear: human rights, rule of law and freedom.
Removing the barriers to communications and to normal diplomatic relations are not concessions as some would claim. Rather, they are practical initiatives that will reduce the dependence of the Cuban people on the Cuban state by providing them with alternative sources of information and resources to improve their daily lives. [Brookings, 3/10/08]
Group Of 44 Diplomats Has Urged Obama To Ease Embargo. According to a May 19 report from Bloomberg, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte led a group of “44 former high-ranking U.S. diplomats, civil servants, military officers and Cuban-American businessmen” in calling for Obama to loosen the embargo against Cuba:
In an open letter sent to Obama, the group, which includes former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, former head of the U.S. Southern Command Admiral James Stavridis and Andres Fanjul, co-owner of sugarcane producer Fanjul Corp., called on Obama to expand the roster of groups allowed to organize travel to the island, authorize import and export licenses between the two countries' private sectors and encourage the expansion of telecommunications in Cuba by permitting the sale of hardware.
“The U.S. is finding itself increasingly isolated internationally in its Cuba policy,” the group said in the letter. “The Obama administration has an unprecedented opportunity to usher in significant progress using its executive authority at a time when public opinion on Cuba policy has shifted toward greater engagement with the Cuban people while continuing to pressure the Cuban government on human rights.”
Other signatories to the letter include former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, former Under Secretary of Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, Cuban-American businessmen such as Jorge Perez, chief executive officer of real estate developer The Related Group of Florida and three former Assistant Secretaries of State. [Bloomberg, 5/19/14]
Historian Appelbaum: Eisenhower Had “Expressed Hope That 'In The Not So Distant Future' Normal Relations Could Be Restored” With Cuba. In a December 17 series of tweets, cultural historian and Atlantic correspondent Yoni Appelbaum responded to the idea that United States had conceded to Cuba by negotiating with them. Appelbaum explained that the U.S. Embassy in Cuba had originally closed under pressure from Fidel Castro, so reopening it was not a concession. Appelbaum also pointed to President Eisenhower's hope that “in the not too distant future” relations between the two countries could be restored:
The Economist: The Cuban Embargo Has "Failed." A December 6 Economist article said the Cuban embargo “has not just failed; it has also given the Castros a potent propaganda weapon.” The article noted that that American support of the embargo has “crumbl[ed]” and that Latin America is “unanimous in believing that ... the island should be accorded a normal place in relations in the Americas.” [The Economist, 12/6/14]
NY Times Editorial Board: Ending Embargo Would Allow For More Collaboration. In an October 11 editorial, The New York Times' editorial board urged Obama to end the embargo with Cuba. The Times wrote, “For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.” The editorial went on say that restoring diplomatic ties “would allow the United States to expand and deepen cooperation in areas where the two nations already manage to work collaboratively -- like managing migration flows, maritime patrolling and oil rig safety.” [The New York Times, 10/11/14]
Financial Times: Lifting Embargo Means More Space “For Freedom” In Cuba. In a February 21 editorial, the Financial Times suggested that the United States' embargo policy “is not achieving its objective.” The editorial also said:
Opening to Cuba now would improve US standing in the region, while accelerating the possibility of change, especially given the troubles of Cuba's main benefactor, Venezuela. Mr Obama has eased some restrictions on travel and remittances. He needs to go further. Although lifting the embargo fully requires an act of Congress, he has some executive powers at his disposal.
Travel restrictions for US citizens should be lifted; the list of authorised exports, currently only food and medicine, expanded; commercial activity with private businesses encouraged; and Cuba removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Havana has played a crucial role in Colombia's peace talks; Cuba's continued inclusion, which brings tough financial strictures, makes a mockery of the list.
The aim of the new approach is simple. The more restrictions there are on the island, the less Cubans have and the more subservient they become to whoever dispenses it -- currently the state. Creating economic space therefore creates freedom. At the same time, engagement does not mean ending support for human rights or political liberalisation. Rather it provides a more credible context for criticism. [Financial Times, 2/21/14]
Cato's Bandow: Lifting Embargo Would Have “Obvious Economic Benefits.” In a December 11, 2012, post, Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow wrote that it is “time to end the Cuba embargo,” citing the policy's failure to liberate the Cuban people, economic benefits, and continued lack of international support:
The policy in Cuba obviously has failed. The regime remains in power. Indeed, it has consistently used the embargo to justify its own mismanagement, blaming poverty on America. Observed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.” Similarly, Cuban exile Carlos Saladrigas of the Cuba Study Group argued that keeping the “embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hardliners.”
Ending the embargo would have obvious economic benefits for both Cubans and Americans. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates American losses alone from the embargo as much as $1.2 billion annually.
Expanding economic opportunities also might increase pressure within Cuba for further economic reform. So far the regime has taken small steps, but rejected significant change. Moreover, thrusting more Americans into Cuban society could help undermine the ruling system. Despite Fidel Castro's decline, Cuban politics remains largely static. A few human rights activists have been released, while Raul Castro has used party purges to entrench loyal elites.
Lifting sanctions would be a victory not for Fidel Castro, but for the power of free people to spread liberty. As [trade specialist Dan] Griswold argued, “commercial engagement is the best way to encourage more open societies abroad.” Of course, there are no guarantees. But lifting the embargo would have a greater likelihood of success than continuing a policy which has failed. Some day the Cuban people will be free. Allowing more contact with Americans likely would make that day come sooner. [Cato Institute, 12/11/12]