President Barack Obama wants to "normalize" relations with the Cuban regime. He presumes that it will be part of his legacy. Likely, that risky diplomatic move will backfire, although polls show that most U.S. Americans support the reestablishment of relations with Cuba and the end of the embargo.
According to the measure's adversaries, normalization is a morally questionable mission. Why lend a hand to a stubborn dictatorship in its terminal stages? It makes no sense. Besides, Raúl Castro complicates everything. He insists that the island's repressive one-party communist model will endure.
An editorial in The Washington Post summarized that point of view: "Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life."
Maybe Obama's initial mistake was to renounce something that didn't exist. A few weeks after Kennedy's death, Lyndon Johnson put an end to the efforts to terminate the Castro brothers' dictatorship by force. Since then, the strategy to change the Cuban regime has been replaced by an attempt to "contain" it.
How? Through economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and propaganda. Cold War measures against a Cold War government that continues to behave as if the Berlin Wall had not been toppled in 1989 and the Soviet Union continued to exist.
That's the way it has been for decades. To which was added, with the passing of time, a consoling theory: after the death of the Castros and the disappearance of the Sierra Maestra generation, the heirs would abandon that cruel way of governing and a peaceful transition to democracy and freedom would begin in Cuba.
There would be a repeat of what happened in eastern Europe to the communist regimes and in Latin America to the military dictatorships. Why should anything different happen in Cuba?
After the surprise announcement of Dec. 17, the first one to get in Obama's face was Democratic senator Bob Menéndez, the son of Cubans, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Menéndez was justly indignant. Despite his important post, and without taking into account the fact that he is a Democrat, the White House concealed from him its negotiations with Cuba and deceived him.
Until the day that the scheme was revealed, Obama insisted that he would make no further concessions to Havana, so long as Cuba didn't take steps toward an opening. That was a lie. Menéndez issued a harsh public statement. He felt cheated.
Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Susana Martinez of New Mexico wasted no time joining the fray. Both called on the Obama administration to demand that Raúl Castro surrender to the United States several American felons -- murderers of policemen and hijackers of airplanes -- who have found asylum in Cuba.
What kind of "normalization" is that, with neighbors who protect criminals? Hadn't the White House decided that the island was no longer a haven for terrorists?
Obama has presented the Republicans with a good campaign issue for the period close to the 2016 elections. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, shortly before he announced that he would try to become his party's presidential candidate, hastened to describe Obama's new policy toward Cuba as "a misstep that benefits the dictatorship."
Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and the newly elected Congressman Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) -- all Cuban-American Republicans -- made similar statements but, understandably, with a tone of greater indignation.
Nevertheless, the institution where Obama and the Democrats will be punished most severely will be Congress. Republican representatives and senators will utilize the change of policy toward Cuba essayed by Obama to test the constitutional limits of the separation of powers, now that they hold a majority in both chambers.
Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which funds U.S. embassies, has said that not a cent will be spent to bankroll the new policy. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana might now be called an "embassy" but there won't be an ambassador.
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, has stated that a lifting of the embargo won't even be debated in the chamber. The embargo will remain in effect; no substantial changes will be made.
Perhaps the main course will be the public hearings that the Senate and the House will surely hold to question, under oath, the functionaries who took part in the negotiations with Havana. The presumption is that several laws were broken and the lawmakers will try to bring those violations before the courts. Whosoever lies shall be charged with perjury.
The Republicans' objective is to turn Obama's purported "Cuban legacy" into a nightmare. They are convinced that the President acted against the law and the principles and values of U.S. society. There was a reason why 10 presidents before him, Democratic and Republican, abstained from trying to straighten up the twisted relations with the neighboring dictatorship until change might come to the island. That was the prudent thing to do.
This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.
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