Two cheers for Trump’s new Cuba policy

The “in” vacation among some of my liberal neighbors, friends, and relatives is a visit to Cuba. These hypocrites favor boycotts of North Carolina over its bathroom laws and of Ivanka Trump’s product lines because, even though she supports gay rights, she’s related to the president. Yet they are eager to patronize Cuba, where gays were harshly persecuted for decades (and still are to a lesser degree) and where, worse yet, free expression and economic freedom is aggressively repressed.

I applaud President Trump for cutting back on former President Obama’s one-sided deal with Cuba by reinstating some travel and trade restrictions. As Scott says, the idea that the U.S. “needs Cuba’s business” is laughable. America may not be what it once was, but we haven’t fallen so far that we need to trade with pathetic Cuba.

Nor do our tourists need to vacation in Cuba. There are fantastic vacation destinations in the Caribbean, including some that combine fascinating history with great beaches. I recommend the Dominican Republic and the coast of Colombia.

My one criticism of Trump’s decision is that it may not have gone far enough. The New York Times reported that “after [Trump’s] speech, he signed a six-page directive that ordered new travel and commercial restrictions while leaving in place some key Obama-era measures that eased sanctions.” (Emphasis added)

The Treasury and Commerce Departments have not written the new travel and commercial regulations that will implement Trump’s policy. Thus, we don’t have a clear idea of precisely what the policy will be.

As a general matter, though, it looks like the new policy will prohibit any commercial transactions with Cuba’s military, whose involvements include controlling a major portion of the tourism sector. Apparently, U.S. citizens will be barred from staying in military-owned hotels, although they are free to stay in private homes or nonmilitary-owned lodgings.

The problem is that, in a totalitarian regime like Cuba’s, it may be all but impossible to separate portions of the economy controlled by the military/government from portions of the economy that aren’t. As the Washington Post puts it, “government businesses and the private sector are thoroughly intertwined.” Thus, I would prefer doing away with Obama’s policy entirely and perhaps adopting an even more restrictive approach than the one Obama altered.

If there’s a serious argument for easing restrictions on Cuba, it isn’t turkeys. Rather it’s the claim that 50-plus years of boycotts and sanctions didn’t produce more freedom for Cubans. Obama relied on this argument. He intoned that if a policy hasn’t worked for 50 years, it’s time for a new approach.

But Obama’s reversal has, if anything, made Cuba more repressive. The New York Times reports:

Cuban dissidents who had backed Mr. Obama’s thaw in the hopes it would lead to greater openness on the island said the opposite had occurred. Among them was José Daniel Ferrer García, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union, the largest opposition group in Cuba, who was among the dissidents Mr. Obama met last year in Cuba.

“We believe that this is the moment for a maximum reversal of some policies that only benefit the Castro regime and do[] very little or nothing for the oppressed people,” Mr. Ferrer wrote in an open letter to Mr. Trump last week. “It is time to impose strong sanctions on the regime of Raúl Castro.”

(Emphasis added)

Moreover, Obama’s argument is one he would reject out-of-hand in a different context. Suppose a racially apartheid regime hadn’t changed its policy in response to years of sanctions. Would Obama support lightening the sanctions, absent strong guarantees of an end to apartheid? Of course not.

Yet, Obama substantially lightened sanctions on Cuba without any real promises — never mind guarantees — of decreased repression. One suspects that left-wing repression bothers him little, if at all.

It’s also worth noting that, although our sanctions haven’t induced Cuba to become less repressive, this was not their only purpose. Another purpose was to minimize Cuban influence.

There was a time when Cuba inspired revolutionaries in Central and South America and actively attempted to export revolution not only in these regions, but also in Africa. Today, Cuba doesn’t inspire anyone except, perhaps, a few Venezuelan thugs and idiot American college students in their “Che” t-shirts. The Cuban military dominates at home, but is in no position to export revolution.

The main reason for this story of Cuban failure, and concomitant American success, is the lunacy of Communism. But it seems likely, or at least plausible, that our sanctions contributed. In any event, we should be doing whatever we can to make life difficult for the Cuban military. Obama’s reversal of policy makes its life easier.

Finally, the Castro era is nearly at an end. Thus, the question isn’t so much whether our Castro-era policies lessened repression under the Castros. The more important question is how our policies will affect Cuban policy when Raul Castro dies.

It’s difficult to tell. However, the presumption should be in favor of policies that provide Cubans an extra incentive to cast off Communist rule. It seems to me that Trump’s approach provides more of an incentive than Obama’s, and that the pre-Obama approach provides more than Trump”s.

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