Three U.S. senators on Friday touted the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would make it legal for Americans to do business in Cuba.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said in a statement:
Instead of looking to the future, U.S.-Cuba policy has been defined for far too long by conflicts of the past. Cuba is an island of 11 million people, just 90 miles from our border—lifting the trade embargo will open the door to a huge export market, create jobs here at home, and support both the American and Cuban economies. Our bipartisan legislation will finally turn the page on the failed policy of isolation and build on the progress we have made to open up engagement with Cuba by ending the embargo once and for all.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, is a co-sponsor. He said:
History has shown that the embargo with Cuba has not been very effective. This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba. It would provide new opportunities for American businesses, farmers and ranchers. We need to open dialogue and the exchange of ideas and commerce that would help move Cuba forward. It is time to work toward positive change.
Engage Cuba, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Latin America Working Group and Cargill support the act, a press release about the law said.
Other lawmakers want to to tighten sanctions and support the Trump administration’s reversal of President Obama’s policies toward Cuba. They vow to punish Cuban leaders for acts going back as far as 1959.
On June 20, 2018, then-Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, said he was “deeply concerned that the bureaucracy in the State Department is purposely disregarding and undermining President Trump’s Cuba policies.”
On that day, DeSantis led a hearing of the Subcommittee on National Security of House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Witnesses urged the U.S. government to crack down on Cuban officials for perceived crimes.
Now retired U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told the subcommittee that the Justice Department should indict Raúl Castro and others responsible for the 1996 shootdown of two civilian planes belonging to the group, Brothers to the Rescue.
Cuban officials have defended their actions, saying Brothers to the Rescue planes had repeatedly violated Cuban airspace and had dropped political leaflets.
Four people aboard the planes were killed in the incident, which prompted then-President Bill Clinton to sign the Helms-Burton Act.
Said Ros Lehtinen:
The Department of Justice and the Department of State can and must indict Raul Castro and all others involved in the shoot-down. Yet, each administration since the attack has not moved one inch to hold them responsible. Instead, in its pursuit of normalizing relations with the island, the Obama administration made the monumental error of releasing Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez — and you have pointed it out — who was convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the murder of these brave pilots.
Lawyer Jason Poblete also testified at the hearing. He urged the U.S. government to designate Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism. He said:
Removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list was a grave mistake and, based on the public record, reckless. It undermined U.S. policy goals, but also set back the cause of justice as has failing to effectively enforce many other U.S. laws.
In a written statement, Poblete said he wants the U.S. government to punish Cuban officials. He wrote:
…the United States should redouble efforts to track, investigate and indict other high-ranking and mid-level regime officials who have played a role in harming American citizens and interests since 1959.
Executive branch agency officials and presidential advisors must robustly follow through on President Trump’s re-orientation of U.S./Cuba policy. They must redouble efforts ensure that the President’s vision is effectively executed throughout the government – starting with securing justice for American victims of Cuban Communism.
- Urge the Justice Department and the Department of State to move swiftly on indicting Raul Castro and other international outlaws who have harmed American citizens. Several former U.S. Attorneys, especially in the Southern District of Florida in both Republican and Democratic administrations, have tried to pursue indictments against Raul Castro and other Cuban officials, only to be thwarted by Washington, D.C. politics.
- Create an Inter Agency Task Force to Track Down International Outlaws in the Americas. The U.S. Department of Justice, National Security Division (NSD), should be given additional resources to stand up a Task Force that not only works with U.S. Attorneys to indict Raul Castro and his fellow conspirators, but does so going beyond the 1993 attempt to indict Raul Castro and other regime officials for drug trafficking.
- Declassify all records that can be declassified related to the Brothers to the Rescue Shoot down. It has been over 20 years. Fidel Castro is dead. The octogenarian Raul Castro is no longer a head-of-state. To build an effective case against Raul Castro, and all others associated with this act of international terrorism, all records that can be declassified must be declassified.
- Seek International Cooperation to Hold Cuban Criminals Accountable, Enforce Helms-Burton. … The United States should enforce U.S. laws regarding Cuba, especially the Helms-Burton law, and seek cooperation from responsible stakeholders. … Impress upon U.S. diplomats that allies need to do a better job of helping the United States hold Cuban diplomats’ feet to the fire, especially when it comes to Cubans who have harmed American citizens.
- Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right. Known violators of fundamental rights must not be allowed access to the United States. Family members of Cuba’s Communist Party elites, military, and intelligence services must not be allowed entry to the United States nor allowed to use the American financial system. The Trump administration should work on a rolling out targeted sanctions of rogue regime officials under the Global Magnitsky and others OFAC sanctions programs. This targeted approach will help target gross violators of fundamental rights and provide the future people of Cuba a list of people they may want subject to judicial process in a post-Communist Cuba.
- The Congress and the Trump Administration should conduct and publish a bottom-up review of Obama and Bush Administration Cuba policy. To my knowledge, there has not been a full accounting, or damage assessment, of Cuba foreign policy and intelligence activities targeting the United States or our allies in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere. Without this information it will be difficult to build a proper case against Communist Cuba in a court of law or the court of public opinion.
- As outlined in U.S. law, seriously begin discussion at the United Nations Security Council on the feasibility of using Chapter VII actions Against Cuba. Using ICTY, ICTR, and other Tribunals as guides, consider a Special International Criminal Tribunal for Cuba and the Americas that looks not only at atrocity crimes and other gross violations of human rights by Cuba, but by other rogue states such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.
- Take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of American citizens posted at the U.S. Embassy in Havana; cooperate with defense teams representing victims.
William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University, testified in favor of normalized relations with Cuba:
Whether your principal concern is human rights, or compensation for nationalized U.S. property, or the return of U.S. fugitives, or Cuba’s support for the failing regime in Venezuela, there is no chance of making progress on any of those issues with a policy of hostility that relies exclusively on sanctions…
… Our current economic sanctions targeting the whole Cuban economy … harms the living standards of ordinary Cubans. That is why the last three Popes, including John Paul II, who was no friend of communism, opposed the embargo.
The idea of engaging with Cuba is not new. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower — including both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — entered into negotiations with Cuba because they realized there were some problems they could only solve with Cuban cooperation.
Engagement with an adversary in order to advance U.S. interests does not constitute a moral endorsement of that adversary’s behavior. President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un was not an endorsement of North Korea’s human rights record, nor was President Obama’s opening to Cuba an endorsement of that regime’s human rights record.
Our current National Defense Strategy, approved by the president in December, identifies China and Russia as our principal adversaries in the world today. Both are authoritarian regimes with terrible human rights records, yet we engage with them every day on a variety of issues because doing so serves our national interest. There is no reason not to do the same with Cuba. Moreover, as we back away from engagement with Cuba, China and Russia are rushing in to fill the vacuum.
With regard to seeking criminal indictments against Cuban officials for human rights abuses, even if there were legal grounds for securing such indictments, the accused could not be brought to trial because Cuban law prohibits the extradition of Cuban nationals.
Pursuing human rights indictments today might be symbolically satisfying to some, but it would only serve to poison the atmosphere of bilateral relations and impede existing law enforcement cooperation, which has been improving. That would endanger our ability to secure the extradition of U.S. nationals who commit crimes here and then flee to Cuba, and our ability to pursue the prosecution in Cuba of Cuban nationals for crimes committed in the United States. These are areas in which there has been significant progress since 2014, progress that has continued despite the Trump administration’s decision to back away from the normalization of relations.
In short, I believe more has been gained, and more can be gained, through a policy of engagement and cooperation on issues of mutual interest than through a policy of hostility and heightened sanctions, real or symbolic.
Decades after the end of the Cold War we continue to impose punitive sanctions against Cuba, a tiny island neighbor that poses no threat to us. After more than half a century, the embargo has achieved none of its objectives. President Obama took a courageous and pragmatic step in opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, but President Trump has reinstated the failed isolationist policy of the past. It is up to Congress to end the embargo, which is used by the Cuban government to justify its repressive policies, and by foreign companies to avoid competing with U.S. businesses that are shut out of the Cuban market. Lifting the embargo will put more food on the plates of the Cuban people, allow them to access quality U.S. products, and encourage reforms in Cuba’s economy, all while benefiting American companies.