Foreign Affairs

Why can’t we vacation in Cuba? Because it’s a terror state

Why can't we vacation in Cuba? Because it's a terror state

As an attendee at this weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner, it struck me that I agree with the president. At least on one issue. Rapper Jay-Z’s recent decision to visit Cuba is a problem. Jay-Z and wife Beyoncé traveled to Cuba to celebrate (in their words) their fifth wedding anniversary in spite of a U.S. tourist ban.  Many of my friends on the right ask: “Why can’t Americans travel to any country they wish to? Why can we go as tourists to China but not Cuba?”

It’s for the same reason we can’t go to North Korea or Iran: Cuba is a terrorist nation. China didn’t seize our assets or deploy nuclear weapons 90 miles off our coast. Cuba continues to actively promote hostility towards the U.S. in our hemisphere and our tourist dollars help prop up the Castro regime and prolong the agony of 11 million people.

U.S.-Cuba relations since 1959 have gone from strained to severe, to the closest we have ever come to nuclear Armageddon. Its always included provocations on Castro’s end of one degree or another and periodic rapprochements have been a colossal waste of time — except for an immigration accord which most Cuban exiles consider unwise.

The Castro brothers remain the longest lasting living dictators in the world — 54 years and counting. So far they have survived nine U.S. presidents, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of Hugo Chavez. According to them they have also survived numerous death plots emanating from the U.S., the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as well as the Kennedy/Khrushchev stare down in the 1962 October missile crisis.

At the beginning of their reign of terror they executed thousands of freedom-loving patriots, confiscated (without compensation) all private property in the island — including billions of dollars of U.S.-owned assets — and launched the “Mariel boat exodus” during president Jimmy Carter’s tenure, releasing tens of thousands of Cubans from criminal jails and mental institutions and sending them over by boats to Miami and surrounding areas. Let’s not forget the downing of small private single engine planes killing in cold blood four American citizens during president Bill Clinton’s administration. To this day, they jail thousands of patriotic Cubans, including the well-known “Ladies in White,” whose only provocation has been to peacefully voice their objections to the treatment of the Cuban people.

They have used the Cuban people as chattel sending their unwilling young men to fight and die in faraway lands (such as Angola); thousands of unsuspecting doctors to Venezuela and thousands others to forced labor camps to harvest sugar cane — all in return for financial resources to keep their ruthless regime afloat.

They are listed as a terrorist country by our U.S. Department of State for good reason: they harbor terrorist leaders from the Middle East; train and supply intelligence officers to other ruthless governments such as Nicaragua and Bolivia; and are at the ideological epicenter of all efforts to undermine America and the values for which we stand.

Many in our country on both sides of the aisle are second guessing our policies of the economic embargo and the restrictions imposed on our citizens regarding travel to Cuba. Some believe that a change in policy can become a catalytic event for meaningful change in Cuba and at the very least could be of financial benefit to U.S. commercial interests. They argue that an opening now can help a post-Castro Cuba evolve in a positive direction. The code word for all of these unilateral actions is “normalizing” relations.

One of the rarest exceptions to U.S. historical diplomatic options is that these relations with Cuba were codified into American laws in 1991 wherein the U.S. Congress determined that for the embargo to be lifted, Cuba needed to free its jails of political prisoners, agree to allow the formation of political organizations, and agree to hold elections at some point in the future.

But, what is actually being proposed is that these conditions be unilaterally lifted.  No reimbursement for U.S. business loses or return of valuable properties taken; no relief for the 11 million caged humans in Cuba’s archipelago and, in essence, a recognition that in spite of all of the above enumerated transgressions and many others, the United States has no beef with the Castro regime and is willing to let bygones be bygones.  Why do that? How does that serve our interests?

The Castro regime has no credit or resources with which to trade. If they did they could trade with every other nation they wish to — but can’t. And most importantly, they have no intention of discontinuing their destabilizing efforts in the hemisphere.

Every time the free world has sought to extend a hand of friendship to world tyrants, they have lived to regret their actions. President Obama upon taking office sought to ease travel and remittances sent to Cuba as a gesture of good faith. The result? Jailing of an American — Alan Gross who was there on humanitarian efforts to work with the few remaining Jews on the island — and redoubling their efforts to undermine our interests in Latin America.

Enter Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry.  Secretary Hagel, while in the Senate, called the U.S. embargo “nonsensical” and anachronistic and Secretary Kerry shares similar views. No cabinet since the Carter administration has had such leaders in favor of rapprochement with the Castro brothers.

But, after more than 50 years of exile, the Cuban diaspora remains strong. Its culture and memories passed on from generation to generation. More than one million Cuban expatriates and their children retain the fervor for their fatherland. Its been a remarkable journey in the America they – we — have all so fallen in love with. We have elected four Cuban-Americans to the U.S. Senate, several U.S. Representatives and literally dozens of state legislators throughout our land. We are also proud of our many corporate CEOs, athletes, artistic performers and successful professionals.

One policy change which is favored by a growing segment of the Cuban exile community is the ending of our immigration accord and of the “wet foot dry foot” policies. These base their origins on the assumption that Cubans leaving the island for the United States are political refugees, fearing for their well-being at home and entitled to asylum in our country. However, far too many of our compatriots come and go regularly to the island to visit friends, relatives or to just vacation. That needs to stop and our immigration policies should treat my fellow Cubans as we do every one else regarding asylum entry and visa opportunities.

Our views on relations with Castro’s Cuba remain firmly ensconced in our current policies regardless of our party affiliation. Our children were born here; our dead are buried here. America is our home but we yearn with fervor for the opportunity that our slaved brothers and sisters can someday soon enjoy the basic freedoms to which every human on earth is entitled. While I respect the different points of view of many inside of Cuba who have given up hope — after three generations of Castro rule – and seek different accommodations with the Castro regime, I believe that our current policies will best further our collective goal: a free Cuba.

We need to be prepared, when the moment arises, to help with Cuba’s reconstruction, help end the suffering and bring freedom and hope to the millions awaiting the departure of the Castro brothers — sooner rather than later. Until that day comes, the United States should stay the course and our Secretaries of Defense and State need to be closely monitored by Congress.

Al Cardenas, Chairman of the American Conservative Union and Cuban-American

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