On Dec. 17, President Barack Obama announced the United States was going to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and he would seek congressional removal of the economic embargo against that small nation. The president’s action is long overdue and opposition to it is misguided.
Lest this bold decision be viewed as an excessive use of executive power by Mr. Obama, the constitutional delegation to the president of the power to conduct foreign affairs is well established. Except for the delegation to Congress of such authority as the power to wage war and appropriate funds, and shared powers with the president such as confirmation of diplomatic appointees and ratification of treaties, the conduct of foreign affairs is the sole responsibility of the executive branch. It has been exercised by all presidents since George Washington.
Following the overthrow of the brutal and corrupt Cuban dictator, Fulgencia Batista, by Fidel Castro in 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower withdrew American diplomatic recognition of Cuba in 1961, and Congress later imposed an economic embargo. This is not the time or place to debate the ill-fated and long-standing United States support of dictators against popular uprisings, as it did of Batista. Suffice it to say Castro sought refuge in the bounty of the Soviet Union, consolidating his power for generations.
The more than five decades-old policy of the United States to isolate Cuba politically and economically failed from the beginning, which 10 American presidents prior to Mr. Obama refused to rectify, primarily for domestic political reasons. Historically, and continuing today, the strongest opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba comes from the estimated two million Cuban-Americans in the United States, 70 percent of whom live in Florida (2011 Census Bureau report). These steadfast Americans are mostly immigrants who fled Cuba after the revolution and their descendents born in this country. Because Florida is the third most populous state and the biggest swing state, its Cuban-Americans exercise unusually strong political influence.
It’s ironic these Cuban-Americans who have enjoyed the freedoms of this country, many of whom have prospered greatly, would have the government continue its failed course, leaving their loved ones and friends in Cuba only the hope the dictatorial Castro regime would someday, somehow, change or be overthrown. Sen. Marco Rubio, a native born Cuban-American, of all people, has attacked Mr. Obama’s action, calling it a “disaster” and “a victory for oppression.”
Recognition of Cuba no more condones government oppression than did President Nixon’s establishing relations with China in 1972. Indeed, it offers more than the mere hope of freedom.
Cuban president Rául Castro made no concession on granting civil rights to the Cuban people or relaxing restrictions on access to the Internet.
But those things will come with increased trade and people-to-people exchange, and anyone who denies the power of social media to bring dramatic change to Cuba has been living on another planet.
Our Republican-controlled Congress likely will deny funding of a full-fledged American embassy in Havana and refuse to confirm an ambassador. Diplomatic relations nevertheless have been established and are going to continue with positive effect.
Change in Cuba will not blossom with the coming spring flowers. But come it will and probably faster than anyone expects, thanks to President Obama’s executive action.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at email@example.com.
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