Is Biden Ready To Enforce America’s <i>Libertad</i> Law To Open Up Cuba?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
President Biden used today the right words, up to a point, to address the unprecedented revolt in Cuba, the Communist-ruled island mere 330 miles off of Miami. Is he ready, though, to help Cubans bring an end to the Castro-made Caribbean eyesore, while charting a new course for the future?
America “calls on the Cuban regime to hear their people and serve their needs at this vital moment, rather than enriching themselves,” Mr. Biden said in a statement Monday morning, a day after Cubans rose up in small towns and big cities across the island.
While the uprising intensified today, mostly in peaceful demonstrations where anti-communist slogans were shouted by American flag wavers, the regime reacted violently. There were reports of casualties in Havana and elsewhere.
Senator Rubio of Florida noted that Mr. Biden omitted the words “Communist” or “socialist” from his Monday statement, which described the Castro heirs merely as the “Cuban authoritarian regime.” Does that omission indicate a flawed approach by Mr. Biden?
The regime-appointed Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, on Monday blamed America for the island’s hardships that led to Sunday’s spontaneous eruption, claiming the protest resulted from Washington’s plan to “asphyxiate” Cuba, and urging Cubans to rise up in “defense of the revolution.” Yet, unlike American left-wing activists, Cubans no longer buy the old line about how “it’s the Yankees’ fault.”
Cubans know the island’s top source of hard currency is the exploitative export of Cuban experts in exchange for euros and dollars. They’re also aware that that hard cash enriches the rulers and bigwigs in the army, which controls up to 80% of the Cuban economy. And that at the same time the Cuban people lack the most basic necessities.
Castro’s heirs have clumsily attempted to replicate China’s Communist model, which allows some free enterprise while maintaining tight controls over macro economics. And no political dissent. Havana has touted its biochemical industry and sent physicians and nurses across the world in exchange for hard cash, but while Cuba displays 14 “medical tourism” facilities on the island, health care for the locals is among of the world’s worst.
Maria Werlau, who’s Florida-based Archivo Cuba website has documented the regime’s atrocities for decades, says that basic medical necessities, like plaster to make casts for people with broken limbs, are non-existent. “People die from the smallest things,” Ms. Werlau told me, adding, “and then came covid.”
The regime might boast of medical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs that it sends to the third world. Some of those exports might be effective, others mere snake oil. None are available at home.
In its early days, Castro’s Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union that craved a listening post near America’s shore. In exchange for sugar cane they didn’t need, the Soviets supplied much of the island’s necessities. After our defeat of the Soviets in the Cold War, the regime found another sugar daddy in Venezuela — until Venezuela ran out of resources.
Meanwhile Cuba’s next generation of Communist revolutionaries similarly lacked the strategic skills and rhetorical abilities of the Castros. The country defaulted on its external debt and foreign loans dried up.
Incredibly, last month 80 Democrats in Washington pleaded, in a letter addressed to Mr. Biden, to stop sanctioning the Cuban regime, calling, in one instance, for Mr. Biden to “reverse the recent politicized decision by the departing Trump Administration to add Cuba back to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.”
Such calls will now be renewed by those who blame America for the island’s revolt. Cuban Americans of both parties — and not only from Florida — will resist, led by, among others, Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the foreign relations committee.
Press reports have widely claimed that Mr. Trump changed American policy. The truth is that it was Mr. Obama who used one executive action after another to reverse American policy established in the Kennedy era and anchored in law by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, known as Libertad.
At one point, Mr. Obama’s own ambassador at the United Nations, Samantha Power, went so far as to abstain from the vote on a measure, passed annually in the General Assembly, to condemn her own country’s “blockade” of Cuba. Yet, American sanctions always exempted foods and medical products.
While Mr. Biden initially seemed to favor a return to Mr. Obama’s Cuba policies, he was determined to defer them while dealing with more immediate challenges than the troubles of a small Caribbean island. Now Cuba’s own people are rising up against a communistic regime that remains a national security issue for America.
Now is the time for America to prepare for the day that the 62-year-old regime will be toppled. As a matter of U.S. law, no American administration may treat with a transition government in Cuba until it commits to certain preconditions, listed in the Libertad Act, including free elections, an independent judiciary, and independent trade unions.
Once that happens, the time will be ripe for a legislation to redeem Cuba’s future the way the Marshall Plan once did in Europe. Without it, a neighbor unprepared for self-rule would either succumb to the likes of China or descend into dangerous anarchy.
Twitter @bennyavni. Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.