To Free Cuba, Make Guantanamo the New Ellis Island
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.
The people of Cuba are demonstrating extraordinary bravery by rising up for freedom and democracy against their brutal communist dictatorship. President Biden is reacting with a disgraceful display of foreign policy clumsiness.
The epitome of this was a July 13 statement by the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who arrived in America from Cuba in 1960 as a refugee. Mr. Mayorkas paid lip service to the idea that the Biden-Harris administration and the Department of Homeland Security “stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and their call for freedom from the repression and economic suffering that the Cuban’s authoritarian regime is causing.”
The secretary’s words that followed, however, undercut that: “The time is never right to attempt migration by sea. To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: if you take to the Sea, you will not come to the United States…. Any migrant intercepted at sea, regardless of their nationality, will not be permitted to enter the United States.”
What sort of “solidarity” does it show to refuse admission to Cubans fleeing a repressive regime?
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has dithered, leaking an internal debate about an “intervention” that might consist of providing internet access to Cuba. President John F. Kennedy didn’t succeed in liberating Cuba, but he did arm, train, and dispatch an invasion force and later sent assassins aimed at Castro. President Biden, by contrast, can’t even make up his mind about allowing the rebels to use a hot spot.
No wonder that a July 14 letter to President Biden from Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart complained, “to date, the administration has lacked the clarity that this pivotal moment requires.” The letter, also signed by Florida’s senators, the House Republican leader, and other members of Congress, accused the Biden-Harris administration of heading “down the path of weakness and moral equivalency.”
Could the Biden-Harris administration be afraid that Cuban immigrants will eventually become Republican voters? There are no fiercer opponents of socialism and communism than those who have suffered under those ideologies and know firsthand the misery they bring.
Or does the administration fear that a flood of incoming Hispanics would turn white swing voters against Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, or in the 2024 presidential campaign? In other words, is Mr. Biden letting anti-immigrant sentiment dictate policy?
A more generous explanation is that Mr. Mayorkas is sincere when he warns of the dangers posed by maritime crossings during hurricane season in overcrowded boats or rafts of questionable seaworthiness. If safety is genuinely the practical problem, though, there is a ready solution available. America has a 45-square-mile naval station in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay.
The drowning risk for incoming Cuban refugees could be entirely eliminated by inviting the Cubans seeking freedom and democracy to make their way by land to Guantanamo. At the navy base, their applications could be processed, they could be vaccinated against Covid-19, and they could eventually be transported safely to America by airplane or in seaworthy vessels.
The images of this exodus would help advance what Mr. Biden professes to be a core foreign policy objective. In his July 15 “Washington Declaration” with Chancellor Merkel, Mr. Biden said, “We must act now to demonstrate that democracy delivers for our people at home and that democratic leadership delivers for the world.”
There’s no better demonstration to the world that freedom and democracy beat the so-called socialist paradise of Cuba than hundreds of thousands of people voluntarily picking up and leaving. The regime’s apologists such as socialist Senator Bernie Sanders claim Cuba has great education and health care. If communist authoritarianism is so great, why are people so eager to leave voluntarily for America?
The incoming immigrants would enrich America. Cuban-Americans whose families arrived in earlier waves of migration have been distinguished contributors to American life. They include Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, members of Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Maria Salazar, jazz musicians such as Arturo Sandoval, Chico O’Farrill, and Paquito D’Rivera, athletes like Olympic gold-medal swimmer Ryan Lochte and all-star Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez. The father of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a Cuban immigrant.
C. Bradley Thompson, who runs Clemson University’s Institute for the Study of Capitalism, made me chuckle recently with his newsletter quoting a satirical headline from the parody publication the Babylon Bee: “‘You Just Don’t Understand Socialism Like I Do,’ Says College Freshman To Man Who Escaped Socialism On A Raft.”
Further delay by Mr. Biden would fuel criticism that his foreign policy is being driven by naïve delusions rather than American interests and democratic values. The president has an opportunity, instead, to transform Guantanamo from a synonym for a terrorist prison into a modern-day Ellis Island.
Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.