Obama and Florida Legislators Come to an Empty Agreement on Cuba, For Now

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One of the most misunderstood issues in U.S. foreign policy is our policy towards Cuba. During the last election season, President Obama made clear his intentions to open a discussion about improving U.S.-Cuba relations.

Despite instant criticism, Obama courageously stepped forward and faced a group of south Florida legislators who would stop at nothing to fight against his new approach towards improving U.S.-Cuba relations. Through Obama’s executive power, and within his first month in office, he eliminated the restrictions on Cuban-American family travel and remittances to Cuba, put in place by former President George W. Bush. President Obama later restored people-to-people educational exchanges after they were abolished for seven years by the Bush Administration. While family members rejoiced and new connections of friendship between U.S. citizens and Cubans formed, the Cuba hardliners have only further promoted disconnection and attempted to create distance between the United States and Cuba.

How so? These hardliners have attempted to push our policy back to the Bush era in the face of any meager possibility of a better U.S.-Cuba relationship. Whether in the form of Rep. David Rivera’s (R-FL) amendment to alter the Cuban Adjustment Act, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s (R-FL) attempt to return to Bush’s Cuba travel policies, or Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) support of Florida’s proposal to prohibit trade with any company with ties to Cuba, Obama has had to play nice to keep his head above water amidst these fired up individuals. Undoubtedly, Obama’s strategy has touched the surface at change.

But despite all of the foul play, in a recent article in the Congressional Quarterly titled “Lawmakers Pledge Not to Fight Over Trade With Cuba This Election Year,” Ben Weyl writes that “lawmakers at odds over constraints on trade and tourism in Cuba say they will hold their fire.” The lead flamethrowers are the same Florida Republicans mentioned above, who, Weyl writes, “will not offer amendments to tighten rules regarding contact with Cuba.” Rep. Diaz-Balart argues that the Obama Administration is “helping Fidel Castro’s government,” referring to the backlash received from the Senate and the President when Diaz-Balart attempted to revert Cuban-American family travel back to the Bush Administration’s policy last year.

As the White House “refused to budge on the Cuba language,” the amendment was left out of the final law. Diaz-Balart said, “That was the one thing [Obama] was willing to kill the entire appropriations bill on, nothing else, and since the administration’s position hasn’t changed, he said, it’s not worth refighting a battle sure to be lost.”

“This president for some reason was willing to close down the federal government to help Fidel Castro,” said Diaz-Balart. “That’s the reality I’m facing, so at this time we’re not going to do anything.”

This implied compromise between the President and the Congress means that no progress is being made to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. Rather, the opinions of a strong majority of U.S. citizens are being ignored, including Cuban Americans, who want to see unrestricted travel to Cuba and movement toward normal relations. On the plus side, we can anticipate not seeing any more attacks on Cuban-American family travel and academic or people-to-people exchanges. But on the other hand, some legislators who have supported seeing better relations with Cuba are deciding to back off, at least while Alan Gross remains detained on Cuban soil. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KA) said he was taking “a hiatus from the effort” of helping U.S. farmers establish better trade negotiations with Cuba, to add pressure to a timely release of Gross.

Until the elections are over with, our Cuba policy remains at a standstill, 53 years and counting. How much longer will our failed policy continue to be stuck in time?