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Guest Commentary: United States realignment of Cuba policy
June 28, 2017

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Reactions to President Trump's recent executive order reversing President Obama's misguided Cuba policy have missed the point. The focus on the tourism aspects of the deal are misplaced, as the real issue with our relationship with Cuba is capitalism and free enterprise versus communist socialism. Specifically, the Obama policy sought no commercial reforms and favored the Cuban regime over the Cuban people. President Trump's changes are meant to avoid commercially supporting the Cuban dictatorship by preventing transactions with GAESA, the military run enterprise that controls much of the Cuban economy. American capitalism should never support Cuban communism, and going forward it won't.

There is a widespread myth that President Obama's deal benefitted the Cuban people, when in reality it benefited the army and high government officials who own GAESA. Foreign companies doing business in Cuba pay state enterprises like GAESA in hard currency instead of paying their workers directly. Then the state businesses take a cut of the money before paying workers in much weaker pesos. The socialists have set things up to assure that the only employee-employer relationship which exists in Cuba remains singularly between the state and the people. Therefore, not only are Cuban workers ripped off by the state, but the opportunity to sow seeds of capitalism and belief in free enterprise among these workers is lost.

According to estimates by Cuban economists, GAESA's companies control between 40 and 60 percent of the Cuban tourism industry, though the exact impact of military owned companies is unknown because financial records are not public. GAESA's reach in the economy expands into many sectors, including hotel chains, supermarkets, gasoline stations, and clothing shops among others.

Prior to its own political turmoil, socialist Venezuela financially supported the Cuban government. Sadly, the Obama Administration "deal-makers" either failed to appreciate the opportunity presented by instability in Venezuela to exert significant leverage over Cuba, or did not want to take advantage of it. Either way the people of Cuba suffer and we lost a chance to return personal and economic freedom to the island. With the Chavez-Maduro regime collapsing around itself, Cuba was ripe for negotiation to find a new base of support. Unfortunately, the Obama deal filled the void left by Venezuela by funding GAESA.

In addition to the missed opportunity to create economic liberty and stimulate capitalism, numerous other opportunities were lost as well, like imposition of quantifiable improvements on human rights, allowing free speech and press, and promotion of civil rights and the rule of law. Further, President Obama failed to demand specific actions such as the extradition of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard to the United States, a move which President Trump has done.

According to a recent report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the number of political prisoners in Cuba is growing. In fact, days before President Obama's 2016 visit to the island, 50 members of Damas de Blanco, a political dissident group, were arrested. In addition to outlawing political opposition, the government restricts independent media groups and other aspects of civil society.

President Trump's executive order corrects many errors of the Obama Administration's failed dealing. By reinstating travel restrictions and prohibiting Americans to have financial transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban military, Americans will no longer willingly or unwilling finance the communist state and subsidize the deprivation of its people. Diplomatic relations and American tourism to non-government run enterprises, such as American cruise ship stops on the island, will remain. Travel agencies who work around GAESA controlled businesses will still be allowed to service Cuba and truly benefit the people.

The Obama Cuba policy failed to promote change within the repressive Castro regime. President Trump has reversed the policy to stop rewarding the Castro regime for continued human rights abuses by restricting American support to GAESA. This new policy represents a blow to the regime and a positive step for the Cuban people.

- Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida's 19th congressional district. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

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