Why Conservatives Should Support Changing U.S. Policy Toward Cuba
Guest Post By Tomas Bilbao, Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group
As a conservative, I have always been puzzled by supporters of the status quo in U.S. policy towards Cuba claiming that those advocating for more effective policies are all "liberals".
It is well documented that ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, when President Kennedy was accused by many of abandoning hundreds of Cuban-Americans who participated in the mission, most exiles have tended to register as Republicans. Over time, they have been a loyal constituency of the party and have enjoyed significant clout in determining U.S. policy toward Cuba. However, this loyalty has come at a cost. The policies advocated by a vocal and politically active minority of Cuban-Americans --the defenders of the status quo-- have run contrary to Republican principles.
Furthermore, defenders of the status quo have spent millions lobbying the U.S. government urging it to isolate the Cuban government by restricting the rights of Americans to travel to the island. Not only is this policy misguided in that helps the Cuban government in its efforts to isolate the Cuban people, but it runs contrary to the Republican principles of the protection of individual rights from the federal government. As a conservative, I expect totalitarian regimes to limit personal freedoms, not my own government.
In an effort to micromanage Cuba's transition, defenders of the status quo have also lobbied heavily to create complex government regulations and bureaucratic programs at a cost of hundreds of millions to the U.S. taxpayer. Conservatives would agree that privatizing assistance to Cuba's civil society would not only be more effective, but also would represent savings of over $20 million a year to taxpayers. In addition, deregulating and privatizing this assistance could help avoid putting government contractors such as Allan Gross at risk of being arrested and charged with espionage. At the time Mr. Gross was arrested, he had received over half a million dollars in government grants to deliver to Cuba equipment that current U.S. sanctions prohibit private citizens from exporting to Cuba.
Finally, Conservatives have no business supporting policies that seek to hurt regimes at the expense of the people they victimize. Defenders of the status quo seek to deny resources to Cuba in an effort to force a desperate population to rise up against a well-fed and well-armed military. This policy not only ignores important ethical and moral considerations, but also important historical lessons. After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who, at the height of the Cold War, authorized travel and grain sales to the Soviet Union. He believed that the best way to undermine a communist government was by exposing its citizens to American travelers, products and ideas. This trust in the transformative power of individuals and the American way is what characterizes Conservatives.
I realize, however, that defenders of the status quo have been very effective in selling their argument to policymakers by arguing that changes in U.S. policy are tantamount to concessions to the Cuban regime. They argue that breaking Cuba's isolation by eliminating travel restrictions would reward the regime by putting money in its pockets. They also dismiss efforts to empower the Cuban people by making it easier to place the liberalizing power of technology in their hands or to sell agricultural products to the Cuban government, by suggesting it is just business as usual. Thankfully, 50 years of evidence that the status quo has failed in every respect and an increasingly vocal dissident community calling for fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba are quickly proving that the real concession to the Cuban regime is to maintain the status quo.
By Tomas Bilbao