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Getting to the left of Vermont senator and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is no easy feat. But Hillary Clinton’s speech in Miami Friday was an excellent effort. What could be more reassuring to the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party (i.e., primary voters) than a candidate who uses the talking points of Fidel and Raúl Castro to explain Cuban isolation and misery?
The problem for the rest of the electorate is what the speech says about Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy judgment. Her remarks do not inspire confidence that she has a strategy for dealing with the intransigent Castro dictatorship.
Things are not going well for Mrs. Clinton. Gallup reported on July 24 that Mr. Sanders’s favorability rating had doubled since March to 24% while Hillary Clinton’s had dropped five points to 43% since April. The loss of momentum calls for creativity. Playing the Cuba card is a way to win back the far left, as well as to bring in campaign donations from unprincipled corporatists eager to go into business with the regime.
Mrs. Clinton’s call for the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo “once and for all” is neither new nor unique; she advocated doing that a year ago at the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s a view shared by a variety of Americans across the political spectrum, including libertarians who believe the U.S. government shouldn’t have the power to dictate where they can travel any more than it should fund the Inter-American Development Bank, which undoubtedly wants to add the crooked Castros to its “client” list.
But when Mrs. Clinton said on Friday that “we must decide between engagement and embargo, between embracing fresh thinking and returning to Cold War deadlock,” she was applying the same reasoning the Obama administration uses to argue that the U.S. needs to either accept the nuclear deal with Iran or go to war. This is a false dichotomy that doesn’t hold for Cuba policy any more than it holds for dealing with Tehran.
Mrs. Clinton called on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “answer the pleas of the Cuban people.” Cubans “want a closer relationship with America,” she said. They “want to read our books, surf our Web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century.”
The Cuban regime couldn’t have crafted a better “blame America” narrative for the island’s isolation. If polls suggest Americans are buying it, it’s because the dictatorship has done such a good job of spreading propaganda in American universities and media. Mrs. Clinton, after serving as secretary of state for four years, should know better.
The embargo does not block the export of books to Cuba because informational material is exempt. Cubans cannot read “our” books because Cuba controls the reading material that enters the country and imprisons for “dangerousness” anyone caught with nonapproved texts.
There is no such thing as “our Web,” and the U.S. embargo does not restrict Cubans’ access to the Internet. Most Cubans cannot get computers. Most of those who do have them are denied access to the World Wide Web. It’s only the party faithful who get approval.
As to learning from “our people,” Cuba tightly controls interaction with foreigners, and those who step out of line can go to jail. Try getting a visa from Cuba if you have been labeled a “counterrevolutionary,” as I have. These policies are expressly designed to block Cubans from communicating with each other and with outsiders to keep them from organizing politically or socially.
The unconditional end of the embargo will do nothing to change this. On the contrary, it may strengthen the dictator’s hand if it results in fresh capital flowing to the island.
Since President Obama announced in December that he would restore diplomatic relations and liberalize travel to the island, state security arrests have sharply increased, according to human rights groups. Mrs. Clinton’s line that, if elected, she will press for the settlement of claims for property confiscated during the revolution would be more plausible if she pledged to do it before lifting the embargo.
In a July 26 blog post, Cuban-born author and columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner noted that Mr. Obama’s steps toward normalization have not altered Cuba’s “state military capitalism.” Some 2,500 medium-size and large businesses, including the tourism industry, remain in the hands of the armed forces. Mr. Montaner reminded readers that to generate foreign currency, Cuba also rents out its doctors and dentists around the world as slave labor and depends on remittances from émigrés.
With this income, the regime funds the jackboots and maintains the repression. Or as Mr. Montaner put it, “One ferocious dog is enough to keep 200 sheep terrified.”
If Mrs. Clinton wants to lift the embargo on libertarian grounds she may have a case. But arguing that doing so will liberate the Cuban people is either disingenuous or just plain dumb.
Capitol Hill Cubans