Romney’s Skewed White Paper on Cuba

On January 25, the Romney campaign issued a White Paper on Cuba and Latin America stressing that, unlike the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement toward Cuba, Romney’s would be one of no appeasement and no accommodation; rather, it would be one of unwavering support for the pro-democracy forces on the island. The paper goes on to list a series of policies the Romney administration would immediately put forward to advance its goals. Most are either off-the-wall or have already been tried, unsuccessfully.

First, Romney would reinstate the 2004 controls on Cuban-American travel and remittances, which the paper suggests, were lifted as part of the Obama administration’s appeasement policy. The authors have that one all wrong. The restrictions were lifted not really to appease the Cuban government, but more as a gesture to the Cuban-American community, the majority of whom want to see their families and to be able to send them more money. We’ll see how they react to being told that if Romney is elected, they’d have to go back to the days of George W. Bush when there were strict limits on how often they could travel and how much money they could send to their families.

And, it should be noted, those harsher controls on travel and remittances did not force the Cuban government to change its policies or accommodate us in any way. A hard line on our side simply resulted in one on theirs.

Second, Romney will adhere strictly to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, including implementation of Title III. But Helms-Burton has been on the books now for some 15 years and has had little effect; it wouldn’t be any more effective under Romney than under, say, George W. Bush. Title III, which gives Cuban-Americans the right to sue the citizens of third countries in U.S. courts over use of their old properties in Cuba, has never been implemented, not even by the George W. Bush administration, and never will be. It’s so utterly extraterritorial in nature that it isn’t implementable. We would all look forward to seeing the Romney team give it a try.

Romney would of course demand the release of Alan Gross, as has the Obama administration. But simply demanding is not likely to have any more effect under a different administration. It will take something more imaginative than that. One can only hope the Obama administration will show itself capable of such imagination.

Romney would also seek ways, including criminal indictment, of holding the Castros accountable for the shoot-down of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996, leading to the death of four Americans. This is so much pie in the sky – it will play well in Miami, but isn’t likely to achieve anything.

Romney would increase funding for “democracy promotion programs” inside Cuba. These would publish pamphlets and take positions against the government. The problem here is that if that they –what few there are –are funded by the United States, they are seen to be the instruments of a hostile power, which diminishes any impact they might have.

Romney would also aim to “break the information blockade” by ordering “the effective use” of Radio and TV Marti. TV Marti is effectively blocked on the island. Radio Marti has been on the air for years but has little listenership, not for technical reasons, but because, as one Cuban put it: “the programs all seem to be made ‘for and by’ a Miami audience.” That doesn’t seem likely to change, even with technological advancements and new equipment.

And then there is Romney’s plan to publicly name oppressors, i.e. police officers and other officials who mistreat or in some way oppress the Cuban people. Given the “enemy” source, this is likely to have minimal impact.

By Wayne S. Smith.

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