FEBRUARY 27, 2014 4:00 AM
Call Cuba to Account
Obama should implement LIBERTAD as Congress intended.
By Jason Poblete & Yleem Poblete
This week marks the 18th anniversary of the downing of two U.S. civilian
planes by the Cuban military over international waters. On February 24,
1996, Cessnas flown by members of the organization Brothers to the
Rescue were patrolling north of Havana for Cuban refugees, who risked
life and limb at sea in makeshift craft in search of freedom. Cuban
fighter pilots in Russian MiGs encircled the planes and attacked. The
planes disintegrated. Killed were three Americans: Carlos Costa, Armando
Alejandre Jr., and Mario de la Peña, along with U.S. resident Pablo Morales.
The killing of Americans once again brought home the true nature of the
Cuban regime. The political repercussions were felt in Washington, D.C.
Until then, the Clinton administration had thought, as the Obama
administration thinks today, that the U.S. could negotiate with the
Cuban government. But facing the political embarrassment of the downed
aircraft, Clinton reversed course and signed the Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), which had bipartisan support. It
was as far as the Clinton administration was willing to go in taking a
hard line on Cuba.
Implementation of LIBERTAD, also known as Helms-Burton, was haphazard at
best. The air attack was soon forgotten. A mere two years after it, many
had turned their focus to easing sanctions and expanding relations with
Havana. That effort continued despite the arrest of the Wasp network of
Cuban spies in 1998, the expulsions of Cuban "diplomats" for espionage,
and the arrests of Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belén Montes
in 2001, and, more recently, of State Department officials Kendall and
Gwendolyn Myers for spying for Cuba. These are just the ones we know about.
The trend toward engagement and appeasement of the Cuban dictatorship
has worsened under President Obama. His national-security team has eased
economic sanctions in several key areas without demanding or securing
any concessions whatsoever from Havana. This is backwards. Like Iran and
North Korea, Cuba is a regime that calls for a firm hand, not a velvet
In his first inaugural address, President Obama said, "To those who
cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of
dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we
will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." The
rhetoric does not match up with the action. The Obama administration has
not only given an economic lifeline to this pariah state but also lent
it diplomatic legitimacy. The president chose a widely publicized event
to make his point and shook dictator Raúl Castro's hand. Meanwhile, back
in the island gulag, the crackdown against pro-democracy advocates has
intensified; American citizen Alan Gross was taken hostage in December
2009 and is still being held in a Cuban prison.
U.S. law and policy are supposed to isolate the Cuban government
economically while supporting the Cuban people. Cuba desperately needs
sanctions eased to secure more dollars and access to the global
financial system. The U.S. has an opportunity to leverage that need to
press for true democratic change and advance U.S. interests. The
Helms-Burton law provides a clear roadmap. Easy? No, but not impossible,
if the political will exists.
In LIBERTAD, Congress called on the president to fully enforce, through
the Departments of State and Justice, existing regulations and deny
visas to Cuban nationals who represent or are employees of the Cuban
government or of Cuba's Communist party. Unfortunately, such travel
continues essentially unfettered. The regime uses both diplomatic and
unofficial cover to spy on the United States and make business deals
that contravene U.S. law and policy.
Source: Call Cuba to Account | National Review Online -