By reversing normalized relations with Cuba, President Donald Trump is unraveling years of work to build ties with a strategically placed neighbor. Instead, he's choosing a misguided return to strict embargos on travel and trade that failed to achieve U.S. aims for more than half a century.
Trump's stated goals for Cuba are lofty: free elections, free speech, release of political prisoners, a private-enterprise economy and an end to human rights violations. They stand in stark contrast to the standard he held out in Saudi Arabia, where he was feted like a king upon landing in that absolute monarchy. There Trump said, "We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all." That and a $110 billion defense deal for a country with a history of arbitrary arrests and kangaroo trials, where those who criticize authorities are imprisoned and where discrimination against women is a way of life.
Trump dismissed the historic easing of relations with Cuba as a failed appeasement attempt by former President Barack Obama. Actually, it was the work of coalitions of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, organizations and companies representing American manufacturing, farming, tourism and telecommunications across the country — including in Minnesota. They spent years on a plan that was just beginning to bear fruit. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told an editorial writer that the two countries have seen gains from sharply increased tourism and that business deals were well underway.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican who has aligned himself with Trump on so many issues, displayed independence on this one. He called the move a "return to the failed policy of the past 55 years." Emmer knows the work Minnesota companies have put into growing trade and tourism with Cuba and said the rollback would wind up "making it harder for our nation's farmers to access new markets and cutting the knees out from under our travel and manufacturing industries."
Cuba is eager to modernize its economy. Other nations will be only to happy to fill the lucrative void left by the U.S. flip-flop.
Sitting just 90 miles off U.S. shores, Cuba also holds a strategic allure for such countries — one that could threaten American security. Klobuchar, Emmer and others in Congress know that pursuing failed policies that push Cuba closer to adversarial nations is foolish in the extreme.
The politics of Cuba have always been difficult. Cuban refugees who populate Florida have formed a powerful political bloc over the decades and have friends like Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., in their corner. We do not underestimate or disrespect their desire to see an end to oppression of their homeland. But their way has not succeeded. Congress should do what it failed to do in the Obama years: vote to end the embargo against Cuba, open relations, and let democracy and private enterprise show Cubans how good freedom can be and spark the hunger for more.