When Jay Z and Beyoncé celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in 2013 in Havana, Cuba, millennials were singing their praises. It didn’t matter that the hip-hop power couple could have faced a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison for violating the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba, known among natives of the northern Caribbean island nation as ”el bloqueo” or ”the blockade.” Their vacation signified progress.
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On April 11, 2015, when our commander in chief shook hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro, it was a complex moment that was met with support and disdain based on decades of heated political feuds. The 10th president in office since the Castro regime took the reins of power, President Obama has been the only one to achieve U.S.-Cuba rapprochement.
The Obama administration’s bold objective to ease travel and financial restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba was met on Jan. 15, 2015. The amendment to the Cuban sanction has facilitated travel for special circumstances, including family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
Many have heard the nostalgic accounts of 1950s Cuba, dubbed “heaven” by jet-setters. During that era, one of the first stops for carefree and fun-loving tourists was the Tropicana nightclub; where Nat King Cole headlined on three occasions, seated at a white baby grand.
A 2014 study by the prominent Washington research institution, the Atlantic Council, is proof that we have a longing for travel to Cuba. It revealed 56 percent of respondents — Republican and Democrats alike — favor changing Cuba policy and normalizing diplomatic ties. This could benefit the U.S. economically: 6,000 American jobs could be created if the embargo is lifted, according to 2010 study by Texas A&M University.
This past Friday, May 29, 2015, President Obama removed Cuba from the State Department’s terror blacklist. Many Americans were excited that political activist Assata Shakur, née Joanne Deborah Chesimard, who was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List two years ago — the only female and African American on the list — was not extradited, or given up, to make this sanction.
Silence Is Betrayal: Where Art Thou Rubio?
The fact remains, the main reason the designation passed is because Congress failed to block the change recommended 45 days prior to the announcement and following a State Department review. In this writer’s opinion, a failure to act is equivalent to silence.
There are detractors who are banking on the strained relationship because progress could potentially change the dynamics of Caribbean travel and transform the tourist geography. Many regard Havana as the largest and most interesting city in the Caribbean.
House Speaker John Boehner and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairs the panel’s subcommittee, both blasted the détente, arguing there’s no reciprocity. Boehner says in a statement:
“The Obama administration has handed the Castro regime a significant political win in return for nothing. The communist dictatorship has offered no assurances it will address its long record of repression and human rights abuses at home. Nor has it offered any indication it will cease its support for violence throughout the region, including the brutal attacks on Cuban democracy protestors in Panama City during the Summit for the Americas earlier this year.
“As I’ve said before, relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom — and not one second sooner. Removing the regime from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror is just the latest example of this administration focusing more on befriending our enemies than helping our allies, but fortunately it will have little practical effect. Most U.S. sanctions on the Cuban regime are contained in other laws — laws the U.S. House will ensure remain in place as we work to protect those fighting for freedom, and in many cases, simply their own survival.”
Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, pontificates, “President Obama and his administration continue to give the Cuban regime concession after concession, in exchange for nothing that even remotely resembles progress toward freedom and democracy for the Cuban people, or assurances that the regime will discontinue working against America’s national security interests.”
He also stated, “This is not a political thing. I don’t care if polls say 99 of the people support normalizing relations with Cuba. This Congress … is not going to lift the embargo.”
But he and Boehner didn’t act while the terror designation was lifted, leaving Iran, Sudan and Syria on the list, banning them from U.S. arms and exports sales as well as from U.S. economic assistance in addition to a wide variety of additional financial restrictions.
There’s something for unconventional Republicans to note if he’s elected POTUS. Rubio can block funding for reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana and approval of an ambassador.