Here at Cuba Central, the remarkable changes in U.S.-Cuba relations have inflicted collateral damage on two of our most cherished metaphors.
Once, we were fond of the phrase, “U.S.-Cuba policy is stuck in the amber of its own ineffectiveness.” But, after the 2009 and 2011 travel and remittance reforms, the policy started to be unstuck. So, we retired it.
Today, we sadly wave goodbye to our beloved comparison of Cuba policy to “the self-licking ice cream cone.”
The “self-licking ice cream cone,” a phrase invented by Brigadier General Simon P. Worden, describes a process “that offers few benefits and exists primarily to justify or perpetuate its own existence” — as in the case of Alan Gross.
Before Alan Gross was freed from prison as part of last December’s diplomatic breakthrough, hardliners declared that the Obama administration should not negotiate for his release or change a single word of U.S. sanctions policy until he was freed unconditionally.
Hardliners applied the same pretzel logic to Cuba’s false designation as a state sponsor of terror. So long as Cuba remained on the list, they could brandish the argument that Americans shouldn’t visit or spend money there, in order to defend pointless and self-defeating policies like the ban on travel, which amounts to an abridgement of our basic rights as Americans.
With the elegant simplicity of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’ 133-character tweet — “Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove #Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism” — the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations caused the “self-licking ice cream cone” metaphor to melt in our hands.
To President Obama, the evidence spoke for itself.
Even the Miami Herald found this logic compelling. Its editorial board responded to the news of Cuba’s delisting by admitting that the designation no longer fit Cuba and no longer reflected the world as it had become:
“As politically unpalatable as it may seem, the Obama administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an inevitable bow to reality… Crossing Cuba off the list should not be deemed a reward but an acknowledgment of the change in behavior.”
But of course we can still count the Cold Warriors in Congress as unconvinced. They clutched the ice cream cone as if it hadn’t melted, as if the world hasn’t changed, as if the evidence and the powerful affirmation of the most influential historically pro-sanctions hometown newspaper meant nothing.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL- 25) said in a statement, “Today, the administration has jeopardized U.S. national security by choosing to absolve the Castro dictatorship of its dangerous anti-American terrorist activities across the globe.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, on his first day as a presidential candidate, declared, “Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism,” and blasted the decision as a “chilling message to our enemies abroad that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”
Dumfounding, to say the least.
Diaz-Balart’s stand might cost the Miami Herald a subscription or two, but CNN points out that Rubio’s absolute commitment to keeping sanctions on Cuba is likely to cost him Cuban American votes in his presidential campaign in Florida, as well as millennial votes across the country. He is on the wrong side of history and the generational divide.
As Latino Decisions wrote recently, Cuban American hardliners represent “a generation that is out-of-step with younger Cubans and the broader Latino electorate in Florida. Looking forward to the 2016 presidential election, U.S. relations with Cuba will not mobilize Cuban-American voters, and to the degree that it does, it will be in support of opening the island to American commerce and values.”
In other words, the choice between living in the past and the future has more than political ramifications.
Like denying the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and the economic and environmental damage it is already doing in Florida and elsewhere, denying that diplomacy offers a greater chance than sanctions at realizing the values that most Americans and Cubans share leaves the hardliners look locked in a bygone age.
Diplomats for Cuba and the U.S. have already met to hammer out a framework for discussing human rights. They will soon sit down to exchange views on the return of fugitives from justice currently enjoying refuge in Cuba and the U.S.
Differences on problems like human rights matter. Unless we give diplomacy the chance to work, we can never know if those differences can be reconciled — or resolved to the satisfaction of all — but this is the choice demanded by changing times.
So we must ask opponents of normalization: Do you live in the present or the past? Do you live in the world of sanctions or diplomacy? Do you live in the world, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, that’s busy being born or dying?
As the ground shifts beneath the feet of our leaders, those are the questions they must answer.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas is offering a special opportunity to bring our supporters to Cuba and support CDA’s work to end the embargo.
Last December, President Obama announced sweeping reforms in U.S. policy toward Cuba. You are invited to be part of our people-to-people trip to celebrate this historic policy victory and to hear from the people that this change will benefit most — Cubans. We will meet with young entrepreneurs, students, and artists about their renewed optimism for the future now that President Obama has significantly eased sanctions and allowed for greater exchange and dialogue between our countries.
The trip will take place June 17-22. Space is limited, so please contact us if as soon as possible you are interested in joining us or if you would like more information.
You — our supporters — were part of this historic diplomatic opening. We sincerely hope you take this opportunity to celebrate with us.