The Hardliners Get Confused at the U.S. Capitol

March 28, 2014

The strangest thing happened this week in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. The hardliners put together a hearing, which they designed as a platform for criticizing Cuba and other governments they oppose in the region, but they ran it under a banner with a most unexpected message: “U.S. Disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” This seems to us a very fair critique of the Cuba policy they’ve championed for more than fifty years.  Was this their idea of post-modern irony, or didn’t they get the joke? For example, could you find a better description of the U.S. embargo they defend so tirelessly, as a policy that leaves our country isolated and disengaged from the big transitions taking place in Cuba’s economy? Tomorrow, Cuba’s National Assembly is likely to enact a law designed to increase foreign investment on the island.  What does it contain? According to Reuters:

  • The Cuban foreign investment law will include big tax cuts!  It eliminates the labor tax and cuts the profit tax in half to 15 percent.
  • It contains eight-year incentives for investors to sign agreements and stay in Cuba to do business.
  • It exempts investors from the income tax.
  • It cuts (dare we say it?) “red tape” from the approval process.
  • It doesn’t require Cuban participation in investments, allowing instead foreign investors to own 100% shares.

The intent is to bring more capital into Cuba’s economy, speed growth, encourage more job creation, and enable more Cubans to leave the state’s payroll and find employment in the non-state sector. Cuba is making this decision on foreign investment to meet its own needs, to march to its own drummer, but the byproduct of this decision on foreign investment – as with economic reform overall – is entirely in line with the humanitarian goals of U.S. foreign policy.  It gives everyday Cubans more choices and more control over their own lives. If only U.S. businesses were there to see it and participate.  But they can’t.  The embargo championed by the people who hosted – and who testified at the Subcommittee’s hearing – bans U.S. companies from investing in Cuba. Even more, they want to cut off U.S. travel to Cuba, the most important people-to-people diplomatic effort we’ve got.  One witness actually called upon the Congress to prohibit transactions that make non-tourist travel to Cuba possible which would, of course, leave our country even more isolated and disengaged than we are now. This is also a characteristic of their diplomacy. One story we feature this week quotes Andris Piebalgs, the development minister of the European Union, who is calling on the EU to make more rapid progress in its negotiations for a bilateral agreement with Cuba. His view is that the EU’s development and political goals for Cuba are more likely to be met, more quickly, the faster the EU replaces its Common Position – which isolated the EU from Cuba – with a foreign policy that emphasizes engagement. Some of our diplomats would love to follow exactly the same path. But they can’t.  Here in the U.S., laws like the Helms-Burton Act leave the U.S. vulnerable to international scorn and rebuke, and act as obstacles to the kind of smart diplomacy the EU is pursuing today. The hardliners are the biggest isolators, the biggest advocates of disengagement we’ve got. They have so confused U.S. interests – so mixed up the means of Cuba policy with the ends our country seeks – they couldn’t even get the name of their hearing right. Read the rest of this entry »