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When Attacks on New Cuba Policy Go Wrong, Vol. 1

David Gomez

#CubaNow Blog Post

Jan 8, 2015

Since the announcement last month that the Obama Administration would be steering our country towards a common-sense Cuba policy, we’ve seen a number of responses: Cubans rejoiced at the news, Americans welcomed re-engagement, and for the first time in decades, Latin American leaders began to support our approach.

As we’ve said before, removing ineffective, unpopular policies means the Cuban government will finally have to account for the treatment of its citizens instead of blaming its favorite scapegoat. Nowhere was that new reality more immediately obvious than in the unprecedented media coverage of the government’s detainment of dissidents ahead of the planned #YoTambiénExijo event last week.

Sadly, there’s one other reaction that we could all see coming a mile away -- the distortions coming from those clinging to the old status quo. Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, was quick to blast the changes last month, infamously declaring that he didn’t care if 99% of the population disagreed with him, because it was an issue he felt “passionately” about. (apparently more passionately than he did about having a communist government pay for a senior staff trip to China just a few months ago). 

But Rubio isn’t alone. As they come down the pipe this year—and they definitely will—we’ll be taking a look at the misleading, disingenuous, and flat out wrong rhetoric coming from politicians opposed to the new changes being made to Cuba policy. Some of these attacks are little more than opportunistic grandstanding, while others consist of tantrums by those who refuse to let go of a failed policy. The one thing they all have in common is that they do absolutely nothing to help the Cuban people.   

1. Mike Huckabee Dusts Off Outdated Cuba Playbook To Try To Score Political Points

Appearing on Fox Business on New Year’s Eve, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declared that President Obama’s move was a “slap in [the] face” of Cuban-Americans. This, despite the fact that not that long ago, Huckabee was a strong supporter of ending an embargo he said had “certainly not helped the people of Cuba.”

What changed? He decided to run for president. Now surely his new comments have nothing to do with recent reports he’s considering another presidential run, but it does show he hasn’t taken a look at the shift taking place among Cuban-Americans on this issue in Florida. Let’s hope the governor updates his playbook instead of spouting out old talking points from several election cycles ago.

 2. Sen. Bob Menendez Helps Spread A Dangerous, Unfounded Rumor

Then there’s New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who engaged in an unfortunate bit of scaremongering this Tuesday on MSNBC’s The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart. In response to news reports that an increasing number of Cubans are taking to the high seas in rafts because of a rumor that the Cuban Adjustment Act will soon be lifted, what did the Senator do? He stoked the rumor some more:

MENENDEZ: There is a concern that based upon President Obama’s announcement of reestablishing relations that the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives a preference for Cubans who come to the United States to ultimately be adjusted to permanent residency, is going to be abolished[.]

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen dropped the same cynical talking point in Miami radio later that day. Who is raising this concern? No one echoing the talking point seems to know. But the idea that this Congress’ first act towards Cuba policy will be to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act should be called what it is: ludicrous at best, and irresponsible at worst. Congress isn’t known for moving particularly quickly on passing legislation these days, let alone on Cuba policy. Menendez knows this, just as he knows that stoking the rumor that the U.S. is about to end the Cuban Adjustment Act can provoke countless Cubans to risk their lives crossing the Florida Straits. The question is, does he care?

On the heels of this dangerous and reckless rumor, one migrant has already reportedly died attempting to flee the island this past weekend. Given that only Congress has the power to change the Cuban Adjustment Act, Sen. Menendez and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen should either name whoever is introducing such legislation or stop exploiting the trust Cubans on the Island have placed in them to score political points against the White House. 

3. The Congressman Who Only Cares About The Human Rights He’s Paid To Care About

Finally, there was another member of Congress on MSNBC Tuesday who demonstrated an impressive flexibility when it came to the importance of human rights. Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, also appearing on The Rundown, was quick to discourage President Obama from pressing a Latin American leader on human rights.For context, Human Rights Watch on Monday called on President Obama to press visiting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on what they called Mexico’s “worst human rights crisis in years,” which has spurred protests across the country following the alleged kidnapping and massacre of 43 students last September. Did Congressman Duffy, as Diaz-Balart asked, “think that’s an issue that should be discussed between leaders of the United States and of Mexico?”

DUFFY: Well no, I don’t. I think this is an internal issue in Mexico…Their security matters to us, but again, a horrible issue in Mexico, but they have to deal with that internally and I think it’s wrong for us to weigh in on such a personal governmental issue.

Never mind that the U.S. has appropriated billions in the last few years to help Mexico fight crime and advance human rights. Congressman Duffy apparently considers Mexico’s human rights situation a “personal governmental issue,” as if this was about Peña Nieto picking the color of the drapes at Palacio Nacional. Yet when given a chance to speak about how the President should deal with Cuba, Rep. Duffy, who is the recipient of $4,500 in contributions from pro-embargo lobbyists since 2012, applies an entirely different standard:

DIAZ-BALART: [Mexico] receives billions of dollars from the United States. Shouldn’t that aid be at least conditioned to human rights situations in that country? I mean there are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of dead.

DUFFY: I wish the president on a broader
 spectrum, outside of just these young kids, would take a harder stand on human rights.  Look at Cuba, Jose. What uh, what uh, walkback did the Castro administration do to get normalization with the United States of America? The president didn’t ask for anything on the human rights front in Cuba. 

So to hear the Congressman from Wisconsin tell it, it’s wrong for the U.S. to press Mexico on human rights, but Cuba is fair game. If only proponents of human rights in Mexico had $4,500 to spare for Mr. Duffy. For shame.