Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be in Miami today — and reports are that she’s going to tackle Miami’s Cuban exile community’s historic third rail question: Should the 50-plus-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba be lifted?
Candidate Clinton is boldly taking a strong stand on this issue — calling for an end to the embargo now, a doubling down of the Obama administration’s testing of the waters. It’s not a new stand for Mrs. Clinton, but expounding it so openly in Miami is novel.
There was a time when any politician running for office who needed the Cuban-American vote held a rally in Little Havana to be captured on camera shouting the proverbial chant: “Viva Cuba Libre!” — the battle cry of those who believe the embargo stays until the Castros leave power.
Mrs. Clinton, who will speak at Florida International University, is probably the first serious presidential contender in recent years to bring her opposing point-of-view to Miami’s exile community. Cuba isn’t the only pressing issue that will influence how Floridians will cast their vote for president, but it’s still important. However, Mrs. Clinton’s stance on Cuba gives her a chance to present a contrast with leading contenders in the GOP field — mainly Sen. Marco Rubio and ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, two local candidates and staunch supporters of maintaining the embargo.
That support in the GOP may be wavering, though. In another sign of the rapidly changing landscape, U.S. House Republican Tom Emmer of Minnesota this week introduced legislation that would lift the embargo on Cuba.
True, people in South Florida are not as strongly anti-embargo as they once were, but at the same time many understand the malicious nature of the Cuban government and would like to see some sign that the current normalization talks are having an impact on the island government. So far, we’ve seen precious little.
Mrs. Clinton’s support for lifting the embargo reflects a political calculation about the evolution of the Cuban exile community in Miami. It has indeed evolved, which is why we support the normalization process.
But at some point there must be evolution on the other side, as well. One does not have to be a hardliner to expect a quid pro quo of some kind as this process moves forward. Simply put, Cuba hasn’t earned the embargo’s end. Far from it.
Despite months of talks between the two countries that began in December with President Obama’s announcement that relations would be normalized, we have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance the civil liberties and freedoms of the Cuban people.
Internally, the regime maintains the same repressive attitude that has allowed it to stay in power for decades. That includes harassment of peaceful groups like the famed Ladies in White for a series of successive Sundays, when they engage in peaceful marches. The daily arrests, acts of repudiation and censorship of any person or group that questions the official line are still in place.
Financially, Cuba has much to gain from the lifting of the embargo. Venezuela, which has been helping prop up Cuba’s chronically weak economy, is running low on cash. The Castros needed another lifeline.
If little has changed if and when Mrs. Clinton reaches the White House, she should wait before restoring full trade relations with Cuba. The embargo may be a relic of the past. But so, too, is Cuba’s government.