In my campaign to represent Florida’s 26th Congressional District in the U.S. House, I pledged that when discussing U.S.-Cuba policy, I would do so from my perspective as a proud U.S.-born citizen, seeking to advance our country’s interests, independent of my personal and emotional ties to the Cuban tragedy of the past 56 years.
When President Obama announced the release of three convicted Cuban spies and Cuba’s return of American hostage Alan Gross and a then-anonymous intelligence agent — as well as the sweeping changes in our nation’s relationship with the Cuban dictatorship — I carefully considered the president’s actions.
But it didn’t take long to conclude that, while the cause for freedom in Cuba had certainly suffered a major setback; even greater damage had been done to American leadership in the world.
The president has given every anti-American dictator and terrorist group a blueprint for successfully extorting the United States: Take an American hostage. Be patient, and eventually you’ll extract every concession you seek. Cuba’s totalitarian regime has extracted a major reward at a critical time for taking Gross hostage in 2009.
The magnitude of the Cuban bounty cannot be overstated. The regime received three spies — including one convicted of conspiring in the murder of three American citizens and one legal resident in the 1996 shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes — and the prestige and legitimacy of full diplomatic relations with the U.S.
As secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba began, the Cubans were caught trafficking 240 tons of illegal arms to North Korea in flagrant violation of U.N. sanctions. In addition, Cubans were complicit in the murder of more than 40 Venezuelan student activists demonstrating against Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime. These actions make evident the depth of the president’s poor judgment, and the duplicity of the Cuban government.
This is disturbing, but it certainly should not surprise anyone. The president’s reckless conduct regarding Cuba is another symptom of a perilous worldview and an incoherent foreign policy. Obama seems to believe that we credibly can negotiate with Iranian mullahs, who have promised to annihilate Israel and hang homosexuals from cranes. He set a fleeting “red line” for Syria’s Bashar al Assad as our allies looked to the U.S. for leadership.
Four years and 200,000 dead later, Assad remains and the world knows Obama’s threats were hollow. This is the administration of the failed “Russian reset” and that stalled before sanctioning the Maduro government. The trend, unfortunately, continued with another feeble attempt at peace through weakness and appeasement.
To justify his actions on Cuba, Obama used the disingenuous argument that our sanctions policy “has not worked.” I doubt the president actually believes that sanctions were supposed to cause regime change in Cuba. That would be naïve. Where the sanctions have been successful is in denying the Cuban government billions of dollars in profits from a commercial relationship with the Unied States and from American tourism.
A well-funded Cuban government means a more sophisticated, interventionist Cuban military and the aggressive exporting of anti-Americanism throughout the Western hemisphere. This is the type of conduct the regime engaged in when it was last cash-rich.
We should rejoice in Gross’ freedom. Cuba’s dictators were cruel to use him in a successful effort to extort the United States. Come January, the new Congress should work to mitigate the damage inflicted on American leadership and the cause for freedom by President Obama’s actions.
In an unstable and dangerous world, America must lead with courage and clarity. If the President cannot, Congress must.
Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., is the newly elected Congressman for U.S. District 26.