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On Cuban Independence Day: Freedom is the goal

Sen. Marco Rubio announcing his presidential candidacy at the Freedom Tower in April.
Sen. Marco Rubio announcing his presidential candidacy at the Freedom Tower in April. MIAMI HERALD

As we mark Cuban Independence Day this Wednesday, we must never forget that the only true form of independence for the Cuban people is freedom and democracy, and we must recommit our state and nation to the goal of helping them achieve that vital objective.

I am the proud son of Cuban-American parents and was raised in a community of Cuban exiles. The trajectory of my life has been a product of their support, of true freedom, and of a uniquely American ideal: that where you come from does not determine where you can go or who you can be. Yet just 90 miles from the shores of our nation are men and women of my ancestry and heritage who still do not have freedom. Yet they look to this country for the hope that they someday will.

I believe we must not fail them. In the last decade and a half, every single country in the Western Hemisphere has had a free and fair election at some point except for one: Cuba. The United States has always stood on the side of peoples around the world who yearn for freedom. But today, our president has decided to take a different approach. Not only has he forsaken our duty to advocate for oppressed peoples, but he has traveled many miles in the opposite direction: going so far as to pay homage to the whims of the very dictatorial regime that denies the freedom of the Cuban people.

In defending his egregious concessions to the Castro regime, President Obama often makes the argument that if the embargo hasn’t worked for 50 years, we should try something new. My question is: Why hasn’t he tried making a similar argument to the Castro regime? For over 50 years, they've tried tyranny and Communism and it hasn’t worked. The Cuban people today have a standard of living well below that of virtually every other nation in the hemisphere.

President Obama also continues to make the false claim that the people of Cuba do not have access to advanced, 21st century technology because of the U.S. embargo. The real reason they do not have access to telecommunications, like smartphones and unrestricted Internet access, is because the repressive Castro regime has made it illegal. The notion that the Cuban people will be allowed access to freedom of speech and freedom of information now that President Obama has made concessions to them is complete fiction.

The truth is the exact opposite. With a diplomatic opening to America — the leading nation of the free world and the global gold standard for human rights — the Castro regime and its repressive tactics will receive international legitimacy as well as a substantial economic boost that will benefit the regime, not the oppressed Cuban people.

We must never forget a crucial fact: The Castro regime is not some benign Cold War relic. It is an enemy of the United States. They have one of the most active espionage operations targeting America, and they help the Russians and the Chinese spy on our nation. The Cuban government was caught two years ago trying to smuggle weapons to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions.

I believe America’s role in relation to Cuba is very simple: We should provide unconditional support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, promote greater access to uncensored information for the Cuban people, and deprive the Castro regime of funding for its repressive apparatus. The United States must also support groups like the Ladies in White, who are doing some of the most important work inside Cuba to expose the regime and lay the foundation for what will eventually be a free Cuba.

The Obama administration’s insistence on moving forward with policies that will only put more money in this terrorist-sponsoring regime’s coffers is baffling and runs contrary to everything America should stand for. America needs a president who is not ashamed to stand up for the principles of freedom and human rights that have made our nation the single greatest power in the history of the world.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.