Cigar Aficionado

A Republican View

We must continue to stand with the Cuban people

I recently came across two news reports that I placed copies of in my files.

One was titled "Portugal Concerned Young People Will Forget Coup of 1974." It read: "Bloodless Action Toppled Dictator, Brought Democracy. Lisbon, Portugal. The coup was swift, bloodless and effective, so smooth and neat that as Portugal prepares to mark another anniversary of the Army coup that brought it democracy, some citizens fear it is at risk of being forgotten. An older generation that lived under dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's heavy hand, proudly recalls the courage of the dissidents and the outpouring of joy when disgruntled Army officers led the coup that toppled the dictatorship."

The article went on: "The coup paved the way for the country, Portugal, to join the European Union in 1986, a coming of age that accelerated the pace of change as development funds poured in and Portugal scrambled to make up for lost time. Portugal crammed into 10 years social and economic development that had taken other countries decades to accomplish."

Another news wire that caught my eye read, "Two Bills to Seek End of Cuban Embargo." "The time has come to lift the trade sanctions in Cuba," said the author of one of the bills, adding that "the embargo has been ineffective, counterproductive, and a failure." The decades-old embargo, he continued, "has not yielded the result it intended."

I found an interesting contrast in the two articles, because during the decades-long dictatorships in Portugal and in Spain, or during the dictatorship of the 1960s and the 1970s in Greece, no one ever complained that the European Union, which was then known as the European Community, made it absolutely clear that its doors would remain closed, that there could be no conceivable entry into the European Union by Spain or Portugal or Greece until they were democracies. No one ever complained. No legislative or diplomatic initiatives to let Spain and Portugal and Greece in the community were ever initiated. No one filed bills in any of the democratic parliaments of Europe saying "the Oliveira Salazar regime in Portugal has lasted 50 years" or "the Franco regime in Spain has lasted 40 years; our policy of isolation has failed. Let us end their isolation, because they have lasted so long."

On the contrary, during the last year of Franco's dictatorship there was a mobilization in the international community to reimpose the blockade that the United Nations had imposed on Franco decades earlier. And the position of the international community at the time of the coup in Portugal in 1974 and the death of Franco in 1975, that policy of solidarity by Europe, was decisive in the political openings and democratic transitions that took place in those countries that had long been oppressed by dictatorships.

Political prisoners were liberated. Political parties were legalized. Long-term exiles, those who had survived, were able to return. And free elections were held. In other words, freedom returned.

That precisely is the goal of our policy with regard to Cuba. That is why we maintain a trade and tourism embargo on the Cuban dictatorship. That is why we deny the U.S. market to the Cuban dictatorship, a regime that has kept itself in power through terror and repression for 48 years. Because, first, it is in the national interest of the United States for there to be a democratic transition in Cuba, as it obviously is in the interest of the long-suffering people of Cuba.

Second, just as in the democratic transitions that occurred in Spain or Portugal or Greece, or in those that took place in South Africa or Chile or the Dominican Republic, it is absolutely critical that there be some form of external pressure for a democratic transition to take place in Cuba once the dictator is no longer on the scene. At the time of the disappearance from the scene of the Cuban dictator, it will be absolutely critical for the U.S. embargo to be in place as it is today, with its lifting being conditioned, as it is by law, on three fundamental developments in Cuba.

Number one, the liberation of all political prisoners. Number two, the legalization of all political parties, independent labor unions and the independent press. And number three, the scheduling of free, internationally supervised elections. The exact same conditions that brought about the democratic transitions in Portugal, in Spain, in South Africa, in Chile, in the Dominican Republic and in many other dictatorships.

At the time of the disappearance of the dictator in Cuba, the U.S. embargo, with its lifting being conditioned on those three developments, as it is by law, will constitute critical leverage for the Cuban people to achieve those three conditions. In other words, for them to achieve their freedom.

It should not seem that complicated. Wherever there has been some form of external pressure, there has been a democratic transition. Where there has been acquiescence, financing, massive trade, oxygen for the regime, such as in China, there has been no democratic transition. It is very simple.

So when we see some, in Congress and elsewhere, asking for an end to the embargo on the Cuban dictatorship now, before the three conditions, we have to ask the following question: Which of the three conditions do the Cuban people not deserve? Do they not deserve the liberation of all political prisoners, or the legalization of political parties, the press and labor unions? Or do they not deserve free elections? Which of the three conditions do the Cuban people not deserve?

We must remember that in Cuba people can be killed simply for attempting to leave the country without permission, such as during the recent purposeful sinking of an old tugboat full of refugees, in which 41 defenseless human beings were murdered, and the even more recent execution by firing squad of three young men 72 hours after a farcical so-called trial for the "crime" of trying to reach freedom in the United States. This is a system where, if a Cuban citizen has a child with a fever or another medical problem, he or she has to get a foreigner to purchase the medicines, in dollars or euros. Let us not forget, as well, that this is a regime that continues to harbor countless felony fugitives from U.S. justice (airline hijackers, drug traffickers, murderers of police officers) as well as international terrorists, from ETA to FARC to IRA; a dictatorship that has had over a dozen spies convicted in the United States for spying against U.S. interests in the last decade alone; a regime that has had the head of its air force indicted in the United States (and is still awaiting trial) for the murder of unarmed U.S. citizens in international airspace, and the head of its navy indicted in the United States for drug trafficking. The Cuban dictatorship is one of only a handful of regimes that remain on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of international terrorism.

I would ask those who say that U.S. sanctions "have not worked" to remember what the Cuban dictatorship used to do when it received five or six billion dollars annually from the Soviet Union, an amount similar to what it would receive each year from U.S. tourism. I would ask them to remember Grenada, Nicaragua, Angola, Eritrea.

No, this is not the time to give the Cuban dictatorship countless billions of dollars unilaterally, while Cuba's prisons remain full of heroic political prisoners and while the regime remains a state sponsor of international terrorism. However, the wait will not be long. The Cuban dictatorship will soon be but a grotesque Caribbean chapter in the history of evil. A democratic transition in Cuba will take place. Then, not only will relations be normalized with the United States, but the Cuban people will always be grateful to America for not having joined its jailers to profit from its oppression during its totalitarian nightmare.

Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart is a Republican from Florida.