On Tuesday, Congress began educating the American people on how President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations will impact human rights in Cuba. The short answer seems to be “adversely.”
State Department Kept in the Dark
The hearing “Impact of U.S. Policy Changes on Human Rights and Democracy in Cuba” before the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Human Rights of the Committee on Foreign Affairs was the first of three scheduled for this week. Assistant Secretary of State of the Western Hemisphere Robert Jacobson and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tomasz Malinowski—the two key government witnesses—faced a difficult task.
Under relentless questioning by Subcommittee Chairman Marco Rubio (R–FL), both Administration officials admitted that they and the entire State Department had been left in the dark during the 18 months of secret negotiations in Havana between the White House and the communist regime of Raul Castro.
Jacobson admitted that he had no part in creating the new Cuba policy and that the policy was negotiated by National Security Council officer Ricardo Zuniga and former Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes. Jacobson said she was only made aware of the White House’s negotiations with Cuba in the final stages, just before the announcement on December 17, 2014.
Funding the Castro Regime
Senator Rubio’s questions also led Jacobson, the State Department’s top diplomat in the Western Hemisphere, to reluctantly admit that the Cuban military owns and operates the Cuban tourism industry and that Obama’s new policy of expanding travel will funnel cash directly to the regime’s tourism sector. State-owned companies hold monopolies on hotels, airlines, car rentals, and restaurants. For example, the Cuban military owns the largest hotel conglomerate in Latin America through GAESA, a holding company for the Cuban military. Tourists using any of these services will be funding the repressive regime.
Jacobson was noncommittal when asked if the Obama Administration will continue providing human rights and democracy assistance to the dissident community.
A second panel of witnesses included Rosa Maria Payá, who is the daughter of slain dissident Oswaldo Payá and a Cuban human rights activist with the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement. Ms. Payá made it very clear that she thought the Obama Administration was making a mistake by reaching out to the Castros.
Hearings on Human Rights in Cuba
The House of Representatives and the Senate will hear testimony this week on human rights in Cuba. These hearings come after President Barack Obama announced a radical move toward normalization of diplomatic ties with the Cuban government.
Congress hopes to use these hearings to gain further insight into the President’s plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Until now, the Administration has offered little information on how it plans to include human rights issues in the diplomatic discussion. “Now the Administration is normalizing relations with this oppressive regime without insisting on dramatic improvements in the human rights front,” says Senator Ed Royce (R–CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Heritage Foundation’s Ana Quintana has warned, “Normalized relations with Cuba should not be the result of unilateral concessions by the United States. Rather, conditions should be placed on the Cuban government to demonstrate a real commitment to a democratic transition.”