Congressional Action Crucial to Normalize US-Cuba Relations

Although the relationship between the United States and Cuba is the warmest it has been for 50 years many obstacles remain in the Obama administration’s stated goal of normalizing the relationship.

According to the Washington Post, the president is able to lift the embargo of Cuba only if “a transition government is in power in Cuba” or “if he determines that a democratically elected government is in power,” according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report. Until one of those two things happen the only way to normalize relations is through congressional action.

Certain trade restrictions in the law, including those related to cigars, can be waived without congressional approval, but an end to the embargo would require an act of Congress.

“It’s time to the turn the page on our Cuba policy,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “Fifty years of the embargo have not secured our interests in Cuba and have disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores.”

Klobuchar has introduced a bill with bipartisan support to roll back parts of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, also known as the Helms-Burton Act that established, then strengthened the trade embargo on Cuban goods.

Others, however, are not convinced that abolishing the trade embargo would have a beneficial effect on either the United States or Cuba. Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and an advisor on Latin American issues in President Reagan’s administration says that normalizing relations will not help in creating any real change in Cuba.

“Look at Vietnam; look at China; look at Cambodia,” Abrams said to Public Radio International. “It’s just not the case that increased trade with the United States changes the politics of a Communist regime. Cuba trades freely with about 200 countries around the world including all of Europe and Canada and Latin America, and it hasn’t brought an ounce of freedom to Cuba.”

The biggest stumbling block to normalization of relations with Cuba is reversing the policy of the last half century and helping the Castro’s retain power in Cuba.

As Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said when speaking to Cuban activists, “I just don’t know of a single contemporary, reluctant tyranny that’s become a democracy because of more trade and tourists.”

Khuram Aziz
Khurram Aziz is a freelance writer based out of London, England.