New York Times reporter Damien Cave engaged U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) in a debate over sanctions against Cuba’s brutally repressive Castro dictatorship. Rep. Diaz-Balart did a wonderful job rebutting and shooting down Cave’s arguments in favor of engagement and the subsequent enriching of Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship. So good a job, in fact, that the NYT editors apparently decided to reclassify the debate as an “interview.”
A Miami Congressman Adamantly Defends Isolating Cuba
As more Cuban-Americans find ways to engage with Cuba — through travel, helping families with new businesses, and now business training — they have increasingly come into conflict with Cuban-American lawmakers who insist that isolation, through the United States trade embargo, is the best and only acceptable approach when dealing with Cuba.
Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, the Republican congressman from Miami, has been a leader among the pro-embargo constituency for years, serving in Congress since 2003. His aunt, Mirta, was Fidel Castro’s first wife, leading many to argue that the divide between Cuba and the United States over the embargo is, at its roots, a family dispute. But Mr. Díaz-Balart argues that his position is steeped in principle, and that despite the recent changes in Cuba — allowing for more private enterprise and travel — American policy should remain focused on politics and human rights, rather than on ways to use private enterprise as a way to help move the island away from communism and authoritarian rule.
Q. and A.
My story is about Cuban Americans who are going to Cuba, and not just to see their homes, or just to travel or bring items for their families. These are people who are prominent Cuban-Americans who are starting nonprofits, who are doing many different things on the island, from supporting artists to training entrepreneurs, to supporting people after the hurricane. My question is: Do you think this is good or bad for Cuba?
Well, it is interesting, remember what the policy has always been, and those of us who support the policy and have worked on the policy have always pushed for — number one is to deny funds to the regime, i.e. through the sanctions, and that includes for example tourism on businesses, because as you know the hotels and everything else is basically run by the regime, it is in partnership with the regime. At the same time it helps the internal opposition, it helps the internal society and the opposition to the point where we actually put money — when President Bush launched it was $45?million [in 2008] — to do that directly, and so we have always supported helping the internal opposition, that is not new. That has always been the two-part policy, which is to deny funds to the regime and those funds are either through credits or massive tourism, which is the biggest revenue source, or would be the biggest revenue source. And try to help the internal opposition. And it’s either folks who are willing to help the internal opposition, we have always been supportive of that, but what we do not want is folks to be doing things that are helping fund the regime, which actually those funds go to help further repress the Cuban people.
A lot of these things, like Cuba Emprende, are not specifically targeted to the opposition; it’s targeted to average Cubans, trying to give them some assistance as they start small businesses.
Yeah, again, what we should be doing is helping the families of political prisoners who have a hard time, you know, eating, because as you know, you depend on the regime for everything and so obviously our emphasis, what we have always supported, what I have always supported, is helping the internal opposition, whether it is the families of political prisoners, whether it is the independent labor unions, the independent libraries, you know, that sort of folks who are the ones who need more help than anybody else. And so again, that is what we have always emphasized and we have always supported. So, if there are groups that are doing that, then I welcome it.
You don´t think it is necessary to help average Cubans? Just the formal opposition? I mean a lot of Cubans have a hard time finding what they need.
Yeah, but everyone has a hard time because we have a regime that has been there now for over half a century, so the question is how can we better help the Cuban people free themselves from this regime that has been there for over half a century. And the best way to do that, is again, deny funds to the regime in any way we can, in the best way we can, and again, to help the internal opposition who are the ones, by the way, who are struggling the worst and the most. Right now, I am sure you are aware of Antúnez, whose wife may be pregnant [Jorge Luis García Pérez, who is known as Antúnez]. They can´t even go to the doctor and they have been harassed ever since they returned and detained since they returned. So, if you really are interested, if folks are really interested in helping, and then you start helping those who are the ones who run the forefront of the liberation movement. You know, you help the Mandelas and their families, and you help the Vaclac Havels and you help them.
Not emphasizing that, I think, is not understand the reality of Cuba which is, you have Mandelas and Sharanskys — you know there are thousands of those in Cuba and that is what I continue to believe we should continue to emphasize, the help to civil society and the internal opposition. Not to be something to just in essence, take away the pressure take off or release the pressure, from the Castro regime.
Do you acknowledge that the views of the Cuban-American community have changed and that there are far more people that are interested in engagement than when you first got into politics? You have 400,000 Cuban Americans who are going to Cuba every year.
There are 400,000 Cuban-American trips going back to Cuba every year, and as The New York Times did a story only a year and a half ago, a lot of those are folks who are going 12 to 15 times a year, so the number of trips has increased dramatically because of the loosening of the sanctions, the unilateral loosening of the sanctions under Obama’s administration. But unless what the NYT said is absolutely false, which you guys did a story saying that a number of those folks are going over a dozen times a year, you know, really what are those numbers?
But do you acknowledge that the views have changed?
If that is the case, then why is it that there is not one Cuban-American elected official, state or local level or federal level, who does not support the sanctions, and does not support the embargo? Including Joe Garcia.