July 6, 2015 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Public Diplomacy, Trade

Drive harder bargain on Cuba

President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement on re-establishing diplomatic relations. As part of his normalization bid with the Castro regime, the president has granted the dictatorship another in a series of dangerous concessions.

Throughout the past 18 months of clandestine negotiations and six months of semi-public talks, the Cuban negotiators consistently have raised many obstacles to the president's much-wanted embassy. Cuban officials made it clear the regime will not change its political or economic system, despite the Obama administration's many overtures. The regime also demanded an end to the embargo and removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism before restoration of diplomatic relations.

In January, at a summit of Latin American countries, Cuban leader Raul Castro reiterated these points, conditioning further openings with the United States on the lifting of the embargo, the return of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and compensation for "human and economic damage" incurred as a result of the U.S. embargo.

So far, Obama has given Havana three convicted spies accused of killing Americans, drastically eased sanctions, lobbied Congress to lift the embargo and removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list. In light of that, the Obama administration should answer these questions:

Did the United States receive compensation for the $8 billion in U.S. assets unlawfully seized by the Cuban government?

According to the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), which was passed in 1996, re-establishing diplomatic relations cannot happen until the Cuban government compensates U.S. citizens for illegally confiscating their property valued at $8 billion, the largest seizure of U.S. assets in history; and "when the president determines that there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba." Havana has met neither requirement.

Has the United States agreed to the Cuban government's demands of restricted diplomatic travel? If so, this defeats the purpose of an embassy, as routine diplomatic activities are impossible.

Cuba is a police state, and that extends to Americans as well. U.S. diplomats in the Interest Section are kept from privately meeting with human-rights activists and persecuted members of the religious community.

Will the Cuban government continue to search diplomatic pouches?

Cuban officials insist they be able to inspect diplomatic pouches. As the Cuba policy website Capitol Hill Cubans has stated, this is a clear violation of diplomatic protocol, against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere.

Did the United States make any concessions on Guantanamo Bay?

Fidel and Raul Castro long have rallied to shut down the United States' naval presence in Guantanamo Bay. It is another area where their regime and Obama see eye to eye: The president, too, has long supported closing Gitmo. Were any backroom deals made?

Will the United States continue its support for Cuba's democratic opposition and human-rights activists?

The Cuban government strongly opposes Washington's support for dissidents and has raised it as an obstacle to the president's much-wanted embassy in Havana. Cuban officials urged the United States not only to stop funding of independent groups, but also to mandate the Cuban government's role in selecting Communist Party-approved organizations to receive U.S. funding.

It always has been the U.S. position to support a democratic transition on the island. That seems no longer to be the case.

Obama has made a complete reversal: America now is engaging and financing the Cuban regime and isolating the Cuban people. The president cannot allow his self-serving legacy policy to be at the cost of democracy in Cuba.

 - Ana Quintana is a policy analyst for Latin America and the Western Hemisphere in The Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

About the Author

Ana Quintana Policy Analyst, Latin America and the Western Hemisphere
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in Republican-American