At a time when a human rights organization is charging that Raul Castro is just as ruthless as his brother Fidel, when Cuban political prisoners are on the rise, when dissidents are being assaulted by government goons on the streets of Havana, a growing number of American lawmakers are ready to end the cold war with Cuba — by surrendering our democratic principles to the Castro communist dictatorship.
In a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, proponents of lifting the U.S. travel ban to Cuba argued that they are ready to cave in, without preconditions, without even asking the Castro brothers to respect human rights and implement democratic reforms.
Never mind the atrocities of the Cuban government; never mind the suffering of the Cuban people. These so-called democratic leaders argue that all that matters are "American interests" — the interests of agricultural, hotel and other American business groups that are lobbying to relax U.S. sanctions against Cuba and the interests of the many Americans who would flock to Havana resorts while turning a blind eye to the repressive and impoverished side of Cuba that only Cubans have to endure.
And their outrageous arguments in defense of "American interests" leave you wondering whether they are very naive or extremely hypocritical.
"Waiting for a concession from Havana before we do something on behalf of our own citizens perversely puts the Cuban government in charge of that decision," said the committee's chairman, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., in a statement that perversely insults our intelligence. This congressman either is either incredibly stupid or thinks everyone else is stupid. I think it's the latter.
Berman is leading the pack of those in Congress who argue that the U.S. embargo against Cuba hasn't worked and that it's time to try "something else." And on that point, they are right.
But when they explain what they mean by "something else," as a Cuban-American who has lived through the 50-year cold war between my native and adoptive countries, I feel I've been assaulted intellectually.
They know that overtures already made by the Obama administration have not been reciprocated by the Cuban government. They know the Castro brothers would resist any change that would undermine their totalitarian authority. They know American tourism would only help to resuscitate a dying dictatorship. And they know that tourists have been going to Cuba from all over the world for many years and that those tourists have not been able to give the Cuban people even a breath of freedom.
Yet they expect us to believe that American tourists would be able to crack the Castro repression machine somehow instead of helping to fund further repression.
"Dissidents who try to express their views are often beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to public acts of repudiation," reported Human Rights Watch last week, as the group explained that — in spite of rhetoric that would indicate the contrary — Raul Castro has maintained the same repressive system that made his brother the world's longest-lasting dictator.
The report explained that under Cuban law, the state can imprison people for "dangerousness" — even before they commit the "crime" of staging a peaceful demonstration or organizing a workers union — and that the group has documented more than 40 such cases under Raul's reign in the past three years. Of course, those cases are in addition to scores of others who have been held in Cuba's "inhumane" prison conditions even longer, the report noted.
Here in the United States, we get to scream and demonstrate to demand our rights and protect our freedom. But if American tourists were to visit Cuba, they would have to ignore the plight of a people who can go to jail just for planning a peaceful protest. I know that for many freedom-loving Americans, this would be very difficult.
Yet a House bill to lift the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, expected to be introduced early next year, already has close to 180 bipartisan co-sponsors and could be on its way to the 218 votes it needs to pass. A similar bill introduced in the Senate also has a chance to get to President Barack Obama's desk sometime next year.
Even while arguing that the United States should end its "failed embargo policy" and lift the travel ban, the Human Rights Watch report noted that it must be based on the precondition that the Cuban government release its political prisoners. In fact, the report said the United States and its allies should give Cuba six months to free its political prisoners. If the Castro brothers refuse, the report said, the world should impose joint sanctions on the communist island.
But don't expect such conditions from those in Congress who are ready to capitulate on the principles that once made us the champions of freedom, democracy and human rights. Don't expect them to plead for political prisoners or to call for independent media, for freedom of speech or for free elections — not even for a government that treats people with a little more humanity.
The fight is no longer over ideology; it's over dinero! It's all about which side has more money to contribute to the re-election of politicians who could sell their ideology and go either way on this issue. It's the so-called "powerful" Cuban-American lobby in Washington against a much more powerful coalition of business interests, which wants to sell our democratic soul to Cuba.
When politicians shamelessly argue against "waiting for concessions from Havana," we should be asking them why they are so ready to betray our principles.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.