The Cuban Deal – Lasting change or desperate attempt to leave a legacy?

Map of Central America, the Antilles and the Caribbean written with misspellings. It comes from a Spanish school. Published 1969.

Map of Central America, the Antilles and the Caribbean written with misspellings. It comes from a Spanish school. Published 1969.

Last month, President Obama agreed to trade three Cuban spies, lift some travel and financial restrictions and upgrade Cuba’s diplomatic status in exchange for the freedom of Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned since December 3, 2009. For 14 months, Gross was held in a maximum-security prison and was only moved to a military prison hospital because the Cuban authorities believed that he was near death due to malnutrition. Gross was eventually charged with “spying” and “crimes against the State of Cuba” and received a 15-year prison sentence.

Up until the time of his release, America heard little from President Obama about Alan Gross. The President who so often criticized the holding of detainees at Guantanamo, a U.S. naval facility where detainees actually gain weight and receive medical care—from eyeglasses to prosthetic limbs, did not speak out against the cruelties that Gross endured.

The Republican Party is somewhat divided over Obama’s unilateral actions. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio – the state that stands to be most affected –said that the deal was “disgraceful for a president who claims to treasure human rights and human freedom. This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.” During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” the Senator said, “I want closer ties with Cuba as well, but those closer ties have to come about as a result of a policy that will also ultimately lead to freedom. I’m OK with changing policy toward Cuba. But it has to be a policy change that has a reasonable chance of achieving freedom — freedom for the Cuban people.”

When show host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the U.S. has relations with other countries that “don’t meet our democratic standards,” including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, Rubio said,” I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky strongly disagrees with his colleague and said the U.S. starting to trade with Cuba is “probably a good idea,” and the embargo against the country “just hasn’t worked.” Senator Paul believes that a free enterprise improves lives, which is true. Free trade also works wonders to bring people and countries together. But trade managed by communist oligarchs can hardly be defined as free trade. An economy where men in uniform make all the key decisions can’t be described as free enterprise.

This deal was arranged because the Obama administration is struggling to create some positive legacies in the limited time it has left. It aims to get credit for reversing a policy, a severe embargo, which on its own failed to bring down communism. Had Obama leveraged the situation in Venezuela, who provides subsidized oil to Cuba, and has a government close to collapsing, he could have demand true changes to a country that is still listed as a State sponsor of terrorism.