While Congressman Diaz-Balart’s memo to the White House outlining his ideas for U.S.-Cuba policy changes was much-anticipated, the truth is it pretty much only sets out a binary choice for the White House: the Cuban government should meet the criteria set out in the Helms-Burton law in 90 days and if it doesn’t then the policy reverts to pre-December 17, 2014. The analysis doesn’t give much scope for diplomacy or dealmaking. And it’s unlikely—given that Cuba hasn’t responded favorably to the conditions since they were signed into law in 1996—that this sort of ultimatum will produce the improvements in human rights that many would like to see in Cuba. All of this leading to the question: while there are legitimate criticisms that the Obama administration didn’t use its leverage with the Cuban government to improve human rights in Cuba in the short term, is this sort of ultimatum the best way to achieve them?
Does this either/or then just automatically return Cuba to the days when the U.S. had no leverage over the island—of 21 years in which the U.S. just simply sat on the sidelines?
[Note: A recent rumor has it that the memo was actually ghost written by a member of the Trump-Treasury transition team on behalf of Congressman Diaz-Balart. While the rumor couldn’t be confirmed, in a March 22 Miami Herald article on the Congressman’s position on the health care bill and his advocacy for changes to U.S.-Cuba policy, Diaz-Balart appeared to back away from the recommendations. We’ll probably never know, but if true it raises the question: who is this Cyrano de Bergerac writing poetry for hardline Cuban-Americans?]