For over five decades, United States policy toward Cuba has addressed the Cuban regime’s draconian restrictions on every aspect of the lives of the Cuban people.
“Every [U.S.] administration confronts the same set of problems and is looking for ways to deal with it,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador Michael Kozak at a recently held Special Briefing on Human Rights Concerns in Cuba.
Over the years, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Cuba in an attempt to force the regime to liberalize its approach to human rights, civil society, and pluralism.
That approach was only minimally successful, because, said Ambassador Kozak, “The Cuban economy is set up to be a parasite. It lives off somebody else,” he said. “They were able at the beginning to impose such draconian, repressive measures that drove out most of the entrepreneurs in the country, that shut down student associations, newspapers, every form of civil society. They were able to do that even though it destroyed the Cuban economy because they had a huge external subsidy for many, many years from the Soviet Union.”
We know this to be true because when the Soviet Union dissolved in late 1991, Cuba was forced to make concessions, lest their people starve. The government authorized a limited liberalization of the economy, said Acting Assistant Secretary Kozak. “The country started to benefit from that – that kind of free activity, and there was a real change going on in Cuban society.”
Then, in 1998, Hugo Chavez rose to power in Venezuela and began to subsidize Cuba. In exchange, the Cuban government offered support to help the Chavez regime stay in power, said Acting Assistant Secretary Kozak. “And [Cuba] immediately reversed all of those liberalizing measures and went back to their more repressive mode.”
For these and other reasons, the Administration of President Donald Trump “has focused on denying the Castro regime the resources it uses to fund its repression in Cuba and its malign interference in Venezuela. And we’ve done this through targeted sanctions on the Cuban military, security, and intelligence institutions. We aim to strengthen Cuba’s civil society and private sector, but not the repressive Cuban regime,” said Acting Assistant Secretary Kozak.
“Respect for the human rights of Cubans must remain the key aim of U.S. engagement with Cuba.”