The members of Congress who led the effort to
reinstate these draconian rules restricting Cuban Americans are, in
fact, themselves Cuban Americans. They include the powerful chairwoman
of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and House
Appropriations Committee member Mario Diaz-Balart. In the Senate, both
Cuban American senators, Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, also favor these
restrictions on travel and financial assistance to families in Cuba. Of
the four, Menendez is the only democrat; all four are anti-Castro
They argue that the travel and remittances provide a
financial windfall to the Castro government. This is true: the more
money Cubans have to spend on daily necessities or on starting up small
businesses, the more the Cuban economy as a whole will improve and the
government will inevitably capture more hard currency in circulation.
The hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans are not generally fans of
the Castro government -- many came to America, or their parents came to
America, to escape its political and economic policies. Yet sending
money back is a trade-off that many of them believe they must make for
the sake of their friends and family on the island.
So why do
these Congressmen believe that denying the Cuban government some hard
currency is so crucial a policy rider as to nearly allow it to bring
down a trillion dollar spending bill? The Cuban government, after all,
would likely manage to either replace or do without the money, as it did
in financial crises in the early 1990s and again in 2008.
fact, while depriving the Cuban government of hard currency is a high
priority for anti-Castro hardliners in Congress, there is an even bigger
issue at stake for these staunch embargo supporters. Senator Rubio put
his finger on it when he defended the restrictions in 2008, while still a
member of the Florida legislature.
"What you had was a situation
where people would come to Miami from Cuba, stay for a year and a day
and then go back," he said. "And what this was doing was threatening the
sustainability of the Cuban Adjustment Act itself, the U.S. law that
gives Cubans who come to this country a special status as political
exiles rather than immigrants."
"What makes Cubans different from
Haitians who come here or anyone else," Rubio went on, "if they go back
and forth, that is to say, if they're not exiles at all? In that case,
why should Cubans be any different? The whole structure would have
unraveled had something not been done."
Rubio is right to fear
increasing awareness that Cubans emigres are no longer overwhelmingly
political refugees, but rather are largely economic migrants. But if
these newer generation Cuban emigres don't act like exiles, why don't
Rubio and his like-minded Cuban-American colleagues fight instead to end
the unique access to the United States still afforded to Cubans half a
century after Fidel Castro took power?