A New Vision for an Old Relationship | Commentary

Throughout the first 15 years of this century, the United States has experienced seismic changes to our place in the world — some good, some concerning. While some Americans feel as though our position of global leadership is slipping, others see new opportunities for engagement and diplomacy which are becoming more evident with the shifting dynamics of a more multipolar world.

Cuba — perhaps more than any other current situation — embodies an opportunity to improve our strategic position in the Western Hemisphere by offering a new platform of political transformation for our neighbors.

The American people are rightly optimistic that our place within the region is poised to improve. While a majority of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba, one major caveat is that many — particularly Cuban-Americans — are completely justified in their fear of what could appear as cozying up to an oppressive government.

Americans old enough to remember can recall a Cuba that took us to the brink of a nuclear war. Many of us can remember or envision desperate Cubans aboard rafts fleeing for their lives from a repressive regime. Americans who wear Che Guevera shirts must fully understand the brutality that he, Fidel Castro and their allies wrought on innocent Cubans and the message that sends to our Cuban-American neighbors and friends.

Détente with Cuba must include specific criteria and benchmarks for this relationship to work in the long term. Full normalization must increase trade, advance the cause of human rights, improve our strategic place within the hemisphere and begin to lay the groundwork for vast political transformation.

None of these policy aims are possible with the embargo currently in place.

Our policy toward Cuba in the past five decades has served to strengthen the resolve of an oppressive regime and has isolated and weakened our bargaining position within the tangled web of Latin American politics. Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela are no longer reliable partners for Cuba and should the United States continue our current policy, we may forever lose the opportunity to extract maximum leverage and force real change that will benefit the entire region.

This week, with a bipartisan coalition, I have introduced the Cuba Trade Act of 2015 to lift the embargo, allowing American businesses and influences to enter Cuba for the first time since shortly after Castro came to power. This legislation is designed to advance pro-American and pro-Cuban objectives and to strengthen our place in the region. By lifting the embargo we can advance human rights and destroy the myth of Castro propaganda by ushering in open markets and free expression that only the free-market model can provide.

Normalization must, and will, result in expanded trade and economic benefit for the United States. Cuba imports 80 percent of its food and is heavily reliant on foreign nations for technology, medical supplies and manufactured products. American companies are actively engaged in expanding access that will provide tangible benefits for farmers and producers.

Restitution for past crimes, confiscated property and the loss of life must be front and center in negotiations from the United States’ perspective. The United States must also demand greater political freedom as well as an immediate end to violent crackdowns on political dissidents.

This policy can never be about strengthening the Castro regime or cementing their brutal revolution. But rather, lifting the embargo is about expanding opportunities and liberty to a tiny island in the Caribbean and the warm and wonderful people who call it home.

By lifting the embargo, we can and will make a real difference in the lives of the Cuban people and to the Americans who will play a significant role in this evolving relationship.

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., serves on the House Financial Services Committee.