Rand Paul Versus Marco Rubio: Some Libertarian Air Is Good for Cuban-American Politics

As prospective candidates claim their spot on the coveted 2016 Republican presidential ticket, two senators, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul bump heads on a newly awakened foreign policy issue: Cuba.
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This post was co-authored with Jhon Cores.

As prospective candidates claim their spot on the coveted 2016 Republican presidential ticket, two senators, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul bump heads on a newly awakened foreign policy issue: Cuba.

After President Obama's disclosure of renewed diplomatic relations with the island nation, an awe-stricken world celebrated the unexpected news. A small, ardent group of troubled leaders, led by Florida's hawkish senator Marco Rubio and bolstered by New Jersey's Bob Menendez, the newly elected Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have vowed to oppose any attempts at rapprochement.

Rubio, who was quick to repudiate the president's initiative, is known for his recalcitrance and hard-line position on Cuba. The utter failure of the fifty years embargo apparently escapes his logic. He represents less and less the will of his constituents, who increasingly rally for open dialogue and free travel to Cuba. Confronted by polls showing how American voters favored Obama's change of U.S policy to Cuba by two to one, Rubio declared his willingness to follow through with his own isolationist agenda even if he was repudiated by 99 percent of his constituents.

Rubio called President Obama the "worst negotiator in his lifetime," with a "naive" and "ignorant" foreign policy. He went on to criticize fellow Republican and 2016 presidential hopeful Rand Paul after he publicly endorsed the president's position. Senator Paul, who demonstrates equanimity on Cuban policy, enjoys the support of several Republican heavyweights with pro-business, pro-trade and libertarian values.

Paul refuted his colleague's "pro-sanctions" stance on twitter, pointing out that Rubio did "not speak for the majority of Cuban-Americans," as evidenced by state and national polls. New generations of Cuban Americans and most recent Cuban immigrants share Senator Paul's faith in the transformation power of the free flow of goods, peoples and ideas. Rubio attacked Obama and Paul for questioning the inconsistency of trading with China and Vietnam but not Cuba, claiming that free markets and political freedoms are not connected.

Facts, however, are on Paul's side. "Rapid socioeconomic change in China has been accompanied by relaxation of some restrictions on basic rights," as specified in Human Rights Watch's 2014 World Report. Any comparison of China before and after President Nixon's trip to Beijing shows a country that it is more open, prosperous and less aggressive due in part to its ties with the democratic world.

Rubio's hypocrisy

Moreover, Rubio's contradictions are exemplified by his condemnation of trips to Cuba by his Senate colleagues for fear of lining the pockets of communist party members, while at the same time sending his deputy chief of staff to tour the Great Wall at the Chinese state's expense. When asked about this moral disconnect, Rubio's team said the trip of his staffers was necessary to "advance our advocacy on a host of foreign policy issues." Clearly this is in conflict with his anti-engagement attitude on Cuba.

Indeed, the Florida senator, who has talked about a city in Cuba called "Lourdes" that doesn't exist (it is just a neighborhood in the outskirts of Havana) and has never travelled to the country, referred disrespectfully to Senator Paul as someone who "has no idea what he's talking about." This from a man who's never witnessed the poverty of a people he wants "to liberate" with an economic embargo that further contributes to their destitution.

While Rubio denounces Castro's evident human rights violations, he's paid tribute to thugs like Rafael Diaz-Balart, a politician who helped to dismantle representative democracy in Cuba in March 1952, and pushed Rubio's parent's flight from Batista's repressive regime. Rubio's attempt to present his parents as refugees from Castro, not Batista, was an attempt to circumvent the truth. It shows a lack of integrity. That Cuba in 1958 was a democracy on its way to development is a lie that Rubio repeated a thousand times in hopes of making it stick. His own parents escaped from such paradise but he preferred to hide it to promote his friendship with the Diaz-Balart family.

A Cuban-American politician of his generation cannot be indifferent to the abuses of the Castro government, but constructing simplistic black or white narratives are tactics of demagogues, not of nation unifiers and crisis solvers. The group Rubio represents claims ownership of all that belonged to them in pre-revolutionary Cuba except their responsibility as the political class that facilitated Castro's consolidation in power for fifty years. Perhaps it is this guilt that fuels their dogmatic stance and their inability to accept reconciliation through dialogue.

Rand Paul's fresh libertarian air is good for Cuban-American Republican politics.

For Senator Paul, democracy is not an outcome to impose, but a process to work toward. If the Republican Party wants a place in the future of US-Cuban relations, it needs to produce candidates who understand the liberating role of a market economy in Cuba, and United States' ability to propel it.

It could have been the beginning of a respectful dialogue. But Rubio couldn't tolerate it. The Florida Senator launched a cheap partisan attack labeling Rand Paul, "Obama's chief cheerleader" in a policy that "demanded nothing on the side of democracy."

Rubio's nearsightedness blinds him to the positive ramifications of diplomatic influence, U.S. support for the growing non-state sector and people-to-people exchanges.Miami's best contribution to a Cuban democracy is its contribution to national reconciliation and the end of polarization of Cuban politics. The Cuban American community and the United States should be a space in which all politicians discuss respectfully their differences with arguments and without insults. Cubans in both sides of the Strait of Florida are eager to put the evidences about the embargo and communism on the table, and seek non ideological answers. As president Obama said: "It is time to turn the page."

Paul's calm explanation supported by another Republican Senator Jeff Flake, represents for many Cuban-Americans a positive example of breaking with an addiction to ideological partisanship. Flake and Paul comprehend the importance of a US ambassadorial representation in Cuba and expanded internet access on the island. More than three hundred thousand Cuban Americans are travelling to Cuba every year under the general license for family travel. They are voting with their feet against Rubio's policy. They are the main supporters for the new capitalist sector emerging in Cuba.

So cheer on Senator Paul, cheer on, and pray your Cuban-American colleagues rectify their nasty and irrelevant rhetoric. We, Cuban Americans, welcome your libertarian commonsense and non-partisan attitude. We need them in Cuba and Miami.

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