Before the terrorist attacks, one of the pressing international issues for the U.S. Congress in the months ahead was trade. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an international trade deal between a dozen countries including the United States. The thing runs 30 chapters totaling more than 5,000 pages covering trade from autos to kimonos to mobile phone roaming charges. The final proposed tax was released earlier this month and Congress likely will vote on it early next year. South Florida Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart is among those examining the deal.
Diaz-Balart is referring specifically to one of the 12 countries involved in the deal, a country that has been subject to a U.S. trade embargo in the past. But the embargo was lifted 20 years ago and the Vietnamese economy has taken off.
It’s a relationship supporters of American relations with Cuba have pointed to as an example of what U.S. commerce can do for an economy. But Diaz-Balart is not impressed.
Of course, a country that continues to experience an American trade embargo is Cuba. And Diaz-Balart is not about to bend his support of the continued embargo with Cuba.
“If you're dealing with nations and regimes that enslave their people, where people don't have the right to unionize, to organize, to strike, to demonstrate, [there is] no freedom of the press and therefore no voice for the people to express their opinions and their grievances, then free trade is just not possible. That is not something that I'm willing to be part of,” he said.
The trade embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress. Yet, several industries are working to increase ties with the island, including airlines and cruise ship operators. Carnival Corp’s Fathom cruise brand has plans to begin sailing from Miami to Cuba in May. American Airlines is among the air carriers waiting for U.S. and Cuba negotiators to complete talks regarding regularly scheduled commercial air travel between the two countries.
Do you support those efforts to engage economically with that island?
Diaz-Balart: The law is still there. The economic sanctions remain in place. Congress, and the House in particular, has spoken very loudly on the two industries that you just mentioned. There is language in multiple appropriations bills in the House now being negotiated that deal with not allowing those things to actually happen. I think it's premature for anybody to think that those things are going to happen. On the floor of the House of Representatives we have had very strong bipartisan opposition to what President Obama is doing on the issues of either regular flights or on cruise ships going [to Cuba].
The law right now is that anybody who [has] business dealings on the island of Cuba on a property that was confiscated you could sue [in U.S. courts] that company that is now doing business on that stolen property. I think one of the reasons you're not seeing that many businesses investing [in Cuba] is precisely because I don’t think it's a good deal. It’s a risk they might get sued in U.S. courts. The biggest risk is that you're dealing with the Castro regime that is known to incarcerate and enslave and confiscate from those who do invest in the island.
There's over a dozen different provisions in about half a dozen of the appropriations bills that deal with Cuba.
It remains a terrorist state. Even though President Obama, in another concession to the Castro regime, arbitrarily took it off the list of states that sponsor terrorism, the only thing that's changed on the island is that the repression has been escalating.
Is it time to sunset the Cuban Adjustment Act?
Diaz-Balart: You have seen a dramatic increase of the abuse precisely because of Obama's new policy views. Is there always some abuse? Absolutely. There [are abuses of] just about every government program.But you've seen a dramatic escalation because of President Obama's concessions to the Castro regime. There's one bill in Congress to in essence get rid of the entirety of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Would you support that?
Diaz-Balart: Have the conditions that warranted the Cuban Adjustment Act in the first place diminished? I would argue that the conditions have not improved. What has changed because of President Obama's policy changes is the level of abuse. If you want to stop the abuse, there are two things that should be done: No. 1, reverse President Obama's policies that have led to the massive increase of that abuse. And No. 2, deal with the issue of welfare-type payments that are going to folks who are abusing and wasting taxpayer money.