Abbott’s trip to Cuba shows it’s time for U.S. to lift trade embargo

Gov. Greg Abbott is in Cuba to try to take economic advantage of the trade and investment opportunities that the Obama administration’s re-establishment of relations with the communist nation offers Texas.

Abbott arrived in Havana on Monday for a three-day trip, accompanied by agriculture, business and port leaders. At least on this one issue, the man who habitually sued the Obama administration when he was Texas attorney general, and who never hesitates to try to score political points against President Barack Obama when the issue is clean air, immigration or Syrian refugees, is putting aside ideological obstinacy for business practicality.

Where Abbott succeeds in talking trade with Cuba, the state succeeds. Texas farm and food exports, for example, potentially could reach $18.8 million a year, according to a Texas A&M University report released in November, and indirectly benefit the state’s total economy to the tune of $43 million a year. Parr Rosson, an A&M agricultural economics professor, told a Senate hearing in April that U.S. food and agricultural exports to Cuba have the potential to exceed $1.2 billion annually within five years. Many of these exports would pass through Texas ports on their way to Cuba.

In a statement issued Nov. 24, Abbott made an excellent argument, whether or not he intended it as such, for lifting the U.S. trade embargo enacted against Cuba in 1960. “With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba — and as the 12th-largest economy in the world — Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad,” Abbott said. “Opening the door to business with Texas will expand free enterprise and the freedom that flows from it. I look forward to expanding business opportunities for both Texas and Cuba.”

Only Congress can lift the embargo. Abbott, if he’s serious about helping open Cuba to Texas exports, should do what he can to persuade Texas Republicans in Congress to help end this vestige of the Cold War. Promoting democratic and economic reforms through trade and diplomacy can’t be any less effective than America’s 55 years of confrontation and embargo. For starters, lifting the trade embargo and travel restrictions will open Cuba to tourism, which will bring it the cash it needs to buy the agricultural and other products Texas wants to send it.

Those who argue for maintaining a hard-line policy toward Cuba argue for the continuation of a failed policy. A Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to lift the embargo, not for the final year Obama is in office anyway — and maybe not even if a Republican wins the White House next year. Congressional Republicans responded to Obama’s announcement last December that his administration was planning to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba — which it did in August — with rhetoric borrowed from another time.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn echoed a common Republican theme when he described Obama’s move as “capitulation” to “a failing communist regime” that would “only continue to undermine America’s standing on the world stage.” Cornyn’s fellow Texan, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, typically went the furthest rhetorically.

Cruz — whose father, Rafael, fought with Fidel Castro’s forces against American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista before fleeing to the United States in 1957 — has said Obama’s Cuba policy will be “remembered as a tragic mistake.” He has labeled Obama’s action a “policy of unconditional surrender to Fidel and Raúl Castro by rewarding one of the most violently anti-American regimes on the planet with an embassy and an official representative of our government.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Cruz’s fellow Cuban American and senator, as well as his rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has vowed that, if elected, he would reverse the Obama administration’s policies normalizing relations with Cuba. Rubio’s parents left Cuba before Castro took power.

As we’ve written before, American policy toward Cuba is out of step with our own, more open policies toward China and Vietnam and toward numerous non-communist regimes with abysmal human rights records. The next step in rapprochement with Cuba is to end the trade embargo.

After almost six decades, America’s Cuba policy has not resulted in the end of the Castro regime, nor has it brought Cubans greater freedom. Trade and openness will change Cuba more than shunning it will. Abbott’s trip to Cuba is an implicit acknowledgement that only the bullheaded would want to continue a policy that has resulted in nothing it was designed to do.

By Editorial Board, My Statesman

November 30, 2015

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