One of the central points of last night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville, Fl. was an issue (literally) close to Floridians’ hearts: Cuba.
Because Florida has a Hispanic population ten times larger than Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina combined — nearly half of which is comprised of Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans — the U.S.-Cuba relationship is an especially hot topic in the Sunshine State.
Since Fidel Castro officially handed over the presidency to his younger brother Raul Castro in 2008, Raul has begun to push for economic reforms, like a new law that allows Cuban citizens and permanent residents living in Cuba to buy and sell real estate. This gradual movement for the first time in half a century towards a more free market in Cuba means that America’s position on Cuba in this election is crucial.
In last night’s debate, though, Ron Paul was the only of the four candidates who proposed a policy that could eventually lead to better U.S.-Cuban relations and realistically promote democracy in Cuba.
The candidates were asked: “What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and importantly to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?”
Ron Paul responded with a straight-forward, practical answer: “I think free trade is the answer, free trade is an answer to a lot of conflicts around the world … you might add Cuba too, we’d be a lot better off trading with Cuba.”
The other three candidates rejected outright Paul’s proposal of a relationship with Cuba that fosters open trade and open conversation wherein the U.S. asks of Cuba what we can do to improve relations. In stark contrast to Paul, Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum each offered a vague proposition for a policy on Cuba in the form of all-too-familiar euphemisms for using North American force.
Gingrich said he would “facilitate” the transition in Cuba from dictatorship to freedom. Romney said he would use “every resource” he could “short of military action.” Santorum argued that the U.S. needs a president who understands the “threat of Iran” in Venezuela and Cuba, saying that North Americans need to “stand up for” Cubans. He later repeated, “the United States should stand by the Cuban people.”
Paul asked that “stand up for” be defined — a request most certainly to be appreciated by anyone even remotely aware of the United States’ track record of “standing up for” Latin America countries. (El Salvador in the early 1980s, Guatemala from 1950-1980s, the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s, to name a few).
“You’re talking about force,” Paul said to Santorum, a fact that none of the other candidates where willing to admit. “No one’s talking about force,” Santorum retorted.
Paul, accurately, in my opinion, stated that often when the U.S. “stands up for” a nation, the nation ends up resenting us for it. In defense of his proposal to open trade with Cuba, he argued that as well intentioned as sanctions are, they almost always backfire and hurt the people.
Paul’s ideas for Cuba embody his philosophy on foreign policy in general: that this country needs a foreign policy based on strength, and not on “policing the world” — a philosophy which sets him apart from Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum as the only Republican candidate willing to think practically and responsibly about foreign policy.
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