And that means that Marco Rubio will block any nominee for the position. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, who is coming home after breaking his leg while bicycling, Rubio pledges not just to oppose any nominee but “to block the Administration’s efforts to pursue diplomatic relations with Cuba and name an Ambassador to Havana” until Barack Obama and Kerry work to wring concessions from the Castros. In particular, Rubio wants American fugitives extradited to face long-delayed justice in the US:
Secondly, I urge you to make central to the current talks the repatriation of known terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice. The FBI believes there are more than 70 fugitives from justice that are being provided safe-harbor by the Castro regime. These include Joanne Chesimard, a cop-killer on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list, Frank Terpil, a renegade CIA agent who became an assassin-for-hire and arms smuggler for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and William Morales, a convicted FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional) bomb maker who conducted a terror bombing campaign in New York. Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson testified that “Our future discussions… will expand the avenues available to seek the return of American fugitives from justice”. The victims of these violent individuals, who are being openly harbored by Cuba’s dictatorship, deserve justice now, prior to the establishment of diplomatic relations.
In fairness, that may put the cart before the horse. Typically, extradition agreements take place after the creation of normal diplomatic relations (or their restoration), and in some cases they don’t take place at all. We have normal diplomatic relations with Brazil, for instance, but our extradition agreement has huge gaps in it — legendary, really, for the country’s ability to shelter Americans from law enforcement once they land there. We don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia despite decades of formal relations, which has caused issues from both directions. That doesn’t mean the US shouldn’t try to use its leverage in the Cuban negotiations to get the Castros to cough up those fugitives, but traditionally it wouldn’t be a prerequisite to normalized relations.
The other issues Rubio raises do rise to that level, however. The US has many valid concerns about human rights in Cuba, and while we have normal relations with other human-rights abusers, we typically don’t create them without some commitment on improvement. Rubio also recalls that the US forced Libya to compensate for damages to Americans before gaining recognition, and Fidel Castro’s nationalization created billions of dollars in losses for American businesses, as well as the costs of Cuban terrorism.
Lastly, Rubio points out that full diplomatic relations do not mean much if freedom of travel for accredited diplomatic personnel is not reciprocal. US diplomatic personnel are confined to Havana without special permission from the Castro regime, a status that apparently won’t immediately change under Obama’s plan to normalize relations. Not only does that make us look subordinate to the Castros on an international basis, it makes it even more difficult to identify human-rights issues to get the Castros to improve — which the Obama administration claims will happen with more normal relations.
As a Senator, Rubio can do quite a bit to block or delay confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba. The filibuster can no longer be used, thanks to Harry Reid’s rule change in November 2013, but Rubio can apply a hold, or block unanimous consent at times, to stall a confirmation vote. If he can get 50 of his 53 fellow Republicans to follow suit, Obama won’t be able to get anyone through for confirmation, but that may be a tall order for Mitch McConnell, who wants to position the GOP as a governing party rather than just an opposition force.
Still, this positions the Cuba question as a battle between Obama and Rubio — a position that benefits the Republican and lifts his profile on foreign policy within the GOP. It’s both smart and right, but we’ll see how far his fellow Senate Republicans are willing to go with his strategy.
For Cubans, however, normal relations won’t change their everyday lives much … and that’s too bad, too:
As one of Havana’s largest state-run retail hubs, the Supermercado 3ra y 70 is the communist government equivalent of a Target or Wal-Mart, created as a one-stop shopping center. It was designed, quite possibly, by sadists.
Customers with long shopping lists face no fewer than seven places to stand in line. One for butter. Another for cooking oil. A third for toothpaste. And so on. …
Elsewhere in the world, the Internet revolution has allowed goods and services to be ordered, organized and distributed with ever-greater ease and efficiency. Cuba’s socialist revolution has barely bothered with these advancements. In an online era, Cuba remains a stand-in-line society.
With a new surge of American tourism — up 36 percent this year, according to government data — the island is facing a shortage of hotel rooms, rental cars and seats at the Tropicana cabaret. Which means American visitors, too, may find themselves waiting more than they’re used to.
The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported on this from Havana, which is exactly why the Castro regime would prefer not to allow US diplomats to go outside the capital without minders and preparation. It’s doubtful that conditions improve outside the island nation’s main city.