Lawmaker Says Cuba Policy Will Set Back U.S. Goals

President Obama lifted restrictions on travel and sending money to Cuba on Monday, but not everyone is happy with the move.

Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, Cuban-American brothers who represent Miami in Congress, issued a joint statement Monday calling it "a serious mistake."

Lincoln Diaz-Balart tells NPR that the only places that people in Cuba can spend money are owned by the regime, so the new policy will "provide hundreds and millions to the regime" for "nothing in exchange." He says the policy could set back the U.S. in getting Cuba to agree to release political prisoners who "continue being tortured in the gulag."

"The people need freedom," Diaz-Balart tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "And just like the European Union — at that time called the Common Market — told Spain during its 40 years of Franco, Portugal during its 50 years of Oliveira Salazar: 'You cannot be a part of Europe until you're democracies,' we say Cuba will not have access to the billions of dollars in the U.S. market until it's a democracy. And it's very important for that kind of international solidarity."

Although Obama's decision does not lift the decades-old trade embargo with Cuba, it does ease the pressure on the country, Diaz-Balart says. The U.S. needs to retain leverage, he says.

"Any dictatorship that has not had international pressure — for example, the Chinese dictatorship — is still there," he says. "And where there has been international solidarity ... there has been a transition to democracy once the dictator has died, or there has been, like the case of Portugal, a coup d'etat."

In December 2008, a Florida International University poll showed that, for the first time, a majority — or 55 percent — of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County oppose the embargo, and 65 percent support establishing bilateral diplomatic relations.

But Diaz-Balart says the poll was paid for by his political opponents.

"We have elections every two years," Diaz-Balart says. "A key issue was precisely this one of unilateral concessions to the dictatorship, such as the ones we saw this week. Not only did we win, but over 80 percent of the vote went for me and for my brother and for Ileana [Ros-Lehtinen]. That's the poll that should be looked at, because it's not theory."

Diaz-Balart says that the ultimate goal of U.S. policy toward Cuba is to "release all of the political prisoners; legalize political parties, the press and labor; and schedule free elections."

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