ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Obama's decision to make it easier to travel to Cuba and to send money to Cuba has been faulted in some quarters as too little a change in U.S. policy. But for some critics of the Castro regime, it is too much. Florida Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, for one. He and his brother, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, issued a joint statement calling it a serious mistake. Lincoln Diaz-Balart says thawing relations with Cuba won't give Cubans what they need most.
Representative LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (Republican, Florida): Well, the people need freedom. And just like, you know, the European Union, at that time called the Common Market, told Spain during its 40 years of Franco, or Portugal during its 50 years of Oliveira Salazar, you know, you cannot be part of Europe until you're democracies. We say Cuba will not have access to the billions of dollars of the U.S. market until, you know, it's a democracy. And it's very important for that kind of international solidarity.
SIEGEL: But this isn't an issue - but this is isn't an issue of the economic integration of Cuba and the United States. A closer parallel would be with other Communist countries that were dictatorships. We traded with them, we traded with the Soviet Union long before it showed any sign of democratizing. But eventually people credited the relations with the west as one of the factors in helping to undermine the regime.
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: And I credit President Reagan's initiative that forced the Soviet Union to spend extraordinary amounts for defense. But any dictatorship that has not had international pressure, for example, the Chinese dictatorship, is still there. This step that President Obama has taken, and by the way, the major step that's, you know, the embargo and U.S. mass tourism, that requires a law.
And, you know, we in Congress have a very significant bipartisan coalition to prevent, you know, unilateral lifting of the major sanctions. But these, you know, which are the collateral sanctions, will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the regime and there's been nothing in exchange.
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: The political prisoners continue being tortured in the gulag.
SIEGEL: At one time, your view, your support for maintaining the embargo as is was held widely, almost wall-to-wall in the Cuban-American community around Miami. Last year Florida International University had a poll, which showed for the first time a majority, 55 percent of their sample opposing the embargo. More people, 65 percent supporting the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. There seems to be an evolution in thinking on this, in the community, with people saying maybe it's time for change after all this.
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: Well, that poll was paid for by our political opponents who spent a lot of money with 527s trying to defeat Ileana, Mario and me.
SIEGEL: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: Yeah.
SIEGEL: You think it's a push poll, is what you're saying?
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: Of course, now, because, look, we have elections here. It's not like Cuba. We have elections every two years. And, you know, despite the millions and millions that were spent to defeat us in November, where the key issue, by the way, a key issue was precisely this one of, you know, unilateral concessions to the dictatorship, not only did we win, but over 80 percent of the Cuban-American vote, you know, went for me and for my brother and for Ileana. So, that's the poll that should be looked at, because it's not theory.
SIEGEL: If in fact there were something, some sign of reciprocity that would make this not entirely unilateral, would that change your view of what the president's doing?
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: Look, it's very simple, and we put it in law. Release all the political prisoners, legalize political parties, the press and labor, and schedule free elections. That's the goal, the policy of state of the United States. That's the goal with regard to Cuba.
SIEGEL: Well, Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, thank you very much for...
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: A pleasure.
SIEGEL: ...expressing your view to us.
Rep. DIAZ-BALART: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: Lincoln Diaz-Balart spoke to us from Miami. He is a Republican member of the House from Florida.
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