Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Atlantic Council Poll On Public Attitudes On U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

Thank you for inviting me, and I am delighted to join with my friend from Arizona, Senator Flake.  We have traveled separately and together to Cuba, because as Members of Congress no one can stop us from going. 

But as everyone here knows, that is not the case for most Americans.  Unless you are Cuban-American you have to convince the Treasury Department you are entitled to a license, which can be a costly, time consuming, fool’s errand.  It is discriminatory, it is wrong, and it needs to change.

I want to thank the Atlantic Council, and especially the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, for commissioning this extremely useful poll.

It is no secret that anything having to do with Cuba, and especially U.S. policy toward Cuba, can generate a heated and emotional response from vocal minorities.  It can be intimidating for the silent majority who want change. 

It is time to elevate the voice of a crucial stakeholder:  the American people.  Thanks to this poll, they are silent no longer.

The poll could not come at a better time, and I commend you for conducting it in an objective, bipartisan manner.  Those who support the status quo may still criticize the results, but the facts are the facts.  We see in this poll what we have long suspected:  it is time to change course.  It is time to modernize our Cuba policy.

It is time to recognize that U.S. policy towards Cuba – frozen in time for decades – has been unsuccessful in achieving any of its objectives.  There is no disagreement among Americans on both sides of the issue about the desire for a government in Cuba that respects individual liberties.  The disagreement is how best to achieve that. 

Without in any way withholding criticism of the way the Cuban Government mistreats its own citizens – as well as America citizen Alan Gross who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than four years – it is illogical to continue pursuing a policy that has absolutely no chance of success. 

Just about the only beneficiary of our embargo has been Cuba’s current regime.

The embargo has helped the Castro’s maintain control by providing a reliable and convenient scapegoat for Cuba’s failing economy.  Change will come to Cuba.  But current U.S. policy has delayed and impeded change.  It is self-defeating, it is embarrassing, and it is beneath the United States.

The poll shows that a solid majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, favor a different course.  Our policy should not be dictated either by the Cuban Government, or by a minority in this country who cling to a failed policy that has isolated the United States more than it has Cuba. 

Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce.  Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves.  Our Latin, European and Canadian friends engage with Cuba all that time.  Meanwhile, U.S. companies are prohibited from any economic activity on the island.

The poll paves the way for a policy toward Cuba that is in the national interest of the United States as a whole.  That is what the country needs, it is what the American people have made clear they want, and it is the responsibility of the White House and the Congress to act. 

Let us have the common sense, and the courage, to finally put an end to the Cold War in our own hemisphere.

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