One of Cuba's most prominent human rights activists is in the U.S. to push for a halt or suspension of U.S.-Cuba trade and investment changes that he and other leaders say are enriching and empowering the Castro regime.
In an exclusive interview with FoxNews.com, Guillermo Farinas said the Trump administration should halt or undo the Obama administration’s move to open up trade and business deals with Cuba until the Cuban government commits to making democratic reforms.
Farinas, who has been jailed by Cuban authorities for his activism for human rights, said President Obama’s easing of trade restrictions is enriching the regime of Raul Castro, and hardly benefiting the Cuban people.
Farinas has been tirelessly traveling to several states, including Florida, New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C., meeting with members of Congress, Cuban exile leaders, United Nations officials and representatives of leading human rights organizations to build support for a U.S.-Cuba policy that takes a tougher approach to the Cuban government.
“The people of Cuba see very little of the money that comes in from foreign investment and trade,” Farinas told FoxNews.com
“It makes the regime richer, and stronger, and bolder, because they have felt that because of President Obama’s decision to do business with it, it has credibility internationally," he said. "It uses this international credibility to thumb its nose at the Cuban people, especially its critics and dissidents. And it’s gotten more brutal and more intolerant of dissent.”
Opponents of normalizing relations with Cuba have fought against growing momentum to lift the decades-old embargo, saying that the Cuban government has done nothing to move toward giving its citizens more freedom. Proponents counter that the embargo failed to bring about democratic reforms, and that it is time to try a different approach.
Farinas said he is not seeking a total rescinding of the restored diplomatic relations. The dissident, who’s got multiple health problems stemming from a recent month-long hunger strike he staged to push for human rights, said that he supports the Obama administration’s expansion of travel.
He said that the people of Cuba have been isolated by the regime for too long, and that the ability of the Cuban people to interact with U.S. relatives and visitors exposes them to new views and ideas.
Proponents of lifting the embargo say the Cuban government has taken some steps to change for the benefit of the Cuban people.
They say more Cuban people are now able to run their own business and invest in real estate.
“In Cuba, there is broad support for these changes,” said Madeleine Russak, communications director for Engage Cuba, an organization that favors normalizing ties with the island. “For 55 years the only people who have been hurt by the U.S. policy are the Cuban people.”
To fuel its campaign to get Republicans in Congress to support lifting the embargo, Engage Cuba has established councils in many GOP-leaning states where agriculture is a main industry.
“But with the free flow of information and travel, we’re in a much stronger position to improve the lives of Cubans. We are very optimistic that President-elect Trump, as a businessman, feels the same way.”
“The American people are the best ambassadors of democracy,” she said. “We’re optimistic that if we lift the full embargo, it will improve the lives of the Cuban people.”