Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen woke up this morning with a bit of egg on her face, after she attempted to rat on Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z for what Ros-Lehtinen thought might have been an illegal trip the couple took to Cuba. Learning that the couple had celebrated their wedding anniversary in Cuba, Ros-Lehtinen wrote a letter to the Treasury Department to push for an investigation into whether the trip violated the U.S. national-security state’s 52-year-old economic embargo against Cuba.
No doubt Ros-Lehtinen was fantasizing over a criminal prosecution or at least a civil proceeding against Beyonce and Jay-Z, one that could send a message to all the Americans who are thinking of traveling to Cuba and spending money there in violation of the embargo.
As it turned out though, Beyonce and Jay-Z had secured official permission to travel to Cuba as part of an “education” exception to the embargo. Under that exception, the Treasury Department has the authority to issue licenses to Americans to travel to Cuba for “educational” purposes. Perhaps in order to cut Ros-Lehtinen off at the pass before she made a new claim that the couple had violated the terms of the license by spending money on fun things in Cuba, a Treasury Department official explained in a letter that licensees may “engage in noneducational activities off hours,” such as, as the New York Times explained, imbibing a mojito or two.
Of course, the fact that there are exceptions by which U.S. officials can grant permission to violate the law itself shows what a sham this national-security “crime” is.
One of the fascinating aspects about this episode is how blind people like Ros-Lehtinen are to their own statist mindsets. After all, when you think about it, the economic mindsets of people who support the U.S. embargo against Cuba are really no different, in principle, from the economic mindsets of communists in Cuba.
What is the embargo? The Beyonce-Jay-Z episode reminds us that is a U.S. governmental attack on the freedom of American citizens. It prohibits Americans from spending their own money in Cuba. If an American spends his own money in Cuba without official permission, he will be criminally prosecuted or civilly fined by his own government.
How is that different from communist control over economic activity in Cuba? Controlling what people do with their own money is one of the core principles of communism and socialism. Oh sure, Fidel Castro took the statist philosophy to a much greater extreme than American statists have, but the economic philosophy that undergirds Castro’s economic system is no different from the economic philosophy that undergirds the U.S. embargo. In both countries, the government wields the authority to control what people do with their own money.
Statists like Castro and Ros-Lehtinen have an extreme dislike for the libertarian principle of economic liberty. That principle holds that people are endowed with certain fundamental, natural, God-given rights and that among these rights are the right to do whatever one wants with his own money. If someone wants to spend his own money in Cuba, he has that moral right. Neither the Cuban government nor the U.S. government can legitimately infringe upon that right. And when any government does violate fundamental, natural, God-given rights, it is the government that is the criminal, not the person who violates the law.
Also, let’s not forget the commonalities between the economic beliefs of Castro and Ros-Lehtinen.
The socialist programs in Cuba that Castro is most proud of include old-age retirement benefits, free medical care, and free education.
Ask yourself: When was the last time you ever heard Ros-Lehtinen calling for the repeal, not reform, of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and public schooling?
Answer: Never. The fact is that she, like most other conservative and progressive statists, are as committed to socialist programs as Castro is. The difference is that Castro and the Cuban people realize they are socialist programs. Ros-Lehtinen and other American statists have simply convinced themselves that such programs are socialist when they’re run by Cuban welfare-state bureaucrats and “free enterprise” when they’re run by U.S. welfare-state bureaucrats.
According to an article at Politico.com, Ros-Lehtinen criticized Beyonce and Jay-Z for not having sufficient “common sense and understanding and solidarity with the suffering of the Cuban people.”
How disingenuous is that? After all, it’s not as if the GOP has ever been known as a friend of the poor. All we have to do is look at their decades-long war against illegal immigrants, including the incarceration centers, the raids on private businesses, the deportations, the Berlin Fence along the border, the immigration checkpoints, the warrantless searches of ranches and farms near the border, and the police state that they have established in the borderlands to get a good grasp of how much Republicans love the poor.
Or for that matter, we can look at the hundreds of thousands poor people they’ve killed in their wars and occupations and assassinations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Latin America.
Or for that matter, consider tens of thousands poor people, especially blacks and Latinos, whose lives they have ended or destroyed with their beloved 40-year-old failed and destructive war on drugs.
In actuality, it is the embargo itself that constitutes an attack on the Cuban people. Sure, there’s no doubt that Cuba’s socialist system has brought misery and privation to the Cuban people. But the fact is that the Cuban people have been squeezed by two sides of a statist vise — their socialist system and the U.S. embargo, which has prevented Americans from traveling to Cuba and trading and interacting with the Cuban people.
Ros-Lehtinen has it all wrong. The best thing that Americans could ever do to help the Cuban people, both economically and to free themselves from communist and socialist tyranny, is to travel to Cuba and spend money there. I know. I’ve traveled to Cuba myself and I’ve spent money there. The Cuban people love it, even if they do despise the U.S. national-security state.
What Ros-Lehtinen and her statist predecessors have done is import Cuban statism to America. The worst thing Americans ever did is permit the U.S. national-security state to adopt and embrace statist methods to combat communism. The way to combat evil is with good, not with evil. America’s heritage encompasses fundamental rights, including economic liberty, the right to travel, freedom of association, and free markets.
The time has come to reject national-security statism. The Cold War is over. It’s time to tear down the statist wall that Ros-Lehtinen and her ilk have built. It’s time to liberate the American people and free them to spend their own money any way they want. It’s time to lift the cruel, inhumane, 52-year-old, morally bankrupt economic embargo against the Cuban people.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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