Republican Sen. Rand Paul said he supports President Obama’s push to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying the United States’ half-century policy of isolationism toward the communist nation “just hasn’t worked.”
“I think that probably opening up Cuba is a good idea,” the Kentucky lawmaker told radio station 800 WVHU in Huntington, W.Va., on Thursday.
Paul, who is considering a 2016 presidential run, said if the trade embargo’s aim was to force a regime change in Cuba, “it sure doesn’t seem to be working.”
“Probably it punishes the people [of Cuba] more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for the hardship” of the Cuban people, Paul said. “If there’s open trade I think the people will see … all of the things that we produce under capitalism.”
Paul’s position clashes with those of many of his conservative colleagues on Capitol Hill. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called Obama’s announcement an “inexplicable” move that “is letting down the Cuban people.” And Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said it “undermines our national security interest" because it would reward a terrorist regime bent on hurting the U.S.
But Paul said trade is among the best weapons available to defeat communism.
“When we first opened up trade with China we were thinking it was a bad idea. But you know over time I’ve come to believe — and many conservatives have come to believe — that trading with China is actually the best way to ultimately defeat communism, and it makes us less likely to fight,” the senator told the radio station.
Paul added that even the Cuban-American community “has kind of come around” to accept that the embargo has failed.
“If you poll or interview younger Cubans, over half of young Cuban-Americans actually are for opening up trade with Cuba,” he said.
Paul also said that many U.S. farmers are in favor of lifting the export bands to Cuba because it would expand markets in which they could sell their products.
He said Obama likely has the authority to unilaterally revoke at least part of the embargo because it appears it was established under a presidential executive order.
“There are some other things — travel bans and things like that — that I think were done by Congress and will ultimately have to be addressed by Congress,” he said.