LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For more on Cuba, we're joined now by a former Florida congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart. During his time in Congress, he advocated for a hard line against the Castro regime, and he spearheaded efforts that tightened the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1996. Former Congressman Diaz-Balart, welcome to the program.
LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: It's a pleasure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is your reaction to President Trump's rollback of the Obama-era easing of sanctions?
DIAZ-BALART: We're very pleased. And in conversations with opposition activists, I've confirmed that they're very pleased. And for example, I was speaking to Angel Moya, who is the husband of Berta Soler.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: These are Cuban dissidents on the island.
DIAZ-BALART: He's here visiting. And Angel was telling me how, in the increasingly brutal beatings that he and other activists have been receiving since the Obama policy of a couple of years ago, the thugs actually told him, we have a green light now. We're going to kill you. So the repression has increased since Obama did what he did. And now the fact that the president of the United States is saying that increased repression is not acceptable, it's good news.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does it go far enough, in your view? Some would say, this is a cosmetic change; it doesn't close the door to Cuban trade with the U.S.
DIAZ-BALART: It's very important, what President Trump announced, first because he said that it's important to comply with and focus upon U.S. law. We were able to codify in law in 1996 three conditions that need to be met before there can be normalization of economic relations between Cuba and the United States. And President Trump mentioned those three conditions, which consist in the need for there not to be political prisoners; the legalization of all political parties, labor unions, the press and the scheduling of free, multiparty elections. Those three conditions were never mentioned by President Obama. And yet, President Trump explicitly mentioned those three goals - that agenda, if you will - for sitting down with the regime. And it's not cosmetic to do that. It is not cosmetic...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there's been 50 years of failed policy against Cuba, and nothing changed. And the argument for Obama's opening was that 50 years of the embargo had not actually achieved its aim and it was simply punitive without showing results.
DIAZ-BALART: Imagine if the European Union, then called the Community, 40 years ago would have told Spain and Portugal and Greece - by the way, our democratic requirement - that you have to have elections and democratic institutions before you become part of Europe - they haven't worked. And so we're going to accept repression of the dictatorships in Greece and Portugal and Spain. Those dictatorships may very well still be there then today.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let ask you this, though. If your argument is about human rights and democracy, why is the president being feted by and visiting a place like Saudi Arabia, a country with a dreadful human rights record, and we are sanctioning Cuba? Some would say that's hypocritical.
DIAZ-BALART: This was going to be an interview about Cuba, no. The fact that in the second world war - we had to have an alliance with somebody that we did not like, like, you know, the Soviet Union. And yet it was seen at the time as necessary. But, you know, what we're talking about now is a policy that we managed to put in law in the United States, which says it's in the national interest of the United States of America for there to be a free and democratic Cuba. And so we have a policy of solidarity with the people and not with the oppressors of the people. President Trump emphasized that we have to enforce and be consistent with U.S. law. And we're very grateful for that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, thank you so much for speaking with us.
DIAZ-BALART: A pleasure - have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.