Libertarians have long argued that lifting the Cuban embargo, allowing free trade to flourish with the Cuban people, would do more to bring down the murderous Castro regime than exploding cigars or infected scuba diving suits. And yet President Obama’s recent Cuban outreach is raising strong criticism from many of those same voices. Why?

The right time to destabilize the Castro dictatorship by lifting the U.S. trade embargo would have been shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba’s communist government faced imminent bankruptcy and before it attached itself to oil-fueled Chavismo. Having missed that opportunity, the next best time would be immediately after the death of the Castro brothers, before their surviving henchmen could consolidate power.

Instead, President Obama has chosen to use U.S.-Cuba policy as a personal legacy-building exercise, handing the Castros and their henchmen a lifeline, offering them the resources they need to build a Putin-like Mafia state just as the flow of Venezuelan oil dollars collapses. The only piece missing is a parade of U.S. crony corporatists eager to cut deals that will fill state coffers at the expense of the Cuban people, who will remain indentured servants dancing to their master’s tune.

Understand how these rigged deals work. Foreign companies cannot contract freely with Cuban employees. Instead, they must fork over top dollar to the Cuban government in return for controlled access to selected markets, a handy way for first movers to box out prospective competition. The Cuban government then handpicks those privileged enough to work for the foreign employer, paying them typical Cuban starvation wages while pocketing the difference.

This is not free trade. This is payola. This is creating an environment that encourages the worst elements of American crony corporatism to join forces with the worst elements of Bolivarian state socialism. And it’ll do nothing to bring greater freedom to the Cuban people, especially in loosening the restrictions on emigration from the Castros’ island prison.

There is only one way to stop President Obama’s pandering to the Castros from turning into a disaster. Congress should pass legislation enabling free trade with the Cuban people, or any Cuban private corporation, but maintaining the embargo on all business with the Cuban government or government-controlled corporations, until Cuba holds free and fair elections. Go ahead and let Obama veto free trade legislation as his pal Valerie Jarrett sings the praises of Cuba’s indoctrination… er, educational system.

Congress might even consider turning Guantanamo Bay into a charter city, planting the seeds for a mini Hong Kong right on Castro’s doorstep. Take down the barbed wire and let the Cuban people vote with their feet, populating this new free trade zone as they leave their indentured servitude behind. Let Cuban expats’ investment dollars flow back not into the Castros’ pockets but directly to the people and land they left behind, hoping for a better day.