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Monday, October 19, 2009

U.S. Cuba Relations - Show Me The Money….

In Washington DC, most politicians care about that proposition as much as they do the votes that get them there. Political money buys perception and time, even if it is the furthest thing from the truth, against a democratic majority, or even against the best interests of our country. Sometimes it is even more important than the votes that get you elected, to wit, just look at the current Health insurance reform debate. The majority of our country wants health care for all Americans guaranteed in some sort of government “public” option. But who is the Senate and the House really representing - the corporations or the people that elected them, including the 45 million Americans without health insurance? In fact without the political money, most campaigns do not stand a chance, no matter how worthy, the candidate may be. And that is the Achilles heel in our political system.

Pro-embargo forces have mastered this reality over the last two decades. Now with the advent and real possibility of change with Cuba, these embargo forces, in the name of “democracy”, are back at it one more time. With fundraisers last week in Miami ( a concert featuring pro-embargo exile celebrities) and in Washington (a Capitol Hill Salsa Party??- lets dance – Americans cannot travel to Cuba freely!) the U.S. Cuba Embargo Democracy PAC secured more funds. And if you were a congressional staffer attending the salsa party, you even got a discounted ticket price. Whether that was even ethical is another question.

While it is legal for citizens and legal permanent residents to contribute money to political action committees, and political candidates can accept contributions, the gross hypocrisy ought to be fully exposed. I wonder what the script is -- “Hey Congressman, Senator – support the Cuban embargo, keep travel restrictions on all Americans. Get a check from us. By the way, we are for democracy and human rights in Cuba. The embargo has done so much to change Cuba. Support us.” Oh really? And then that Congressman or Senator who needs to fill their political coffers, all the while ignorantly or superficially understanding the U.S. Cuba issue knows only one thing – I got a check from Cuban Americans who want to keep the embargo and travel restrictions. Or as described to me by a politically savvy friend – it may not be in the best interests of our country, but I keep getting a check from folks who do not want change in our Cuba policy.

While I appreciate a Senator or Congressman’s need to raise campaign funds, how on earth does keeping travel restrictions to Cuba for all Americans and our embargo support democracy or human rights in Cuba is the real question? The arrogance and ignorance of this position cannot be sustained much longer. Only political money keeps the farce going. When this issue is debated openly with intellectual honesty, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

There is an organization called the Center for Responsive Politics who tracks all the political campaign data on file with the Federal Election Commission. In the case of the embargo PAC, because that is effectively what they are, you can see who is giving the money; how much; and who is getting the money. All of the data is revealing and hopefully as the press and media take the Cuba travel issue on – important questions get asked and answered by those who are supposed to represent us in the Congress.

Who is giving the money:
http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgave2.php?cycle=2008&cmte=C00387720
http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgave2.php?cycle=2010&cmte=C00387720

Note the small number of large donors and concentrated in South Florida. That is no accident. What is troubling is that a PAC of relatively a small number of donors, less than 5000 individuals have effectively hijacked this issue politically from the majority of Americans and even Cuban Americans now, who want these restrictions lifted and the embargo ended.

Who is getting the money:
http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cycle=2008&cmte=C00387720
http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cycle=2010&cmte=C00387720

The recipient list is more revealing. If you are a Congressional committee chairman, a member of the Congressional Leadership, or a Congressional freshman ( that one is especially clever --the let me whet your campaign coffers for the first time and you will remember me that I was there for you when you first got elected approach), you get an even bigger check. So when Senator Dorgan recently stated on the Senate floor, he needs to find a way to get the travel bill considered, understand he is up against powerful forces that will seek to block the will of the majority of the people of our country, just like the health insurance industry is trying to do now.

Two things need to happen to neutralize this distortion – the media and those who want change in U.S. Cuba relations need to ask questions and demand answers from those elected AND those who say they want change in U.S. Cuba policy, must play this political fundraising game as well, until there is meaningful campaign reform to restore our democracy and government OF the people, not special interests.

So to any decent and honest journalist out there worth his or her mettle – ask lots of questions and show your journalistic objectivity and make transparent what is behind the decisions of our lawmakers.

And to the constituents of these lawmakers who take the money from the pro-embargo crowd, maybe it is time to have your elected Representatives and Senators come clean with you and defend their decisions.

Fifteen Questions on United States Cuba Relations Every Member of Congress Should Answer

1) Have you ever been to Cuba ?
2) When was the last time you visited Cuba ?
3) Do you have any relatives living in Cuba now?
4) Were your family or relatives related to, or employed by, either Fidel Castro or Fulgencio Batista?
[Some Cuban American legislators have family/political connections to Castro or Batista. Why must American foreign policy and the U.S. taxpayer fight their battle to settle their score with the Cuban government, especially when it has not worked in 50 years and has cost the taxpayer over One Billion dollars over the years? Diplomacy 101 – Do not shape foreign policy to settle a political score or for vengeance.]
5) Do you accept campaign contributions from people or organizations who support the Cuban embargo?
This is not illegal. But if you do, why do you accept contributions from these groups if you have not gone to Cuba for yourself to assess the policy as an elected official?
6) Why would you support restricting Americans their right to travel to Cuba, when you have not visited the country yourself to evaluate the policy and the experience?
-If you have not visited Cuba yet, why do you believe you do not have a responsibility to evaluate the impact of these restrictions and the embargo by personally visiting Cuba as an elected public official?
7) How has the embargo been effective in bringing democracy to Cuba? If it has not been effective in bringing democracy to Cuba, why would you continue to support it?
8) If Cuban Americans can now visit their family in Cuba with unlimited visits, why shouldn’t that freedom apply to all Americans? How does restricting and limiting people the right to visit and support their family and friends in Cuba support democratic change in Cuba ?
9) How does the political and economic isolation and humiliation of Cuba through the embargo serve our national American interests?
10) Do you believe with the reality that there are five million Cubans living on the island who have relatives residing here in the United States, that through normal travel, communication, and basic trade the Cuban people will benefit and be inspired to change things on their own in Cuba ?
11) Why is it up to the United States to force Cuba to change into a democracy like us? What other countries do we do this to? What has been our track record and costs in imposing “regime change”? Isn't this something that the Cuban people should be doing themselves? Isn't it more powerful for the United States to be an influence for democracy in Cuba through our citizens, products, and services reaching the Cuban people while respecting their sovereignty as a foreign nation? Didn’t President Obama state that we will not impose change on foreign countries?
12) Why is Cuba one of the most expensive countries to call by telephone, averaging more than a dollar per minute in cost?
- Will you be willing to support efforts to lower the cost of basic communication between the United States and Cuba by allowing and licensing telecommunications companies to negotiate with the Cuban government and telephone companies to reduce telephone call rates to make it more affordable to call Cuba? It will require the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terror List. Will you call upon the President to reassess this designation regarding Cuba?
13) The Cuban government has stated publicly that it will arrest and jail any Cuban who receives money from the U.S. government for the purpose to subvert and overthrow their government. We may not like nor agree with the Cuban system of government. However, isn't U.S. government funding of dissidents in Cuba then tantamount to subjecting them to being arrested and jailed?
14) We say we want political prisoners freed in Cuba now- why won't we negotiate with the Cuban government for their freedom then?
15) Cuba is a haven for a number of American fugitives from justice - why won't we negotiate with the Cuban government to obtain their extradition?

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