United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Monday, November 23, 2009

Money Equals Commitment – Wag The Dog

We received the following comment from a visitor to our blog,

“"Money equals commitment."
A very real yet, disheartening statement. It is really repulsive to know that in a democracy money buys votes, money influences opinion and money determines policy. What message does that send the people of Cuba? Isn’t that very statement one of the reasons Castro got to where he is in the first place?”
and in the aftermath of the Travel Ban Hearing, it is important to discuss this point in perspective. The hard truth about our democracy and political system is that it is driven by monied interests and acts not always what is in the best interests of the country or even the moral thing to do. Look no further than the current health care debate and you will see that the health care reform debate is not about assuring all Americans access to health care, but about preserving the for-profit health insurance system regardless whether millions of Americans will continue to go without coverage. The majority of our country wants a public option in the health care system. Yet, the private health insurance system will ensure that the option never survives the current congressional debate. The public option represents the end of their notions of profitability and business model. The debate is driven by the monied interests – the health insurance lobby, and our politicians depend on the contributions of these interests, to the detriment of the country and the people they are supposed to represent. This is critical why some kind of transformative campaign finance reform must be enacted in the future. Instead of increasing the amount an individual can give, it should be reduced substantially. Today those with more money effectively have a louder voice than those without money or enough money to compete with them. That’s why running for office in our country is primarily a money game.
In the case of U.S. Cuba politics and even this hearing, this is what it boils down to. The Cuba embargo PAC has approximately 5000 contributors and when you analyze the donor base, it is mainly wealthy Cuban Americans hardliners who can afford to make contributions of $5000. About half of their money comes such donors.
My friends and family in south Florida were shocked to learn they are the ignorant and unwary consumers of many of these prominent business owners who are supporting the hardline position to keep the very travel restrictions in place that their consumers oppose!
Lifting the Cuba Travel Ban issue has been largely led by non-profit organizations within the limits they are allowed to by IRS regulations, which bars them from direct political activities. This handicaps them as they cannot effectively compete with the perception altering influence that the political donations obtain. Whoever said in this equation that the truth matters? It does not. Again, every Member of Congress at the hearing who spoke against lifting the travel restrictions had two things in common – they received campaign donations from the embargo PAC and but for the two that were born in Cuba, all had never even traveled to Cuba to evaluate our policies firsthand. Yet they were taking a position about an issue that most do not even have firsthand knowledge.
Also notoriously absent from the hearing were the travel and agricultural industries and more constitutional and foreign policy experts, all who could have easily testified to the groundswell of support and rationale to lifting of travel restrictions and the positive economic impact it will have in both countries and especially the state of Florida. There was no attention paid to the current travel situation and exorbitant costs faced by Cuban Americans and others who travel to Cuba today. But the focus was kept to the contentious issue of human rights and events occurring in Cuba now that we actually have little influence on largely in part because we maintain these restrictions. The embargo PAC does not want our country to recognize the Cuban government led by Raul Castro now. The justification is due to the human rights abuses in Cuba which we are told is the center of our policy now in Cuba. Why isn’t this the center of our foreign policy with other countries who are notorious human rights violators as well? Our hypocrisy on this point stinks to high heaven. And the rest of the world knows this. What we do know is that our present policies have not done anything to improve the human rights situation in Cuba. But it does not matter to the Congressmen who sat there and railed against lifting the travel ban. They are getting a check they need badly for their re-elections and on the surface – who does not want there to be improved human rights in Cuba? The political translation that was not allowed to get made at the hearing was that restricting our American rights to travel do not need to be sacrificed to obtain that noble policy objective.
I think the majority in Congress understands this and why there is a close enough coalition of members who will vote to lift the travel ban. Everyone wants improved human rights in Cuba. But to get this ultimately to law is going to take a winning coalition of the Cuban American and American majorities that want these travel restrictions lifted now through political action in concert with the travel and agricultural industries. That is the task that lies ahead before successfully translating this into political reality.