United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Thursday, July 1, 2010

U.S. Cuba Relations – Let the Games Begin-The House Agriculture Committee Markup of HR 4645

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee marked up and reported favorably to the full House, HR 4645, a bill which will lift the travel restrictions for all Americans and remove agricultural trade restrictions which hurt both American farmers and the Cuban people. This was a victory for American values, and a message to the Cuban people that we will end our isolation of them. Amidst a sea of ignorance fueled by waves of political arrogance, Chairman Peterson navigated choppy waters to get the measure off to its next port of call, the House Rules Committee and then the full House where its fate will lie.

As I watched the proceedings I was struck by the following thoughts. I believe there is unanimity that we all want better days and change for Cuba and the Cuban people. I believe that there is also unanimity that their communist form of government is repressive and an economic failure. The Cuban brand of socialism is in dire need of reform. But this is the problem of the Cuban people who live on the island, not ours. They will figure it out. We could be a positive influence for them, though not in the midst of travel restrictions and an embargo.

If our policies of travel restrictions and the embargo were such good ideas and so effective, why must a minority group of less than 5000 wealthy Cuban Americans raise and spend consistently year after year between one million to two million dollars in political PAC contributions to maintain such offensive and stupid policies? Why does this group and community want to hurt their own brethren, the Cuban people and the American people? Of course Washington will oblige the insanity…every politician needs a campaign check. Unfortunately, they will keep that insanity going on for as long as the next check can be written. And true to that reality, every Congressman who spoke out against the legislation yesterday had already received a check from the embargo PAC. Yet none have ever visited Cuba for themselves to assess the impact of our policies for themselves. All they know about Cuba is what they have been told and that an individual, a Cuban American, gave them a campaign donation with a request to consult with them in the future on Cuba issues in the Congress.

Then the show began. Its about human rights, we were told by Congressman Tom Rooney (R-Fl). That may be part of the discussion Congressman, but our nation sends mixed messages on human rights. And the rest of the world knows it. We can’t treat China and Saudi Arabia one way and treat Cuba another way. Our hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. America is at its best when we lead the world by example of our values, not by the imposition of them. Even Cuba’s most well known dissidents living in Cuba wrote a letter clearly stating they want these restrictions lifted. Reference was made to a letter of several hundred Cubans who to want to keep the restrictions. Mr. Rooney failed to state that letter was signed by Cubans, most of whom are here in the United States! Mr. Rooney continues on to warn us Cuba is a debt ridden nation, billions in debt and unable to pay its bills. Well, our nation is also debt ridden to the tune of trillions, and when we had a surplus that could have helped paid off that national debt, Mr. Rooney’s party during the Bush Administration went on a spending spree and took us into two wars and a financial crisis which, well you know, we are living its consequences. President Obama could not even catch a break when he got sworn in.

He pleads we are going to be helping communists if we allow travel and more trade. Really? Aren’t we helping communists right now in China, our largest creditor, and its neighbor, Vietnam by engaging in travel and trade with them? If we want to defeat communism, then we need to do it by example and by sound economics. Cuba’s political and economic system is fundamentally flawed, whether or not we travel or trade with them. The Cubans know this and they will have to deal with it. But it is their problem to deal with, not ours. Our rights as Americans have been violated by the travel ban and the embargo.

Cuba is a dangerous terrorist country though he exclaims and a threat to our national security. Not according to many of our military and political experts. The real test for Congressman Rooney to see the real threat to Americans is to go to Havana and yell out “I’m an American” on any street and see what happens. Most likely a Cuban will greet him with a handshake, offer him a cafecito, and talk baseball, Hollywood movies, or the relative they have living in the U.S. Yell “I’m an American” in other parts of the world like the Middle East and see what happens. The reality is today an American is probably safer traveling in Havana than in many other countries around the world. What does Congressman Rooney really know about Cuba other than the check he got from the embargo PAC and the statement he read like if he was seeing his own statement for the first time? The video speaks for itself.

The same could be said for Congressman Joe Baca (D-Ca). On the embargo PAC teat for many years now, he read his statement like, well see the video for yourself. His remarks literally speak volumes. It was a lesson on how not to be a shill for your political patrons. He too, has never been to Cuba.

Congressman Frank Kratovil (D-Md), who voted for the bill, yet received an embargo PAC donation, raised the issue of Alan Gross, the American, currently held in a Cuban jail for bringing unauthorized communications equipment into Cuba. I believe there is unanimity that Mr. Gross should be freed. However, his case begs the question of why we are spending taxpayer monies and sending our fellow Americans into Cuba and violating their laws? The Congressman wants Mr. Gross released. So do I, his family, and everyone else who cares about all the humanitarian issues that shape the U.S. Cuba landscape. However, Mr. Gross is only part of a larger human issue that travails on both sides. Why doesn’t the Congressman go meet personally with Cuban officials to investigate the matter further?

Then there were the remarks of Congressman Michael Conaway (R-Tx) whose words reflected a broader issue regarding the contextual problem of our current relationship with the rest of our Latin American neighbors. He stated that we were “telling Panama and Colombia what to do” and that was why those nations should receive the benefits of expanded trade with us. He seemed to be oblivious that particularly in Latin America, no nation wants to be “told what to do” by the United States. In the 21st century, Latin America wants to work with the United States, not be directed by it. They want partnership with us. Considering a difficult history of fifty five interventions in Latin America, our neighbors are eager for some deference. Latin America has been asking to deal with us in a new context, on equal terms, in mutual respect meaning respecting national sovereignty. As much as Latin America admires our country, our people, and respects our military power, they do not want to be “told what to do” by any country. The Congressman should travel all around Latin America and see why our relationship with many Latin American countries remains stagnant. His district and the state of Texas will be all the more better for it. This is fundamentally the opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate in action through new policies with a departure from this mentality. It no longer serves our national interests. Travel restrictions and the embargo no longer serve America’s interests.

As the machinations of parliamentary maneuvers to stop the bill in Committee failed, the bill came up for a final vote, and passed 25-20. It was sent to the full House for consideration. Some challenging days lie ahead to get to final passage. The embargo PAC is going to be calling in its chits and political favors. We will be sharing with you on these developments. While one battle is over, another one has just begun. If you care about this issue then you must get personally involved and let your Senators and Representative know your views on this issue. The truth is, the majority of our nation wants an end to travel restrictions and the embargo. Its time for our leaders to listen to the people instead of the money.


Anonymous said...

Your writing is brilliant!