United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

United States Cuba Relations: The Berman Fiasco

There is a basic rule in the Washington DC political game: Whoever is most committed wins. How do you know you have commitment in Washington DC? Votes and money.

As many of you have learned or may not know yet, there will be no markup vote on HR. 4645 in the House Foreign Affairs Committee today. http://www.hcfa.house.gov/press_display.asp?id=761 Chairman Howard Berman (D-Ca) demonstrated what we have argued all along, that he is not really committed to passing this legislation. Excuses, excuses, excuses, and then the calendar will run out. As the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, www.responsiblecubapolicy.org had pointed out to me and others, how could a Republican Congressman who as a freshman, Jeff Flake (R-Az), in a Republican controlled Congress back in 2000, got the full House of Representatives then to pass legislation lifting the travel ban (the effort regretfully did not get far enough to become law)? Yet, Chairman Berman (D-Ca), in a Democratic controlled Congress, with a Democratic President, cannot in this congressional term get the travel ban bill to the House floor for a vote? Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Chairman. My Jewish relatives have one expression for your postponement, "Feh!"*

I know many are frustrated about this turn of events. However, it reveals another important lesson in understanding the reality of what we face politically on any issue in America. In Washington DC, there are three classes of people that actually determine what happens in our country. There is the political donor class. Then there are the voters. And then there is everyone else. Who do you think Congress listens to first? Who do you think Congress will spare or favor when tough decisions have to be made?

Now until there is real, transformational, campaign finance reform in our country, issues like the travel ban and Cuba will be driven and controlled by political donors. Remember in the 2010 election cycle alone, even Chairman Berman accepted more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from the anti-travel /pro-embargo crowd. On Monday, a key Washington DC Capitol Hill newspaper, The Hill, published an op-ed written by distinguished retired two star general Paul Eaton, pointing out the stupidity of our travel ban on Cuba,


As it was responded to General Eaton:
"Dear General Eaton, the travel ban a bad idea? where? on Capitol Hill? Its the million dollar giveaway in PAC donations every election cycle courtesy of a group of approximately 1000 mostly wealthy hardline Cuban Americans! They could care less whether our rights to travel or American foreign policy gets wiped on the floor by the rest of the world in the process. Sir, all your arguments are correct, rational, and logical. But who pays attention to that? And the Congress, well, most have never even travelled to Cuba to evaluate our policies there firsthand. The Cuban people have enough to deal with besides our adding to their difficulties with our stupid, failed policies. But who really knows or cares on the Hill?"

And you see, that is the challenge before us, to prove and demonstrate politically that the majority of this country, including Cuban Americans, want our policies changed with Cuba, beginning with the stupid travel ban. To this end, a political action has been established called the United States Cuba Political Action Committee. More about that PAC in future postings. But the premise is simple; a small group of wealthy and influential hardline Cuban Americans and their businesses presently fund the travel ban and the embargo through their political donations. They are approximately less than 1000 in number. Americans who want to travel to Cuba number more than 100,000 and are from across the country, including Florida. Once this constituency gets organized and plays the Washington DC game, it will do it better and more profoundly than the current competition. We can show that the political power of a small donation of say, $25.00 is greater than that of the $5000.00 donor, when that $25.00 is multiplied by a factor of 100,000. And then we will have the money to politically succeed. Those of you who have written letters, emails, traveled to DC, and made telephone calls, get ready to get your checkbooks out. That is of course, if you want to win. - Tony Martinez

* A yiddish term for disgust and disapproval