United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Sunday, September 19, 2010

United States Cuba Relations: Willful Misgivings

Yesterday, conservative columnist George Will proverbially hit a line drive to right field knocking our current U.S. Cuba policy out of the park with his Washington Post op-ed piece, "Cuba's Castro Learns What We Already Knew"
The salient statement was,

"Today, the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba by means of economic embargoes and travel restrictions serves two Castro goals: It provides an alibi for Cuba's social conditions, and it insulates Cuba from some of the political and cultural forces that brought down communism in Eastern Europe. The 11th president, Barack Obama, who was born more than two years after Castro seized power, might want to rethink this policy, now that even Castro is having second thoughts about fundamentals."
Today, Professor Louis Perez offers more common sense reasons why the embargo must end. In his op-ed on CNN Opinion, http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/09/20/perez.cuba.embargo/

"The United States should consider a change of policy, one that would offer Cubans relief from the all-consuming ordeal of daily life. Improved material circumstances would allow Cubans to turn their attention to other aspirations.
Ending the embargo would also imply respect for the Cuban people, an acknowledgment that they have the vision and vitality to enact needed reforms, and that transition in Cuba, whatever form it may take, is wholly a Cuban affair."

Similarly, Sarah Stephens pointed this out on her piece in the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-stephens/changes-in-cuba-challenge_b_730766.html
Changes in Cuba Challenge Obama's Will to Respond and Change Course.

I believe in responding to Stephen's arguments, that it is more the ignorance of President Obama's advisers and the political arrogance of the anti-travel and pro-embargo pols within the Democratic party that challenge the President's will to do anything. The arguments for lifting the travel ban and ending the embargo intellectually have clearly been won on the basis of reason, logic, public policy, and what is in the strategic interests of the United States. However, where it has failed thus far is the political argument. Its about the money folks. In Washington DC whatever you back, better be backed up by money, and votes. I remember once meeting a prospective client who was willing to spend a lot of money to promote a shoddy product. I warned him that money will only buy the perception he has a great product for some time, but in the end it will still come out that his product was garbage. He did not care. It would buy him time and space in the market, and in his mind, a quick profit in the interim. With money, you can promote stupid, bad, or trash ideas like travel restrictions on our own citizens, and an embargo that does not promote democracy in Cuba, but the mutual economic destruction of the United States and Cuba. Money also gets you an audience and attention in the Congress. $1,000,000.00 in political contributions from the anti-travel/pro-embargo crowd has not only bought the U.S. Congress each election cycle, it also helps buy the ignorant perception that somehow our elected officials are doing the right thing by denigrating our constitutionally principled right to travel and somehow supporting human rights and democracy in Cuba keeping the embargo in place.

Tactically the anti-travel/pro-embargo crowd covers all the important bases. By making sure they have members of Congress who mostly know little of the issue personally, but enjoy the largesse of that political money, they are placed in positions where they can control and influence the rest of their brethren. To wit, we have seen that Reps. Kendrick Meek, who will likely lose the U.S. Senate election in Florida, in part because of his position on Cuba; Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz who is the aspirant to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in the next Congress, but also a dear friend of the Republican Diaz Balarts; and Senator Bill Nelson, who also falsely believes somehow that his re-election is tied to the pro-embargo crowd in Miami all complained to the White House to slow down a Presidential announcement on Cuba travel. Nelson, Wasserman-Schultz, and Meek have never traveled to Cuba. Then you have Cuban born Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), a Deputy Chair of the DCCC to help influence congressional candidates. Top that off with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who also is known to aggravate the Administration with threats to hold up critical legislation, you can see a potent political recipe is in the mix to keep the lid on travel and the embargo. If things don't work out for the Democrats in the House in November, you have plan B in GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen waiting in the wings to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

So what to do? The great opportunity to politically organize the majority of Americans and Cuban Americans who want to lift the restrictions and the travel, agribusiness, and telecommunications industries that will benefit and create badly needed jobs is coming. It will be time to neutralize the dark influence of anti-travel/pro-embargo money and finally throw away in the trash, the travel restrictions to Cuba on our fellow citizens and eventually the embargo with it.

During the past decade efforts to fight these insanities have been led by organizations who are simply not equipped to politically fight these issues to a successful conclusion. They play an important role because they draw attention and reason to the issue. However, they cannot overcome the adversary who knows the game far better and is well entrenched. In Washington DC, you cannot win a political argument if you don't back it up with money and votes. It is going to require a new approach and a test of the commitment of everyone who says they want these policies to end. Are you willing to play the political game to win?


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