United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

United States Cuba Relations – Why U.S. Cuba Policy Does Not Change: Asymmetrical Absurdity

It’s the perennial chant, “when is U.S. Cuba policy going to change?”  Well it is not going to change anytime soon unless those who really want to change it actually do what is required to change it.  Similarly you have to ask yourself what is going on and hold those leading the charge accountable.

Over the last decade we have seen many attempts to change U.S. Cuba policy beginning with lifting the travel ban.   All have failed.  Most recently, we have seen the efforts to remove Cuba from the Terror List, a designation that Cuba does not deserve and only serves to keep costs higher between the two countries, also fail.  Conversely, we have seen the hand of the pro-embargo hardliners grow bigger and stronger.  Legislation to expand Cuba travel is consistently blocked or thwarted in Congress.  Funding for clandestine “Democracy” programs like the ones that got Alan Gross into a Cuban prison, still continue to be funded.  The pro-embargo voting bloc raises money and elected six Members of Congress to be their vanguards on the floors of Congress.  Their capacity to even reach into the White House, the Executive Branch, and establish themselves in gateway leadership positions in the Congress all speak to a well concerted political effort.  Government officials and policy makers have to tow the hard line through the veiled and actual threats of holding up Presidential appointments or congressional funding.  Intelligence and reason have taken a back slide to raw political power.  Meet the consequences of distorted politics.

The problem lies in the dynamics of the debate.  The ongoing U.S. Cuba policy debate is essentially between two sides – an inside the beltway nonprofit NGO led pro-travel/engagement side versus hardline Cuban American exiles who are engaged politically in textbook fashion.  It is Washington DC versus New Jersey and Florida. One side is hobbled trying to play a game it can never win.  The other plays politics all by itself and wins all the time.   The perpetual stalemate in any progress to change U.S. Cuba policy is a result of this absurd political asymmetry.  Both sides suffer from delusion.  Changing U.S. Cuba policy requires a very basic schematic diagram.   Through the political action of organizing votes and raising money can one set in motion what is actually required to change laws.  It is not done through petitions, emails, or telephone calls alone.  Those are only useful only when they are backed up by votes and money.  What does votes and money mean?  It means you have to organize your policy position around a demonstrable voting bloc.  Politicians need to know who is electing them and why they are being elected.  Money means everyone who believes in your issue actually puts up some money, even if  it is a small donation.  Lots of small donations will amount to big money.  Money means commitment in politics.   Where are the voters who support candidates who will vote to change U.S. Cuba policies?    Where are the contributors to candidates and political action committees who will help finance their elections?  Our political system is not publicly financed.  It is privately financed and depends on donations from all of us.  There are literally tens of thousands of Americans who support lifting the travel ban, but they do not contribute the political funds necessary to make it happen.  “What is my $25 going to do?”, said one individual to me.  Do the math.  If, for example, each one of the more than thirty thousand who like a pro-Cuba travel Facebook page became contributors of $25 each and pooled that money, there would be plenty of funds available to actually support and elect candidates who will vote to end our stupid policies with Cuba.  And if you say you want to end the travel ban but you are not willing to put up even $25 to make it happen, then how committed to changing it are you?   U.S. Cuba policy change apparently has many supporters but still lacks commitment.

What is going on is a neutered lobbying campaign that has no real means to achieve the results they say they stand for.  The pro-travel lobby has no head or arms through its deliberate absence of politics!  A successful lobbying campaign requires a political component to back it up.  Have any doubts?  Look at the power of the National Rifle Association in the recent battle over background checks for guns.  The NRA won simply because politically they can show they have more votes and more money than gun victims can.   It is going to take more than just intelligent arguments for background checks to get the law changed.  It is going to take votes and money.   Those are the rules of the game without exception. 

There is also a perception problem.  The organizations involved portray a strategy that somehow they are getting results.   They claim and rally that the next change in Cuba policy is only either; a petition, a think tank sponsored congressional member/staff trip to Cuba; or advertisement campaign away from changing the law.  How is this possible when these organizations CANNOT organize votes or raise political money?  It is not.  So why are they leading the charge to change U.S. Cuba policy?  Why is all the support for changing U.S. Cuba policy concentrated into organizations who effectively can’t do the job in the first place?  There is a role for these organizations, but it is certainly not in the leadership position they currently occupy on these issues.  Moderate Cuban Americans and Americans who support change must organize and take the lead.

The political asymmetry also has a reciprocal consequence for the pro-embargo side.  The lack of any effective challenge to them has led them to engage in the most extreme tactics, intolerance, hyperbole, and language.  Most of all, they seem oblivious to themselves.  Recently, when they attacked the effort to delist Cuba from the terror list, one Member of Congress presented the reasons why Cuba should remain on the list.  One only has to apply the same criteria to that region of South Florida and ask whether Miami qualifies to be on an urban domestic terror list of sorts?  There are still unsolved bombings of Cuba travel agencies, and alleged and confessed masterminds of plane bombings and violence who are allowed to walk and live freely on the streets of Miami.  Oblivious.  Similarly, when the issue of human rights came up during the recent visit of notable Cuban dissidents, did any of them realize that our country has the highest per capita prison population rate in the world? The state of Florida is on the top ten list of states with the highest prison population rates!  The city of Miami is one of America’s poorest cities with one of every five residents living at or below the poverty level! This attitude of “my hypocrisy is not really evident or relevant” exudes from this delusional political asymmetry.   And if you disagree with them, all of sudden you’re labeled a communist too. 

This leads to interesting political dynamics among candidates who are pro-travel.  Take the examples of the Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fl) and Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fl).  Congresswoman Castor did the most courageous and bold thing a Florida congressman do, take a stand to lift the Cuban embargo, remove Cuba from the terror list, and end the travel ban.  Rep. Castor reached these conclusions after a recent trip to Cuba.  However, she traveled through the auspices of an inside the beltway think tank instead of organizing and going on that trip with her own constituents, the majority of whom support her position on Cuba.  The result – Rep. Castor was severely criticized by a vocal minority in her district.  Supporters literally had to issue a public statement of support in a local Tampa newspaper.  Contrast this with the financial score that the think tank involved will obtain and rely upon to tell its funders to keep writing a check to it – they take Members of Congress to Cuba.   That helps change U.S. Cuba policy.  True, but only to a extent.   Rep. Castor now must marshal political support to protect her from what is coming next November from the other side.  Ms. Castor deserves the measureable expression of support for her from everyone who is pro U.S. Cuba policy change by sending a campaign contribution of any legal amount to her campaign.   Rep. Garcia (D-Fl) has a challenge as well.  It was reported that he had signed a letter with other hardliners to support keeping Cuba on the Terror list. After speaking with him directly, he stated that he had not signed such letter.   While Rep. Garcia played a significant role supporting family visits, remittances, and restoring people to people travel to Cuba, he finds himself attacked from the both the right and the left of this issue for not going far enough for either side.  Rep. Garcia, a freshman Congressman, is strategically assessing how he is going to win his re-election next year.  He is, as all politicians do, assessing the votes and money to see where his supporters stand. 

If you want to really change U.S. Cuba policy you need to do three basic things:

1) Register to vote and meet with the candidates to express your position.

2) Open your checkbook or credit card and make a donation of any legal amount to a campaign or a political action committee that supports your cause. 

3) Choose to work only with people and groups who can demonstrate their commitment to change through results.

Only by electing candidates who support your position, and defeating those who do not, will the issue be won.   It is that simple.  It is time to make the status quo accountable. The next time you are asked to sign a petition, send an email, make a donation regarding U.S. Cuba policy, you should be asking the solicitor two questions – Is what you are asking me to do going to help organize us into a demonstrable voting bloc? Is the money you are asking me to give going to be used to support and educate candidates who will vote to change our policies when they get elected or re-elected?  Everything else will not matter without these two missing  ingredients required for political success.  November 2014 is only eighteen months away.