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“Cuban Embargo Is Way Past Its Usefulness”: An Outdated Strategy That Accomplished Absolutely Nothing

It’s about time that a U.S. president had the courage and common sense to end our ridiculous policy toward Cuba. It was a relic of the Cold War, an outdated strategy that accomplished absolutely nothing except to give the Castro brothers an excuse for the dire poverty in which their citizens live.

President Obama deserves plaudits for his decision to open full diplomatic relations with the island nation for the first time in more than half a century. So does Pope Francis, who intervened to try to break the stalemate between the two countries. The announcement that the United States will open an embassy in Havana was a fitting tribute to the season in which Christians ostensibly turn our attention to peace on Earth and good will toward all men.

Not that there was an outbreak of good will on Capitol Hill. As any fifth-grader could have guessed, Obama’s announcement, which followed more than a year of secret negotiations, was met with outrage among the usual suspects — a bunch of hardliners who insist that the Castros’ dictatorship is such an affront to international norms that a full embargo should continue until… well, until.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the embargo — established in 1962, back when the Soviet Union was enemy No. 1, when the Berlin Wall still divided East and West, and the war in Vietnam was in its infancy — has not done anything to change Cuba’s internal politics. In fact, the opposite may be true: The embargo has hardened the resistance of Fidel Castro, who has found it convenient to blame his economic disasters on the United States.

(Technically, Obama cannot lift the embargo, which was imposed through a series of laws. He can, however, use his executive authority to circumvent much of it.)

Do Fidel and his brother, Raul, engage in human rights abuses? Absolutely. They imprison their critics and have been accused of murdering their rivals. They don’t tolerate free assembly and they restrict speech. They look for excuses to detain Americans, as they did Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who was working to improve Internet access for a Jewish organization. His release helped to set the stage for détente.

In other words, the Castros are dictators. So is Xi Jinping, the president of China, another communist country. Yet President Nixon decided in 1972 that the best way to influence China was through diplomatic contact, and he set about normalizing relations. Few politicians now disagree with that strategy.

The Chinese government tolerates no dissent, imprisons its critics and even restricts religious liberty. But American businesses freely engage in trade with China; U.S. citizens visit as tourists; Chinese students matriculate at our universities. Why should Cuba, which doesn’t have a fraction of the economic or military clout that China has, be regarded as more of a threat to our interests?

In my three reporting visits to Cuba over the last 15 years, I found a country of resilient people who had a strong affinity for the United States. They kept up with Major League Baseball; they circumvented government controls to watch American TV shows; they begged relatives and friends to bring in the latest American music and fashions. The best way to steer them toward a thriving democracy is to encourage more contact between the two countries.

And the fact is that Obama didn’t take a big political risk, despite the hardliners and their continuing drumbeat of criticism. The president enjoys support among Cuban-Americans, even some — like Atlanta political consultant Angelo Fuster — who fled Castro’s takeover. “I think we are on the right path,” Fuster, who has led trade missions to the island, told me.

A Florida International University poll in June found that 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized diplomatic relations, and 52 percent want to ditch the embargo. As pollster Guillermo J. Grenier told The Atlantic, “We are witnessing a clear demographic shift with younger and more recently arrived Cubans favoring a change in policy toward the island.”

Regardless, restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba is the right thing to do. In this season, that ought to be reason enough.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 20, 2014

December 21, 2014 Posted by | Cold War, Cuba, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hypocrite Alert!”: Republicans Believe In The Power Of The Free Market—Except In Cuba, Apparently

On Thursday, the White House announced that Alan Gross and an unnamed Amercan spy would be released from Cuba in exchange for three Cuban spies. President Barack Obama, who campaigned on normalizing relations with Cuba in 2008, has described Gross’s captivity as one of the main impediments to negotiations with Cuba. Speaking from the White House shortly after Gross’s release, Obama described plans to re-establish diplomatic relations, open an embassy in Havana, and ease travel and trade restrictions.

“It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” said Obama. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.”

Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio, a strong believer in the democratic power of free trade, nonetheless denounced Obama’s decision. “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country,” he told Fox News Wednesday morning. “It’s absurd and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.”

Earlier this month, Jeb Bush told a gathering of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, “I would argue that instead of lifting the embargo we should consider strengthening it again to put pressure on the Cuban regime.” Bush, who essentially announced on Tuesday that he’s running for president, has not yet commented on the White House’s policy shift.

Opponents of normalizing relations with Cuba say easing sanctions rewards a dictatorial regime that oppresses its people. However, this notion flies in direct contradiction with the theory that free markets breed democratic institutions. While there are obvious limitations to the democratizing effects of capitalism, the Republican Party has long touted itself as the vanguard of free-trade economics.

For several decades, America’s policy has been to funnel money into democracy promotion efforts in Cuba that have no proven efficacy (and endanger the lives of the Americans implementing the projects). In 2009, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs estimated that the U.S. had spent half a billion dollars over the past 20 years enforcing blockade restrictions and broadcasting pro-democracy messages on Cuban radio and TV stations (which were often blocked by the Cuban government).

There is no precedent for setting full democratic reform as a precondition to economic relations. Since 2011, Raul Castro has implemented 250 economic reforms modeled after the system in Communist China. In the 1970s, the U.S. normalized trade relations with China, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary after they took similar steps to implement preliminary economic reform. Even after economic normalization, the U.S. continued to pressure these countries to improve their human rights practices. As Obama said, “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”

 

By: Jessica Schulberg, The New Republic, December 17, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Free Markets, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Sanity Initiative”: Obama Realizes What 10 Presidents Didn’t; Isolating Cuba Doesn’t Work

President Barack Obama made the dramatic announcement Wednesday that his administration is ending efforts to isolate Cuba that go back more than 50 years. While Congress will have to decide whether to end a formal economic embargo and a ban on casual tourism, senior administration officials said in a White House conference call that they would do everything within their power to end what Obama called a “failed policy.”

“Isolation has not worked,” said Obama from the White House.

Isolation has not helped to promote human rights in Cuba, it has not led to the downfall of the Castro government, and it is a policy carried out by the United States alone in the world. “I do not believe we can continue doing the same thing for five decades and expect a different result,” said Obama in a none too subtle allusion to a popular definition of insanity.

The initiative comes after 18 months of secret talks, with a major impetus provided by Pope Francis, who hosted the final discussions between Cuban and U.S. officials at the Vatican in the fall. (We should have known something was up when Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a year ago.)

On Tuesday, Obama and Raul Castro spoke on the telephone for the better part of an hour, going down the checklist of measures that had been agreed upon in the negotiations.

These included a swap of three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for the last 15 years in exchange for an unnamed “U.S. intelligence asset” who has spent the last two decades in Cuba’s prisons. The asset was said to have provided the vital information that led to the shutting down of three different Cuban spy operations in the United States, including one in the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The release of American contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned for the last five years, was presented by the administration as a humanitarian decision by Havana since he was not an intelligence agent—despite Cuban claims—and thus the U.S. government would not trade spies to gain his release. Clearly the liberation of Gross took place in the context of what might be called a “grand bargain.”

Other measures include the decision to reopen embassies, closed since 1961, and steps to remove Cuba from the State Department list of countries that support terrorism.

There will be a dramatic expansion of the kinds of licenses that will allow Americans to travel legally to Cuba, covering everything from journalism to humanitarian work and help to the private sector on the island. Even if “tourism” is still barred by law, it is difficult to imagine that anyone wanting to visit the island will not be able to find some category that allows that to happen. And visitors can bring up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars back to the U.S. with them.

To help with those purchases, U.S. financial institutions will be able to operate to some extent in Cuba, and, perhaps most importantly, U.S. credit cards and debit cards will start to function.

Obama is arguing that engagement is more likely to bring about change in Cuba than isolation ever did, and his new policy will try to target areas where change is needed and can be made, particularly with regard to human rights, private enterprise, and access to information. (In what may be a significant gesture, Cuba released 53 prisoners on a list provided by the Obama administration although, of course, this was presented as a sovereign decision by Havana.)

The Treasury and Commerce departments also intend to clear the way for the U.S. export to Cuba of goods that will help small private construction firms, entrepreneurs and small farmers. Telecommunications workers and investors clearly will find it easy to travel to Cuba, at least from the American side. A major part of the Obama initiative aims to get more and better Internet access for the Cuban people.

Not the least of the Obama administration’s motives is the sense that the American policy of isolating Cuba has, instead, isolated the United States. Not a single country in the world supported it, including and especially the other countries of the Americas, north and south.

Even in the darkest days of right-wing dictatorships in South America in the 1980s, even they thought it wiser to engage the Castro regime than to attack it so relentlessly and gratuitously that it had an excuse for all its own failings. More than 30 years ago, the Argentine ambassador to Havana, who served the generals in Buenos Aires, would tell visiting reporters, “the best way to make war on Castro is with peace.”

Obama couldn’t say that on Wednesday, of course.

 

By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, Raul Castro | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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