Sunday, June 15, 2008

Discussing the U.S. Embargo vs. Cuba:  Some of the Good Guys are Raising Serious Questions

I'm making this blog entry as something of a blog research note on the issue of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.  It seems that there is an awakening interest among many bloggers I personally count among the "good guys" -- the anti-Castro, true lovers of freedom crowd -- who are urging that the U.S. should rethink the usefulness and/or efficacy of the trade embargo imposed against Cuba.  I think I have seen enough in recent weeks to stop and enter a post here asking readers to consider the matter as something worthy of attention.

First; let me give you some facts.  The "embargo" is a term that is usually used to refer to both the limitation of exports of non-food and non-medicinal American commodities to Cuba, as well as prohibitions against the import of Cuban products into the U.S., especially sugar.  It has been a complicated economic policy that began with an embargo on shipments of military goods to Cuba in March, 1958 that was later expanded to include sanctions against the import into America of Cuban sugar in 1960 and has since undergone periods of revision in both the temporary relaxation of restrictions on U.S. exports to the island, as in the period 1977-1982, interspersed with sometimes complex restrictions on what the levels of American economic contact with Cuba and the Cuban people should be under law.  Exports of American food and medicine always have been permitted, but the big issue is the level of person-to-person contact, which is a matter of major concern among many Cuban immigrant families in the U.S., who would like to be able to send greater financial assistance to their relatives and loved ones remaining on the island.

I am going to skip an overview of the arguments put forth by the pro-Fidel sympathizers here in the U.S., which usually come down to the hateful gringos resenting the rise of a truly democratic [sic] revolution of the left so close to their shores and the policy is implemented on behalf of the Cuban-American "fat cats" in Miami who left with all that money when Castro came to power, and, well; you get that picture clearly enough.  However, I would like to point out that there are two groups calling for either an end to or revision of the embargo who deserve our attention; Cuban dissidents now resident on the island, as well as numerous and genuine "freedom blogger" commentators outside of it.  I think these are people whose arguments merit an examination, because they are working conscientiously to bring an end to Castro's tyranny and I am all for that under any circumstances.

Let me identify three very important Cuban dissident elements who are asking Americans to end the embargo; the well-known Generación Y blogger Yoani Sanchez, prominent Cuban dissident and political activist Martha Beatriz Roque (you can find both on the sidebar), and the organization of women known as the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) who are seeking freedom for Cuban political prisoners.  All three have stood up to the Castro regime under the most difficult of circumstances, which should give them credibility.  And I do not offer this comment by way of suggesting that we should accept their arguments simply because they are Cuban dissidents in place, because Yoani did say she preferred Barack Obama to John McCain and I am in no doubt that Obama has some more than questionable credentials with respect to support for democracy and freedom in Latin America.  He has close ties to some of Hugo Chavez's biggest supporters in America, including George Soros the main man for Evo Morales, along with a near hatred of the Colombian government.  These are but two of many things that make him look dangerous and no matter how hard we try to get him to answer some of the tough questions that would clarify his positions on these issues he refuses to respond, leaving us unassured of his good faith.  But I think we can write off the comments of the Cuban dissidents on Obama to naiveté, since they do not receive all the information we get with easy access to our media.  The important thing for us is to filter out what lies underneath the declarations of the Cuban resistance to Castro -- the embargo is hurting those who are trying to make a difference.  That is a statement worth listening to in my opinion.

There are a few worthy bloggers who have also called for a re-examination of the embargo recently, including at least two who have very high credibility with me for their proven record of consistent activism in the cause of freedom.  Marc Masferrer at Uncommon Sense has been doing an excellent job in tracking the plight of political prisoners in Cuba for some time now, and he recently posted a plea to avoid implementing the embargo in a way that hurts ordinary Cubans, especially the relatives of Cuban-American emigrés who would wish to travel to the island and send amounts of money above the limits imposed by law at present (which were $100 per month according to the last report I read).  Marc had already made a similar statement last year when he identified the problems with permitting one type of trade that benefited American farmers while forbidding transit for Americans of Cuban descent to visit family members; setting up priorities he described as "skewed."  And now Alek Boyd, who for the last three years or more has been one of the most important bloggers publicizing the case against Hugo Chavez and whose work I have followed quite closely has made an even stronger statement, urging that the embargo has been counterproductive as a whole and should be scrapped altogether.  The main points of Alek's argument are that the embargo has strengthened the stature of the Castro regime internationally for the attention it gets in its conflict with the American superpower to the north, the policy has hurt those people in Cuba we would wish to help most, the developing Cuban dissident movement is asking for our assistance by requesting an end to the policy, and removing the embargo will strip the Castro regime of the only excuse it has had to hold up to the Cuban people for its inability to provide them with the promised benefits of a revolution that has failed utterly at every level.

These are two very different approaches to a re-examination of the embargo, and I expect Alek Boyd's proposal will generate some strong opposition among many who pay close attention to the Castro regime.  But I must repeat what I wrote in the previous paragraph, which is that I have read Alek's blogging on numerous issues affecting freedom and democracy in Latin America and I believe his extensive record of service in the causes of each merits a fair hearing for his proposal. 

So what do I think?  Well; like Marc Masferrer I am most concerned about the plight of the Cuban people themselves; especially those who have been cut off from work opportunities by the Castro regime for maintaining contacts with their relatives and loved ones here in the U.S.  I do advocate loosening the restrictions on the amount of money families can send to relatives in Cuba and I would like to see travel restrictions relaxed to make their passage to and from the island a lot easier than it is now.  I recognize that Alek Boyd has presented a very thoughtful and well-intentioned argument against the wisdom of the embargo, but I still see the flip side of its immediate and total elimination as resulting in the gravitation of new financial resources -- read "liquidity" -- into the hands of the regime which would be a counterproductive result and therefore is a course I am unwilling to recommend without seeing some signs of progress on democracy and human rights, and I immediately demand a release of the political prisoners in that regard.

My suggestion for a process that can result in the lifting of the embargo is that we Americans first agree upon a basic principle, which is that we will attempt to separate what benefits the Castro regime from what helps the Cuban people and that we then sit down and ask ourselves how the outlines of a policy that would achieve the genuine aim of improving the condition of ordinary Cubans can best be formulated.  Then we take the first step.

I therefore propose the following three measures:

  • Dramatically raise the limit on monthly cash disbursements American families can send to relatives in Cuba.

  • Ease travel restrictions for Americans wishing to visit their relatives and loved ones on the island.

  • Open up American export trade to Cuba -- which is already larger than many people think for our agricultural products -- to include consumer goods not useful to the regime for purposes other than private use.

  • I recommend that we take the above three steps unilaterally without any preconditions so that we can then turn to the Castro regime and say "it's your turn," leaving the onus to respond entirely upon their shoulders.  And it may be useful to propose a gradualized process of trading one specific step for another in return that will lead eventually to the complete renewal of trade and the full recognition of human rights in Cuba, rather than insisting upon a complete capitulation to all terms at once, which we should understand is a political impossibility for the Castro regime.  However, we must demand the release of all political prisoners as an absolutely necessary first step, and, as distasteful as it may be to bargain, gradually work our way to the restoration of full political rights.

    Step by step, solid action for meaningful response, engaging in an open and meaningful process that produces results and does not imply capitulation for either side.  I do not believe that there will be any turning back for the Castro regime once it starts the process as it will most certainly involve the Cuban people in a way they have never been mobilized before; a development that can have but one result -- freedom.


    1 comment:

    AB said...

    This is an issue that needs to be discussed on the basis of rational, pragmatic arguments, whereby each side gets to defend its point of view. Alas I see very little of what's the most important point of view of them all, in my opinion, that of the victims of the embargo, read the Cuban people.

    You have mentioned in your post St Jacques that Marta Beatriz, Damas de Blanco and Yoani have all spoken against the merits of the embargo. Let me add to that list Oswaldo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, the women from FLAMUR (who are proposing perhaps the most important economic plan for Cuba and have gathered to date 16,000 signatures in support of it), PLNC, Coalicion Juvenil Martiana, Colegio de Pedagogos Independientes de Cuba, independent librarians, former political prisoners Hector Palacios and Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, and an organization carrying out invaluable work with Cuban prisoners, political and common.

    The people named above have these characteristics in common: either they are all in Cuba, or have recently been freed from Castro's prisons, they're all dissidents that have confronted Castro in Cuba, and let me tell you, that takes some extraordinary courage. In fact I am convinced these people are made of a different mettle.

    However they are not listened to. The agenda continues to be dictated by clueless American politicians trying to pander to the expat Cuban community in Miami for electoral purposes. In this respect I ask: is the prospect of getting thousands of votes more relevant than helping 11 million people regain their freedom?