Havana Hypocrisy

Pledging to not liberalize trade with Cuba remains for most candidates one of the de facto requirements for getting elected, and even though any thinking person can easily grasp the utter silliness of arguments for the status quo. (Remind me again: How did more than four decades of a trade embargo succeed in democratizing Cuba?)

In the coming months, we will witness the political debate over Cuba being held hostage once again by a fervid group of conservative, anti-Castro activists in south Florida whose minds were closed long ago to political reality and the inconsistencies of their right-wing sycophants. It is past time for a national candidate to speak the truth with boldness: Our policy toward Cuba is a failure and if we really cared for the welfare and self-determination of the Cuban people, we’d stop reflexively pandering to the dwindling horde of Cuban exiles and stand up for a policy that combines openness with tough-minded negotiation.

Our co-director Robert Borosage makes the case for such a stance in The Huffington Post:

Castro has now outlasted nine U.S. presidents. We’ve sponsored a failed invasion of the island, hired failed assassinations to take him out, tried to poison him so his beard would fall out (really), poisoned crops, fouled up bearings, and much else. And through thick and thin, missile crises and détente, Cold War and Soviet collapse, administration after administration has sustained an embargo against this little island 90 miles off our shores.

The embargo has helped, no doubt, to impoverish the Cuban people. It has also helped to make Castro a nationalist hero throughout Latin America and much of the world. It has done nothing for nearly five decades to advance democracy, civil liberties or capitalism in Cuba. Even its economic effects have diminished over time. It once cribbed tourism, and, once the Soviet Union went belly up, put a squeeze on oil. Now the Europeans and Canadians populate the Cuban beaches. And Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is happy to provide Cuba with the oil it needs.

Cuba is a small island, 90 miles off our shores. Its people are proud and nationalistic. They also get island fever. Their relatives across the straits let them know what they’ve been missing economically. There is little doubt that had the U.S. normalized relations with Cuba, opened up trade, encouraged travel and exchanges, Cuba would have been transformed long ago. The détente that worked its magic on the Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe would have been much more powerful in Cuba.

Borosage goes on to point out that we still carry an all-too-robust trade with China —$321.5 billion in imports in 2007, for a trade deficit of $256 billion — in spite of China’s lack of democracy and human rights violations. We denounce Hugo Chavez as a dictator, but we still import Venezuelan oil, 858,000 barrels of it a day in March.

Our trade deficit with China is debilitating to our economy as well as a moral embarrassment, but we live with it, in part, the argument goes, because our financial relationship with that country has made that Communist nation less of a hostile adversary and made its people more open to Western influence. The only reason to continue the opposite stance with Cuba, as Borosage says, is “a kind of purblind inertia. We do it because we can; who cares if it doesn’t work.”


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