Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sanctions on Cuba need closer look

Sanctions on Cuba need closer look
February 21, 2014

On a recent trip to Cuba organized by CHICLE Language Institute in
Carrboro, I saw in Havana the lovely Colonial buildings with crumbling
facades as well as those that are being rehabilitated and finished with
bright colors. I saw the vintage American cars from the 1950s and '60s
that have been kept alive by genius backyard mechanics and painted in
vivid neon hues. I saw the work of amazing artists, in public squares,
galleries and homes. I saw grand, modern resorts on the sea.

I heard music everywhere, in every restaurant and bar and on the street.
I was impressed by a vital culture and a friendly people.

Undermining all this was a sense of infrastructural decay, a shortage of
goods we take for granted and poverty. We stayed in a hotel with a
luxuriously renovated lobby but dimly lit rooms with showers and toilets
that barely functioned. We suffered some pretty bad food but also
enjoyed dinners in lovely restaurants that Cubans cannot afford to
patronize. We peered into the grim, barely stocked stalls where Cubans
buy food with their ration stamps. We heard about doctors who drove
taxis because they made too little money being doctors.

It seemed that those in the tourist trade have the best jobs of all, as
do artists, because these are the people who get money from outside the

Our vivacious guide spoke with great pride of the accomplishments of her
country's government: free health care for all, free education through
college, a 98 percent literacy rate. She also issued frequent reminders
that this is a work in progress, that it takes time to deal with the
problems – and that it would make a huge difference if the U.S. dropped
its trade embargo against Cuba.

"We don't want your McDonald's," she said. What Cubans want, she said,
is to have normal relations with the country next door, a country that
is only a 45-minute flight away. They want to be able to buy buses,
cars, equipment and medicine in the U.S. instead of from China, halfway
around the world.

Our new bus from China is used by tourists. Cubans travel in decrepit
buses, trucks with beds converted for seating, in horse and carriage, on
bicycle and, of course, in old American cars. The resort hotels are
co-owned by the Cuban government and foreign businesses. The people who
stay there are tourists.

We spoke to no dissenters. Our travel was scripted, no doubt, as
Americans travel there under restrictive orders. We are the only country
that restricts travel to Cuba, and Cuba is the only country to which the
U.S. restricts travel. We ran into other foreign travelers, from
England, France, Germany. And in conversations, those travelers were
quick to ask, "Why?" Why does the U.S. hang on to a 52-year old embargo?

The New York Times reported this month that results of a recent survey
showed a major shift in American attitudes toward Cuba, including among
Cuban-Americans and Floridians who have historically resisted friendly
relations with Cuba.

"The survey found that 56 percent of respondents nationwide favor
changing Cuba policy, a majority that jumps to 63 percent among Florida
adults and 62 percent among Latinos nationwide. While support is
strongest among Democrats and independents, the survey showed 52 percent
of Republicans also favor normalization," the Times reported.

A member of our group spoke with a local legislator who said, frankly,
that this change was not on anyone's agenda and probably would not
happen, especially in today's bipartisan climate. But maybe, with
increased travel to Cuba, that can change.

I am no expert in economics; I have only a surface knowledge of the
history of relations with Cuba, before, during and after the Cuban
revolution. But now I've been to Cuba. And that makes a difference.

In half a century, the embargo has failed to bring down Cuba's
communist, repressive government. In fact, the U.S.-imposed isolation
might have made it stronger. With more open borders, dissident Cubans
might have a stronger voice and effect on the general populace both
there and here.

Sharon Campbell of Chapel Hill is a retired journalist.

Source: Sanctions on Cuba need closer look | Other Views |
NewsObserver.com -

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