Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lift the embargo – but liberate Cuba first

Lift the embargo – but liberate Cuba first
By Jeff Jacoby | GLOBE COLUMNIST JUNE 25, 2014

AT A June 12 appearance in New York before the Council on Foreign
Relations, Hillary Clinton made the familiar argument for ending the US
trade embargo against Cuba, the same one critics of the policy have been
making for years.

"The embargo is Castro's best friend," the former secretary of state
said; it provides the Havana regime with "an excuse for everything."
Scrapping sanctions would "change the psychology of this issue" and
improve US relations with the rest of the hemisphere. So "we should
advocate for normalizing relations and see what [Cuba's rulers] do."

A few hours earlier, Cuba's rulers had been doing one of the things they
do best: persecuting peaceful dissidents. More than 40 pro-democracy
activists were rounded up on June 11, and several were allegedly beaten
by security agents. One of Cuba's most respected dissidents, Jorge Luís
García Pérez, widely known as Antúnez, said he was battered and choked
into unconsciousness in a police station in Santa Clara, according to
the Miami Herald. State security officials warned Antúnez to stop
collecting signatures on a petition condemning international efforts to
reduce US sanctions against Cuba.

In Cuba, as in the United States, it requires no bravery to publicly
oppose the embargo. Cubans who publicly support it, on the other hand,
risk being prosecuted for committing a crime punishable by up to 15
years imprisonment. Clinton's critique of the US embargo drew attention
because she is a potential candidate for president. But what really
merits the headlines is the courage shown by the hundreds of ordinary
Cuban citizens openly urging the free world not to do more business with
the dictatorship that for so long has kept Cuba on its knees.

Conventional wisdom holds that the US embargo has persisted only because
Cuban-Americans in Florida, a key voting bloc, strongly defend it.
Florida International University generated some media notice last week
with a new poll showing that by a narrow majority, Cubans living in
metropolitan Miami — the capital of the Cuban American community —
actually oppose the embargo. Critics quickly flagged some glaring
problems with the poll, such as the 90 percent of respondents who
claimed to be registered voters, while only 62 percent said they were US
citizens. And the reported results filtered out the "unsures," which on
the embargo question amounted to 12 percent of respondents. Including
those numbers in the overall tally would show 45 percent against the
embargo — a plurality, not a majority.

Yet the focus on polling data is a distraction. The US economic embargo
is not the cause of Cuba's misery. The Castro tyranny is. Unilaterally
repealing the embargo would not weaken that tyranny by flooding the
island with American tourists, consumer goods, and democratic notions,
as sanctions opponents romantically imagine. Nearly 3 million tourists
already visit Cuba annually, hundreds of thousands of Americans among
them. In recent years, more tourists have traveled to Cuba from the
United States than from any other country except Canada.

The trade embargo is far from hermetic. Since 2000, US exporters have
sold close to $5 billion in food, agricultural, and medical goods to
Cuba — for several years, in fact, the United States was Cuba's
fifth-largest trade partner. Meanwhile, Cuba has had the rest of the
world to do business with, unfettered by embargoes or Florida politics.

If tourism and trade were going to undermine Cuba's communist regime, it
would surely have toppled long ago. But engagement with totalitarians
doesn't turn them into free and democratic neighbors. Rather, it
empowers them to crack down on their subjects with even greater
impunity. According to Elizardo Sanchez, a well-known human rights
activist in Havana, detentions of dissidents have spiked, reaching more
than 3,800 in just the first four months of 2014, far above the previous
high of 2,795 two years ago.

The embargo, or what remains of it, is not chiseled in granite. It is,
however, codified in US law. The Helms-Burton Act, signed by Hillary
Clinton's husband in 1996, allows the embargo to be lifted once the
Cuban government legalizes political opposition, frees its political
prisoners, and schedules democratic elections. Cuban dissidents insist
on that point at the risk of going to prison. Shouldn't American
politicians, with nothing at risk but their credibility, insist on it as

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

Source: Lift the embargo – but liberate Cuba first - Opinion - The
Boston Globe -

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