Posted on Sunday, 06.22.14
Marc Caputo: Revising history, Hillary Clinton's Cuba flip-flop not
really a 'Hard Choice'
BY MARC CAPUTO
Too bad Florida International University's latest poll, which showed
Miami-Dade Cubans increasingly oppose the embargo of the island nation,
didn't ask respondents just two more questions:
1. Do you favor lifting the embargo only if Cuba holds open and fair
elections, releases political prisoners and allows for a free press and
2. Does Hillary Clinton need a time machine?
OK. Maybe No. 2 wouldn't make the cut.
Now that the erstwhile secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady
is plugging her new book and publicly reversing her long-held positions
on Cuba, her memory about the embargo, its effect and its history seem a
"I recommended to President Obama that he take another look at our
embargo," Clinton writes in her book, Hard Choices. "It wasn't achieving
its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America."
Putting aside the debate about the embargo's effectiveness or
fecklessness, just what did Clinton want Obama to "look at" and how? If
she advocated that Obama try to lift the entire embargo, as reported
elsewhere, it doesn't make much sense.
Obama, or any president, can't do it alone.
And Clinton can greatly credit one person for that: Bill Clinton, her
As president, Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 just after the
Castro regime shot down the spotter planes of Brothers to the Rescue, a
Cuban-rafter aid group. Helms-Burton essentially "codified" the
longstanding embargo by taking a series of executive orders, dating back
to 1960, and making it federal law.
To undo the embargo, it takes an act of Congress — no easy feat with
this bunch of partisan do-littles.
"Up until the time Bill Clinton signed Helms-Burton, the president could
have said unilaterally: 'I'm lifting the embargo.' He can't do that
now," said Robert L. Muse, a Washington attorney and lobbyist who's both
an embargo expert and opponent.
Muse, though, points out that the president has authority for
"piecemeal, ad hoc" workarounds that could effectively expand some trade
through certain types of licensing. But the next president — think Miami
Republicans Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush — could or would just as well
reverse that decision.
So it's really unclear just what Hillary Clinton wanted Obama to "take
another look at" — rum, cigars, hotel deals, alleged medical
breakthroughs the Cuban government touts?
It's also tough to find where Hillary Clinton, while on book tour, has
mentioned her husband's responsibility in signing Helms-Burton.
On June 12, at the Council of Foreign Relations, she referenced how "the
Brothers to the Rescue plane [was] shot down, ensuring there would be a
reaction in the Congress that would make it very difficult for any
president to lift the embargo alone." Then she immediately decided to
"fast forward" and talk about Cuba under the Obama administration.
Not so fast. That's historical revisionism by omission.
The shoot down didn't just make lifting the embargo "very difficult" —
it directly led President Clinton to strengthen the embargo by signing
Helms-Burton. And Hillary Clinton didn't point that out at all.
Going back in time, to March 12, 1996, at the White House, here's what
Bill Clinton said at the Helms-Burton signing ceremony:
"The legislation I sign today further tightens that embargo. It sends a
strong message to the Cuban government — we will not tolerate attacks on
United States citizens and we will stand with those, both inside and
outside Cuba, who are working for a peaceful transition to freedom and
Under Helms-Burton, the embargo would be lifted if Cuba held free and
fair elections, frees political prisoners and allows for a free press
and labor unions.
That's why FIU, in its poll released last week, probably should have
asked about this as well. Such a question would gauge the depth of
support or opposition to the embargo once people were informed or
reminded about its intent.
FIU's poll didn't ask that for a basic reason: It has had the same
questions in 11 polls since 1991 (before Helms-Burton was signed). FIU
wants to keep the survey the same to measure changes in attitudes over
time involving the island as seen by Cubans in Miami-Dade, the hotbed of
The trend over two decades: support for the embargo among Miami-Dade
Cubans has steadily declined by as much as 39 percentage points while
support for unrestricted travel (a separate issue with its own
complications) has increased 25 points.
Now, the embargo is opposed 45-41 percent. It's still supported,
however, by registered Cuban-American voters. They tend to be more
conservative and older.
A Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald poll conducted this month by Bendixen &
Amandi International found that Miami-Dade Cuban voters supported the
embargo 56-36 percent, but voters in the entire county were essentially
tied over the embargo 45-46.
But the Herald poll also indicated, in Miami-Dade, that a candidate who
espouses a softer line on Cuba could suffer more than he gains in the
county. We'll need more polling — and elections — to see how that plays
out in the county and state.
Opposition to the embargo appears far more outsized across the rest of
Florida. A recent Public Policy Polling survey said state voters
disfavored the policy 53-22 percent.
A survey from the Atlantic Council also indicated Floridians wanted to
normalize relations with Cuba by 63-30 percent. None of the polls asked
people if the embargo should unilaterally be lifted.
Still, it's tough not to see a change. There are the scientific polls.
And there are anecdotes: the pamphleteers on Calle Ocho passing out
fly-to-Cuba adverts to idling motorists; one of the Fanjul sugar baron
brothers now calling for normalization, etc.
And politicians are changing, too. First, Democrat Charlie Crist
reversed his Cuba hardline that he once held as a GOP governor. Now
Hillary Clinton is sporting her Cuba flip-flops.
Like her husband four years before, Clinton in 2000 talked about the
need for democratization in Cuba, as Helms-Burton required, while she
ran for senate. In the 2008 presidential elections, she remained on message.
"Until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of
the Cuban government that they have to move toward democracy and freedom
for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our
policy," she said at a Dec. 2, 2007, debate in Iowa.
But now she believes the embargo is Castro's "best friend," despite the
regime's efforts to end it? Now she appears to believe Cuba will
democratize more if the United States unilaterally drops the embargo
(insert tangential argument about China here)?
Clinton's new position isn't new, nor is her old one. The pros and cons
are as old as the embargo, about 54 years.
The arguments were well established in 1996. That wasn't just the year
of Helms-Burton. It was a presidential election year. Almost as soon as
the Brothers to the Rescue planes went down in flames, Bill Clinton
pledged to sign Helms-Burton.
The pro-embargo bandwagon beckoned.
And Lincoln Diaz-Balart, then a Republican congressman from Miami, made
sure to add the codification of the embargo to the act, which tightened
restrictions on Cuba in other ways.
"I knew he would have to sign it, even though he didn't want to,"
Diaz-Balart said. "He signed it because it was an election. And it
worked. He got 35 percent of the Cuban vote."
That percentage earned by Clinton helped him become the first Democrat
in 20 years to win Florida, and it marked a 15-point improvement from
his 1992 margin with Cuban voters, according to Florida exit polls.
Now the polling is changing. Another presidential election looms and
another Clinton is changing position on Cuba in anticipation of a
No need for a time machine to explain this. Politicians who reverse
their positions in response to polling are as old as democracy — even
older than Fidel Castro.
And poll-tested election-driven conversions are hardly "Hard Choices."
Source: Marc Caputo: Revising history, Hillary Clinton's Cuba flip-flop
not really a 'Hard Choice' - Marc Caputo - MiamiHerald.com -