Saturday, December 26, 2015

Why The Cuba Trade Embargo Still Isn't Going Anywhere

Why The Cuba Trade Embargo Still Isn't Going Anywhere
Neither Congress nor the Castros are committed enough to overturn trade
sanctions yet.
12/26/2015 11:39 am ET | Updated 2 hours ago
Roque Planas
National Reporter, The Huffington Post

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic that's
making headlines around the world. Today, we speak with journalist Ann
Louise Bardach, who has covered Cuba and Cuban-American politics for
more than two decades.
On Dec. 17 last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl
Castro jointly announced that their two governments would launch the
process of normalizing diplomatic relations for the first time since
1961. A flurry of other changes accompanied that watershed moment over
the past year. Americans have much more leeway to travel to the island,
the U.S. struck Cuba from the "State Sponsors of Terrorism" list and
direct mail service will soon be re-established.
At the same time, a half-century trade embargo against the island's
Communist government remains in effect and GOP presidential hopefuls
with personal or political ties to the Cuban-American exile community of
South Florida, including U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz
(R-Texas), along with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have pledged to roll
back the opening toward Cuba.
The WorldPost spoke with Bardach about the future of U.S.-Cuba
relations, whether the trade embargo will end soon, and why Jeb Bush
helped free a Cuban terrorist accused of blowing up a passenger jet
carrying 73 people.
Since the U.S. and Cuban governments announced they'd move toward
normalizing relations, some people have predicted that the next Congress
will warm to the idea of lifting the trade embargo against Cuba. Do you
think that's going to happen?
Unlikely, because of the Republican control of it, the fact that both
Rubio and Cruz are on the record for being willing to fight tooth and
nail to keep it in place and it's a political season. It's possible
after the November election, but I don't see anything moving.
I understand that there's a big faction of the Republican Party that's
on board with it, however, I just don't see it. Because the Chamber of
Commerce faction, farm states, etc. -- I don't think they're going to go
against two presidential candidates who feel so strongly about this.
The Cuban revolutionary generation defined itself largely in opposition
to the United States. Do you think members of the old guard are worried
about the day the embargo is lifted and relations become truly normal?
I think we have the same problem on the other side. You
have históricos [politicians of an older generation] on both sides who
don't want to lift it.
And I would wonder if Fidel [Castro] -- and I don't think Fidel has all
the marbles he once had -- truly wants it lifted. Because remember once
the embargo is lifted, it's all the responsibility and culpability of
the Cuban government. And as we all know, the embargo is riddled with as
many holes as swiss cheese. The U.S., while there's an embargo is in
place, is able to be their number one food exporter. And the Cuban
goverment's been able to shop and buy with any government around the
So it's really kind of an embargo in name only because of all the
maneuvers and presidential executive orders that Obama, and previous
presidents, have been able to cut into it. It has definitely some power,
but at this point it's really more symbolic.
Definitely some things would improve, but I think that because they
still have a bankrupt economy, it speaks to that their problems are
inherent to the Cuban economic system -- not to the U.S. embargo at this
point in time.
There's so many loopholes in the U.S. embargo, there's pretty much
nothing they can't get. If there's something they want, they can get it
through a third party. And that's been going on from time immemorial. I
remember being in Cuba 20 years ago and meeting some businessmen who had
an office in Havana for IBM -- and this was when the embargo really was
in effect. So you can be sure over the past 20 years the loopholing of
the Cuban embargo is thorough and complete. But it carries a huge amount
of symbolic value.
The other thing that I've written about exhaustively in my books -- Cuba
Confidential and Without Fidel -- is that on numerous occasions in the
'60s, '70s and '80s, the U.S. made numerous overtures to Cuba, whether
it was [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger or [former President
Jimmy] Carter, or whoever, to end it all. And at each instance it was
Fidel who said, "I'm not ending this." The mythology of the embargo is
how effectively it's worked for Fidel Castro. It's a wonderful way to
deflect the institutional, foundational flaws of Cuba.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of Cuban life?
I don't think most people understand how, if there's a genetic
disposition or stereotype of Cubans or whatever you want to call it --
it's how entrepreneurial Cubans are. The survival of this country is
floating on the entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans to survive in spite of
all this.
I don't know what it is, but it's a ginned up, very entrepreneurial
spirit that is uniquely Cuban. And that's what I don't think people
understand. Communism on this island was a particularly cruel curse. But
on the other hand, that individual spirit of Cubans and their creativity
is probably the only reason that the whole thing is still moving.
There still remains this massively oppressive bureaucracy and nothing
involving the U.S. embargo is going to change that. Those are
institutional changes that Raúl Castro is going to have to muster the
courage to do. And he's going to get flak from the históricos.
In your books, you write about the role that Jeb Bush played in helping
to free Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch. Should people still care that the
2016 Republican presidential hopeful did this?
I think it needs to be discussed. He played a huge role. He saw to it
that the Justice Department was overruled, that [then-Attorney General]
Dick Thornburgh -- and I wrote about this in Without Fidel and other
pieces -- that's a remarkable thing he was able to get his father to
overrule the Attorney General. And I interviewed Dick Thornburgh. He was
not happy about this. Very unhappy about it. He thought Bosch was big
trouble and needed to get out of the country, and was a convicted
terrorist. That was the opinion of the attorney general and somehow that
got overruled after a lot of back and forth between father and son.
People forget that Jeb Bush was the campaign manager for leana
Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla) at a very critical time at the peak of power of
Miami, Cuba. And that Ileana's mentors were not just [former head of the
Cuban American National Foundation] Jorge Más Canosa, but also Enrique
Ros, her father. And her father was one of the militantes. He believed
passionately in la lucha [the fight] against the Castros. This was at
the top of their agenda -- free Orlando Bosch. And they did. And they
couldn't have done it without the help of Jeb Bush.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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