Keep the embargo until Castro relents
Posted on Tuesday, 02.18.14
Keep the embargo until Castro relents
BY MICHAEL PUTNEY
The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is a fiction, a fraud, a failure and
has been for a long time. It’s a Potemkin Village embargo. But it has
served the purposes of both Washington and Havana.
When it was imposed more than half a century ago, there were legitimate
reasons: the seizure of numerous U.S.-owned properties by the regime and
the realization that Fidel Castro was a Caribbean-style Communist who
had cozied up to the Soviet Union.
The embargo’s goal was to bring down Fidel or force him to the political
middle by denying Cuba U.S. dollars, trade, investment and products. But
more than half a century later, the Castro brothers remain in power and
have shrewdly used the embargo — el bloqueo — as an excuse for their
legion of economic and social failures.
The old oligarchs who fled Cuba — like sugar baron Alfy Fanjul, and more
about him later — were replaced by new ones, members of the Communist
Party and Cuba’s military. Then as now, they live fairly well. The New
York Times ran a front-page story the other day about a new gated
community in Havana that houses the new oligarchs and favored others.
The egalitarian “New Man” Fidel promised to create apparently deserves a
nice place to live, apart from the riff-raff. The walled-off compound
includes a movie theater, restaurants and retail shops where I bet
residents can buy U.S.-made products.
For regular Cubans with family in the United States who send or bring
them money, some U.S.-made products are available at premium prices in
state-run dollar stores. How curious, Cuba disdains capitalism except
when it’s the capitalist. Fledgling Cuban capitalists get their
inventory from American cousins who tote the goods to Cuba on chartered
flights or send it by freighter. Some embargo!
Web sites in Canada and elsewhere outside the United States will, for a
hefty fee, deliver food, refrigerators or a flat-screen TV to any
address on the island. For Cubans without such recourse to dollars,
however, life is a daily struggle for adequate housing, food and
transportation, not to mention the right to freely speak one’s mind or
take part in organized dissent.
When South American leaders held a summit in Havana recently, more than
1,000 Cuban human-rights activists and dissidents were rounded up,
hounded, harrassed or held by police in detention. Cuba’s most visible
and vocal dissidents, like Jose Luis García (”Atunez”) and Dr. Oscar
Elias Biscet, were subjected to especially harsh treatment. Is there
anywhere else in the hemisphere where a citizen can be arrested for the
crime of “dangerousness”? He or she can in Cuba.
Yet, this is the country in which a majority of Americans — and even
more Floridians — now say they want to normalize relations and “engage
directly.” I understand the sentiment and to some degree share it.
President Obama knows policy this country has pursued for half a century
hasn’t produced the desired result — a free and democratic Cuba.
So inventive Americans have found ways around the stated policy. Last
year, about 100,000 Americans traveled to Cuba legally on
“people-to-people” trips that are little more than thinly disguised
tourism. And who knows how many more U.S. citizens who sipped mojitos on
the terrace of the Hotel Nacional got there illegally through Cancun or
other gateway cities where U.S. passports are conveniently not stamped
by Cuban authorities?
The survey published last week by the Atlantic Council, which will be
discussed Wednesday morning at the Biltmore Hotel, is proof that a
majority of Americans are ready to see more U.S. interaction with Cuba.
Alfy Fanjul of Palm Beach admits that he’s been to Cuba twice in the
last year and says he’d like to “plant the family flag” there again, if
he can work it out with the Castro government. You wonder if that means
planting the flag on the thousands of acres of sugar land his family
I suspect part of Fanjul’s and other business interests’ desire to
engage with Cuba is spurred by news that the European Union is about to
negotiate improved relations with Havana. Which will lead to new
But I don’t expect Raúl Castro and his minions to make any significant
concessions to the E.U. on free elections, free speech, political
prisoners or human rights. Spain, France, Italy, Canada and other
democratic countries have been doing business in Cuba for years, and it
hasn’t changed Cuba’s repressive policies. If anything, the noose seems
to have tightened as the Castros age.
That’s why the U.S. embargo should stay in place. Fiction or not, it
should be lifted only in return for something major from Cuba — the
democratic reforms codified in the Helms-Burton law.
If that means no “direct engagement” until the Castros are dead, so be it.
Source: Keep the embargo until Castro relents – Michael Putney –