Partners - Stock market, economic and political commentary by Patricia Chadwick

President Obama’s Wise Decision on Cuba – Good for Cuba and Good for the U. S.

Thank you, Mr. President, for doing what should have been done long ago, by moving forward to open up diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba.Not only is it the right thing to do from a human rights point of view, it will enhance the economies of both the United States and Cuba at a time when any stimulus to economic activity is an answer to prayer.

It always seemed a bit odd to me that President Nixon could open the door to relations with China and then President Reagan engaged with Gorbachev the head of the Soviet Union, but this little tiny country, a mere puppet of the Soviet Union, was treated by the U. S. Government as a danger

Of course the issue was not that Cuba was a threat to the United States – at least not after the demise of the Soviet Union and we had normalized relations Russia.It was obvious that the substance of the matter was one of domestic and local politics and the votes of Cuban Americans.That first generation of Cuban Americans who fled Cuba had good reason to hope that the U.S. might eventually oust the Communist regime and reinstate a democracy and that they could eventually return home and reclaim their confiscated property.By keeping a stranglehold on the country, U. S. politicians were tacitly promising that once Castro’s regime died or was toppled, Cuban Americans could return triumphantly to their homeland.This policy appeared sacrosanct, and neither Democrat nor Republican Presidents attempted to alter it.

But after half a century with no such outcome and with now a third generation of Cuban Americans fully integrated into American society, it appears that the grandchildren of the refugees from Cuba do not have the same aspirations as their parents and grandparents.In fact it is as though the tables have turned, and Americans with relatives in Cuba want to support their less fortunate kin both with financial aid and with personal visits.

No doubt there are still hard-liners who cling to the belief in the policies enacted at a time when Cuba, under the aegis of the Soviet Union, truly was a threat to the United States.But with time, those people are becoming a smaller and smaller minority of those with views on relations between our two countries.

The potential for the economy of Cuba is great, and there are meaningful benefits to our economy as well from an array of investment opportunities.It would have been a shame for the benefits of all that growth to have been missed because of an outdated policy.

Today the United States has cordial relations with many nations – Vietnam, Cambodia, China to mention only a few – with whom we do not agree with regard to social and government policies.That is the real world.But by opening up economic opportunity both for Cubans who have suffered for five decades and for Americans who wish to engage with them, the world – well, at least the Western Hemisphere – is a better place.

President Obama deserves credit for moving so fast on this important issue.

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3 Responses to “President Obama’s Wise Decision on Cuba – Good for Cuba and Good for the U. S.”

  1. Eduardo Mendoza Says:

    U.S. tourists unlikely to bring democracy to Cuba
    I’m not opposed to the growing push in Washington, D.C., to liberalize U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, but the stated reason behind the move — that a flood of U.S. tourists will bring democracy to the island — is wishful thinking.

    Last week, more than 20 key senators — including the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairman, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. — introduced a bill that would allow Americans to visit the island freely. The bill was backed by a diverse coalition, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Human Rights Watch.

    Meantime, there is growing speculation in Washington that President Barack Obama will announce new initiatives to relax the travel ban to Cuba before the April 17 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

    Obama, meeting a campaign promise, last month scrapped some restrictions on family travel and remittances imposed by the Bush administration.

    But claims that a broader easing of U.S. travel to Cuba would accelerate a political opening on the island are highly misleading.

    ”Tourism has not brought down a totalitarian regime anywhere in history,” says James Cason, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who heads the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba advocacy group. “No study of Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union alleges that tourism had anything to do with the end of communism. Radio Free Europe did.”

    Cason and other skeptics cite the following reasons to doubt that a massive influx of U.S. visitors would have a major political impact on the island:

    • Cuba’s dictatorship penalizes interactions of ordinary Cubans with foreigners. Under Cuban law 80, of 1999, it is a crime for Cubans to accept foreign publications from visitors.

    And a 2004 Ministry of Tourism memo to hotel workers prohibits them from interacting with foreigners outside their workplaces.

    • Virtually all foreign tourists in Cuba stay at hotels in isolated places where they have little contact with nontourism workers. Of the 103 four- or five-star hotels in Cuba, 67 percent of them are located in Varadero, Cayo Coco and other places in the countryside, and only 19 percent are in Havana.

    • Few Americans speak Spanish well enough or care to have political conversations with ordinary Cubans. Most tourists go to Cuba for three things that start with ”s”: sun, songs and sex.

    • Over the past decade, more than 15 million tourists from Canada, Europe and Latin America have visited Cuba, without any visible impact on the island’s totalitarian system.

    ”Castro has put in place a tourist apartheid system: The Cubans the tourists are permitted to talk to are trained to say the right thing, spontaneously hail Fidel and joyously sing Guantanamera,” Cason told me.

    My opinion: Obama should go ahead with his campaign promises to relax family travel and remittances restrictions for Cuban Americans, and he should lift restrictions on academic exchanges with the island, which is within his authority. Congress should eliminate all restrictions on family visits, and perhaps even lift the travel ban on tourists altogether.

    But this should be done based on Americans’ rights to freely travel anywhere, and in conjunction with a U.S. diplomatic offensive to press Cuba to allow fundamental freedoms.

    It should not be based on false assumptions that a flood of U.S. visitors will spark an outcry for democracy on the island. It is more likely that interaction with American tourists carrying expensive video cameras would drive even more Cubans to flee to Miami.

    POST SCRIPT: Talking about the upcoming Summit of the Americas, Obama should tell Latin American and Caribbean leaders who will ask him to lift all U.S. sanctions on Cuba: “OK, I’m willing to enter into that discussion, but only if you do your part, and abide by hemispheric agreements calling for the collective defense of democracy anywhere in the region, including in Cuba.”

  2. Michael Colopy Says:

    It is remarkable – and an homage to the durability of passionate, single issue advocacy, that we are still debating in 2009 a hoary, forty-six year old decision against contact with Cuba.

    The myths that animate Havana memories reshaped by time, regret and self-justification are the substance of tales to impress the grandkids but they are not a valid basis for shaping US foreign policy. In the mid-seventies friends in the Cuban American community described these myths which then a snow were propagated by Cuba Libre organizations and included the edifying suggestion that the cause was rooted in an authentic historical democratic movement. In some tellings, in the 19502 a top-down renewal of Cuban society was on its way to realizing the great ideals of representative democracy and free market prosperity but it all got hijacked by Fidel Castro and his communist revolutionaries. Subsequent study revealed that the latter part is true – Castro aborted whatever was underway in 1959, but not the first claim: whatever was aborted, assuredly it was not representative democracy or plans for an egalitarian society.

    For many, it is about the loss of wealth and position under the rhetorical mantilla of loss of country. As a practical matter, the wrathful and vengeance laden policy designed to punish Castro over the last four decades is not about dignifying and rescuing the Cuban population but mainly a game of leverage over stolen property. A big, valid complaint, to be sure, but not the one most Americans imagine our harsh behavior addresses. They see it as containing harm sponsored by the communists in Havana and ultimately as a good thing for the poor suffering Cuban people across that large island. In the early throes of the rising Cold War, the country signed on to this foreign policy equivalent of a congressional earmark, a measure of special value to a potent constituency, the true cost of which the rest of us, while paying for it, don’t fully recognize.

    It is already and broadly acknowledged as one of America’s most conspicuous failures, yet it remains in force to the detriment of the most vulnerable segments of the island’s population. Is this what we really want? We are solicited by mail, on TV, in church (which for many is the same thing and the same place!) and over the radio by legal, worthy charities for donations to help get medicines and nutrition to the young and frail in Sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Meanwhile in Cuba our tax dollars fund the opposite result, albeit with the Castro regime’s willful and perverse complicity.

    America’s foreign policy in the Caribbean has been informed largely by this grotesque
    inconsistency, underpinned by a false but politically expedient mythology. As an example of pressure politics snookering the whole country, it’s a great success story: a politically aggressive single issue, ethnic group in one state with an international border, in this case Florida, designs a self-serving foreign policy and Washington just goes along.

    Describing as “foreign” a place as close to our shores as is Cuba – Washington DC is closer to Havana than it is to many of our nation’s major population centers, seems a bit of an absurdity. Add to that the fact that the island’s population has millions of family members spread across the US and its southern neighbors and the island’s hemispheric estrangement becomes surreal. Now slap on the rigid policy whereby the only hyperpower on earth enforces an embargo on travel, trade and normal exchange because the island’s undemocratic government rejects our capitalist creed, and you’ve got the cruelest form of absurdity. It has been said by many that one of the most deplorable, immoral and ineffective practices used against a weaker state is the mass punishment of its population as a means of inconveniencing its government. It is an extension of that other self-defeating impulse: proffering talks with another nation as a reward for good behavior.

    It was intriguing to learn that the Batista escapees when they came to America in 1959 were initially rattled by the broad enthusiasm among Cuban Americans over the dictator’s ouster. Many ex-patriot Cubans, fed up with his regime’s endemic corruption, abusive governance and systematic exploitation had been lobbying Washington against arming Batista’s forces. They believed that his hopelessly corrupt and increasing brutal minions would collapse in the face of broad based popular rage. And so it happened. The Castro victory was less attributable to the rebel leader’s supposed genius than to the utter venality of the effete “military” Batista relied on to sustain him. As discontent grew, it became apparent to the lower ranks by mid 1958 that his strutting officers were mainly show and lacking integrity, dedication and military discipline – sort of like Texas’ faux cowboys described as “big hat: no cattle”. Many of the younger troops, with no self-enrichment schemes to protect, spared themselves the risk and defected, often en mass. This development accelerated the revolution and reinforced the propaganda about Castro’s military genius, a state-sponsored myth his regime has tenderly nurtured ever since.

    The official posture of the United States at the time of the Cuban revolution was to support neither side. In other words, despite what many Americans imagine, our side didn’t lose – we didn’t have one.

    What I also learned was that a large segment of the ex-pats who had cheered Batista’s fall and the revolution’s success expected some new form of broad based government to take shape, allowing wealthy Cubans to return to their property although under a more egalitarian system. It didn’t take Fidel Castro long to alienate his would-be supporters in the US by imposing an alien Soviet style system on a traditional culture, seizing property and jailing resisters. Instead of a pluralistic social order to replace the old oligarchic structures, Cuba gradually succumbed to an unforgiving Leninist dictatorship.

    Not until Castro had rolled out his new totalitarian regime in full did the expats unite behind a shared loathing, some out of anger over dreams betrayed but more from fury over wealth usurped. About that time Che Guevara came to New York as Castro’s emissary to a session of the United Nations, dropping unpleasant hints of overthrows to come in other parts of Latin America. In pointed remarks to Venezuela’s representative that prefigured the recent “Bolivarian” maundering of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s current Castro-blessed leader. Guevara later headed to the jungles of Colombia, across the border from Venezuela, to fight and be killed there, after fomenting a still running revolt, again prefiguring Chavez’ recent mischief in supporting rebels across that same border.

    The willful continuation of these contradictions and absurdities is debilitating for all concerned, most especially harmful to the long suffering Cuban people. But in every case, powerful domestic constituencies are invested in their positions, no matter how lacking in merit or morals. Reviewing the tedious list of pro-embargo arguments presented by Andres Oppenheimer on behalf of the lobbying group, Center for a Free Cuba, the shallowness of the case becomes apparent. The pro-embargo case as presented above in this blog, even allowing for the exaggerations, is susceptible of reversal should the embargo be lifted. In other words, we should keep things in place just in case in a world of diminishing probability, our failed policies may suddenly succeed, validating the decades of anxiety in the region, and against the Cubans population itself, justifying our part in malnutrition, disease and death. The so-called “freedom agenda” so repetitiously flogged over the last eight years explicitly posited that exposure to American ways and business demonstrates our values and undermines tyranny.

    But not in Cuba?

    The optics of the case increasingly embarrasses us internationally. While we speak of alleviating poverty and racism, in our own backyard we assiduously punish a poor population, most of whom are Afro-Cuban, rather than the mestizos, or European blooded Cubans who had the wealth and connections to make their escape – the descendants of slaves are still trapped. Moreover, the embargo policy is exacting a toll in the lives and health of the island’s children – all sides agree. The Castro regime has survived just fine and remains in complete control: it has not been made unstable by more than forty years of enforced economic isolation. Fidel Castro will die at a ripe age and with all the care and nurturing he requires. Most of his people will not, including the many who will die young. Therefore, with the issue of efficacy gone, there is no principle of honor or human rights that permits maintaining an inhumane status quo when the key arguments for it are patently invalid. President Obama is correct in opening the discussion, not about if, but about how to move the region into a more productive and humane discourse. He understands how most of our Latin American neighbors see this question, namely that there is no moral basis for continuing a policy that holds the lives and health of the island’s children hostage to discredited gamesmanship.

    If the tired debate must continue, let’s lubricate it with a toast (sugar cane rum, if you please), to cheer this spectacle: an Obama policy with the imprimatur of the doyenne of responsible Republicanism: CNBC’s Patricia Walsh Chadwick.

  3. B Says:

    I just got back from Cuba. Both of the above posts have great points.

    While I would have agreed with Ms. Chadwick 3 weeks ago, now I strongly disagree. Cuba has been open to tourism, and is open to trade, with the rest of the world – and the US indirectly. What is the result? Everyone is a have-not. Physically, the entire place (other than the US Interests Section house) is about to fall down on itself. The national monument and museum to the revolution are disintegrating.

    Any ‘normalized’ relationship with Cuba would simply prolong the agony by benefiting those at the top.

    There is nothing for tourists there, and there is no additional trade opportunities. Cuba exports what it can (tobacco, sugar, rum, education/doctors), and the only hope in trade is greater demand drives up prices – prices that are only paid to the communist government, state monopoly over virtually everything (but sex). Artisans are taxed at 40%, and everyone else is an employee of the government. Tourists and foreigners cannot even use the same currency, and business often accept only one (unless a government employee is willing to accept the other, breaking the law, and try to trade on the black market).

    The Batista problems were many, but US tourism would bring the most notable back: the haves / have-nots problem, and tourist apartheid – as well as allow the communists to continue to suppress the people.

    Keep the embargo until everything does PHYSICALLY collapse (and it is so close). We risk a great deal by normalizing – Cubans believe it is just the governments that don’t get along, and they like Americans. They believe that the problems with their lives will magically vanish if trade/tourism are opened up – it won’t, and we will get blamed. How do I know things won’t improve? Well, take Puerto Rico and add the Castro brothers. Nuff said.