Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stretch time

With the Cuba travel debate heating up, new arguments are popping up to support the status quo, sometimes stretching credulity and the truth a little bit.

The thinking behind U.S. economic sanctions began 50 years ago. A State Department memorandum from April 1960 suggested that Washington adopt “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.” This was based on an assessment that Cuba’s government, then barely a year old, enjoyed “majority” support and faced “no effective political opposition.” Economic pain, the memo concluded, was “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support.”

It is now 2010 and Cuba’s socialist government has been in power 51 years, enduring the U.S. embargo and related sanctions, the devastating sudden loss of Soviet aid and trade, and the economic deprivation caused by socialism itself. Yet Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida argues that the “Castro regime is on the ropes,” and Cuba’s current economic troubles are “putting Castro’s rule in jeopardy.”

Moving from speculation to reporting, he writes: “Cuban citizens cannot enter the hotels, resorts, beaches, restaurants and stores where foreign tourists visit.” This is blatantly false. This so-called “tourism apartheid” ended in April 2008 and as travelers to Cuba have witnessed ever since, Cubans are indeed staying in tourist hotels and resorts. As noted here, the Cuban government even offers cut-rate package deals to Cubans to keep occupancy up in low seasons.

Rep. Rooney also contends: “The Castro-run tourism industry also openly promotes child prostitution, a horrible abuse heaped on Cuba’s children.” Note that he’s not saying that this crime exists, but rather that Cuba’s government promotes it – no evidence offered – and that U.S. travel rules should therefore not be liberalized. This is an indirect but pretty clear smear on the Americans who would travel to Cuba if they were permitted to do so. I’ll take the contention seriously on the day when Rep. Rooney tries to discourage the Cuban Americans from his own state from traveling to Cuba. They fill about 50 flights a week from Miami.

Then our friend Mauricio Claver-Carone stretches halfway around the world to urge us to use the relationship between the Koreas as a guide to our relationship with Cuba. Read it for yourself.

Finally, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart wrote an article in El Nuevo Herald examining another model: Europe’s relationship with post-Franco Spain. He applauds the withholding of Spain’s EU membership until democratization was complete, and says that in the case of Cuba it is “absolutely critical that there be some form of external pressure for a democratic transition to occur in Cuba once the tyrant [Fidel Castro] is no longer on the scene.” Of course, the parallel is a little imprecise; in Spain’s case it had to do with withholding of the benefits of EU membership and never had to do with restrictions on trade itself, much less an embargo or travel restrictions that would impede citizen contact.

But on one point the Congressman deserves credit: he makes clear that for him, the purpose of the embargo is not to effect change now in Cuba, but rather to be used as a lever for change when Fidel Castro passes away, whenever that may be. That’s an argument that can justify maintaining the status quo for a long, long time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

at least they are honest about it -- the embargo is to maintain their influence in post-castro regime; and the embargo's only purpose is to make it so bad for the cubans as to overthrown their own government. any rational person can then take whatever moral or critical approach to those justification. And of course judge all statements to purport to help the Cuban people.