Monday, September 25, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American, Installment #3

It was a only a matter of time before I got this question. And even though I've written thousands of words about this topic it seems to always come up.

Hey Conductor

I’m cubanamerican from southern California. I’m really interested about the Cuban Americans from Miami worldview, you guys seem to be a bit a out of touch with main stream. Here’s my beef with you guys

Embargo, 40 years nothing to show for. We have relation with Vietnam, China, Russia why not Cuba

Dear Left Coast Cuban-American,

We're out of the mainstream? Wow. I seem to remember that George W. Bush got more votes in 2004 than any other candidate in U.S. history. That electoral map was really red except for a couple of blue outposts on the edges. As far as Miami Cuban-Americans are concerned, we are the mainstream for the exile community with almost a million of us here in South Florida. But you wanted to know about the embargo. Well there's a lot of different answers to your question so here goes:

1. What embargo? The U.S. is currently Cuba’s largest food source. Currently the embargo excludes all food, agricultural products (even wooden telephone poles) and medicine. Cuba must purchase these products with cash up front. Opponents of the embargo want Cuba to have credit like “normal” countries but Cuba’s external debt is incredibly large and Castro has shown a propensity to be a deadbeat. If you want your tax dollars to guarantee loans to Fidel Castro, that’s your business. I’d rather give U.S. farmers a direct subsidy (and I hate subsidies) than do that.

2. I wouldn’t put Russia in the same category as China and Vietnam, though the situation there merits close watching. The short answer to your question is that two wrongs (or in this case three wrongs) don’t make a right. Besides China and Vietnam have both taken steps to reform their economies. Even though both are still governed by authoritarian regimes the amount of economic self-determination available to citizens of those countries is much greater than in Cuba. The Cuban system unlike the Chinese system offers no opportunity for privatization. The theory is that trade can liberate people. But that can only work if the people are allowed to do business. Right now there is only one customer in Cuba, the Castro regime. The regime distributes goods and services. The more goods and services the regime has to distribute the more power it has.

3. Economic sanctions have always been viewed as a legitimate policy tool especially when dealing with right wing dictatorships but for some reason they are very unpopular when dealing with left wing dictatorships even thought those are the one that have resulted in many many more times the number of deaths. The left was in favor of sanctions against apartheid South Africa but against them for Cuba. Now I’m never going to endorse apartheid but the fact is that many Africans risked their lives to get INTO South Africa despite its apartheid regime while hundreds of thousands of Cubans would leave the “workers’ paradise” in a heartbeat if they were given the chance.

4. I could answer your question with another question: Dialogue and trade, for 15 years. Europe and Latin America have pursued this strategy with nothing to show for it. Cuba trades with every other country in the world and the political conditions there have not improved one iota. In fact countries like Spain have no incentive to press Cuba for political change because their top businessmen are in bed with the Cuban armed forces that control the entire tourism industry. For the Spanish hoteliers and impresarios it’s a great deal, they get slave labor and a market with no competition from the US.

5. The embargo (as limited as it is) does work. It limits the amount of hard currency flowing into Cuba than would otherwise be the case. Normalized trade with Cuba would probably result in Cuba getting credit from the World Bank and other international entities. And given the fact that the dogmatic Castro regime is loath to introduce market reforms, we go back to defaulting on loans. Once again we’d be the suckers.

6. The reason the embargo was created in the first place was in retaliation for the expropriation without compensation of U.S. assets in Cuba. It is important for the world economy (especially today where countries are so interdependent) for foreign investors to be protected from capricious confiscations. Cuba has made no effort to settle the claims worth billions of dollars. The concept is called restitution. Would you allow someone who you did business with to steal your money and then do business with him again although he never paid you back?

7. The only leverage the U.S. has at all over the Cuban government is what remains of the embargo. Removing it now, while Castro is on his deathbead would be surrendering the war on the eve of victory. The embargo should be removed slowly and conditionally as Cuba makes certain policy changes such as the release of all recognized political prisoners. Castro will never agree to any of these conditions but a successor government might. Thus discarding the embargo at this hour would be folly.

If you have a question for the self-appointed representative of Cuban-Americans then email it to me. Questions do not have to be limited to politics, food, or any other subject. This is supposed to be fun.

Disclaimer: This feature is a complete rip-off of Gustavo Arellano's column "Ask a Mexican".


La_Zorra_Verde said...

A hell of an answer. I Hope he replies.

Orlando said...


I promise that I was not the Southern California Cuban-American that asked the question. The question posed is a legitime one. If the only news you get is from MSM sources, the reality is that from out here "you guys seem to a bit out of touch." The amazing thing is that the person asking the question is a Cuban-American, and that should give an idea how widely this kind of thinking pervails. Therefore, the battle must continue. Great response!

Amy said...

I AM a Southern California Cuban-American, but I have never thought you guys were out of touch. I support all that you guys are doing! Great answers by the way. Que Viva Cuba Libre!