Cuba and the Snake that Bites Its Tail

Fernando Ravsberg*

Around 70% of Cubans were not born yet when the US enacted its economic embargo against their country.
Around 70% of Cubans were not born yet when the US enacted its economic embargo against their country.

HAVANA TIMES — A bipartisan poll caused a jolt to the political fabric of Washington, revealing that most Americans are in favor of changing the policy towards Cuba, ending the economic embargo hanging over the island for half a century.

A total of 56% of US citizens, including 62% of the Hispanics, supported ending the hostility. However, what is truly surprising and paradoxical is that the figure grows to 63% among Cuban Americans, who in the past were the mainstay of the blockade.

The people have spoken… but also the government, and where the captain rules the sailor has no sway. A spokeswoman from the Department of State said that in any case they will continue with the embargo because it is “an important resource to spur more positive changes in the island.”

This time round the position of the White House picks up less sympathy in the media, except for the anti-Castro Miami Press and The Washington Post, which in response to the opinion poll, published an editorial supporting the “carrot and stick” strategy.

The New York Times on the other hand, said that polls show the failure of the policy of isolation waged against Havana. The Los Angeles Times states that failing to recognize “the progress in Cuba reinforces doubts about the willingness of the U.S. to play fair in the region.”

The Huffington Post, the most widely read news blog, lists seven reasons to lift the embargo: the world hates it, it is ineffective, expensive and undemocratic, Cuba is not a threat, it hurts ordinary people and it is so outdated that “it survived 11 US presidents, without any success. Give it a break.”

Similar reasoning comes from Paul Cejas, a Cuban-American US ambassador during the Clinton administration, who said, “if a policy is set to achieve certain objectives, (and) after a while these goals are not achieved, you should change the policies or hte goals.”

According to polls, Americans tourists visiting Cuba return home thinking that relations between the two countries should be normalized.
According to polls, Americans tourists visiting Cuba return home thinking that relations between the two countries should be normalized.

Neither did Clinton’s strategy of “people to people contact” bring the desired results. Theoretically US citizens traveling to Cuba should be carriers of democratic ideas to disseminate them among Cubans, encouraging them to struggle against the communist government.

Actually another US survey showed that the visiting gringos actually returned contaminated instead of contaminating. They don’t return home converted to communism but they do delighted with the Cubans and the treatment they received on the island and especially very, very anti-embargo.

It could be the logical reaction of one who discovers the reality of the island after reading the Miami press and hearing speeches by Cuban-American politicians. Surely, getting to know Cuba, many tourists conclude that the tiger was not as fierce as it was painted.

The money to Cuba and exiles

Even former Florida governor Charlie Crist, an old defender of the hard line, realizes that “The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba.” He added: “If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China.”

Crist further requests that Washington remove restrictions that prevent Americans from investing in Cuba. He said “there is much construction needed on the island and South Florida would play an important role in this and really countless jobs would be created.”

Among the radical exiles themselves things are changing. The visit to Cuba by businessman Carlos Saladrigas was followed by the Cuban-American sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul, who expressed his intention to invest on the island as soon the USA will allow it.

These “defections” rocked the most radical anti-Castro hardliners, who have always received financial and political support from the most economically successful exiles, most of whom had left the majority of their wealth expropriated in Cuba.

Relations between US diplomats and Cuban dissidents both on the island and in Miami includes the distribution of US $17.5 million annually to fund their political activities.
Relations between US diplomats and Cuban dissidents both on the island and in Miami includes the distribution of US $17.5 million annually to fund their political activities.

This could explain the clashes that are occurring among legislators of Florida and the most influential exile group, the Cuban American National Foundation. They hash over who receives the US $17.5 million that Washington disburses each year for dissidents.

Congressman Mario Lincoln Diaz Balart, of Cuban origin, managed to marginalize the distribution to the Agency for International Development (USAID) , thus affecting the Cuban-American National Foundation, whose director Pepe Hernandez said with that Mario “is doing a huge favor to the Government Castro.”

CANF itself reported in the past that 80% of the funds disappear in Miami. A congressional audit discovered receipts for leather coats and chocolates and one exile leader ended up in prison for embezzling $500,000 budgeted to buy radios for Cuban dissidents.

Meanwhile, other exiles begin to dream their worst nightmare that the death of the top leadership does not lead to an end to the Cuban revolution. Journalist and activist Pedro Corzo, in exile in Miami, now predicts bitterly that “the Castro rule will survive the Castros.”
(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

16 thoughts on “Cuba and the Snake that Bites Its Tail

  • I would disagree that Cuba has nothing to sell. Along with the traditional rum/cigar/sugar and doctors, Cuba has an educated workforce which could easily adapt to IT for example in the same way that India has successfully done with the UK. You could have said Hong Kong doesn’t have anything to sell except rocks, but things don’t really work like that. Secondly, I think it is great that Cuba is expanding its self-employed, cooperatives and small businesses, but don’t think for a minute that they are all going to become raving reactionaries. They will be the first to complain if the US comes in with its Starbucks, McDonalds and Walmarts and puts them out of business.

  • Myanmar (Burma)

  • “benign dictatorial economy”? You really don’t have a clue, do you?

  • Hello??
    A switch to capitalism is a switch to a totalitarian and not to a democratic form.
    The Cuban state-run economy is also a dictatorship but one that provides a more equitable distribution of all essential goods and services than do capitalist economies in comparably-resourced countries .
    Capitalism dictates that half the world will live in poverty all the while ample essentials exist for a better life for all.
    In the capitalist world some 6 million people die of starvation in a world that produces some 117% of necessary food for our 7 billion people.
    Cuba alone in Latin America has no childhood malnutrition because of its benign dictatorial economy.
    That statistic alone should indicate that a jump back to capitalism is something for Cuba to avoid.

  • A serious question for you:
    Do you really believe that the promotion of democratic systems is what is at the center of U.S. foreign policy ?
    If so what examples of this can you provide in comparison to the well over 50 or so instances in which totalitarian and undemocratic systems were imposed by U.S. foreign policy interventions ?

  • Okay, time to end the bullshit right now.
    Your quote:
    “Given the political challenges in Washington today, expecting Congress to pass legislation lifting the embargo and having the President sign that legislation WITHOUT significant steps toward democracy in Cuba is wishful thinking and foolish.”
    Answer this question:
    (you’ve refused to do so in the past)
    In how many of the more than 75 U.S. interventions was the intent to democratize a given government the central aim ?
    It is the policy of the U.S. government to preserve and extend capitalism and in a great many cases to both overthrow a democratically elected government and install a dictatorship .
    Now you tell me the names of the countries in which U.S. interventionist foreign policy was centered upon the installation of democratic principles.

  • Yes, all of your further points are right on the money…pardon the pun. Good positive dialogue we have going.

  • I don’t entirely disagree. Please see my response to Bob Micheals last comment.

  • Bob, this final comment makes a lot of sense. I am reluctant to completely agree because of the reach the Castros continue to have into the everyday lives of all Cubans despite their varied economic profile. That is to say, even owners of casa particulares or artists are subject to licensing and taxes by the Castros. As we remember from the 90’s, if the government chooses to rein in the increasing wealth and independence of certain groups, they will certainly do so. But why be pessimistic? The other concern with Cuban-style “trickle-down” economics is there is no guarantee that the ‘landed-class’ of Cubans most likely and most prepared to benefit from increased economic activity will be able or even willing to transfer their increased well-being into democractic reforms for society as a whole. We witnessed the same phenomena in the former Soviet Union when perestroika benefitted a relatively small group of Soviets while the majority sat idly by. Still, I believe Congress would support a plan such as yours but only after some measure of progress by the Castros towards political reform. To expect the US to implement normalization unilaterally is unrealistic.

  • Bob, you’ve articulated extremely well what I’ve been promoting too. Money is power. Putting more money in the hands of the Cuban people will allow them to collectively become the power brokers for further change within Cuba. Moses, take a harder look at how money controls your own government to better understand the power of money. Money is the real power in this world.

  • Moses, there is no question that nothing will motivate the Castros to retreat. What I see happening now is them becoming less significant as the Cuban population gains economic power on their own unrelated to the government. This is from economic resources going direct to the people, not the government.

    Now I certainly agree that a tourist staying in a government owned hotel does not help. But someone staying in a privately owned casa particular, eating in a privately owned paladar, hiring a private tour guide, or buying art direct from a Cuban artist sure does. I see this happening continually since the easing of the US relationship with Cuba. We can forget trade as Cuba really has nothing to sell.

    The Cuban government’s power comes from their ability to control the economy and thus peoples everyday lives. This is the power that is slipping away. The Cuban government is being forced now to take steps in the form of personal freedoms in an attempt to slow down the rate of them becoming less important but the diminishment of their power continues.

    Make no bones about it, give the Cuban people the choice of three square meals a day or the right to protest / cast a meaningful vote and the food would win by a huge margin.

  • Bob, at the risk of repeating myself, the notion of expanding trade and tourism in Cuba will somehow motivate the Castros to retreat to a more democratic Cuba is wishful thinking. With more money to spend, the Castros will be more entrenched and more resolute to quell dissent. It is a valid argument that the current policy has not triggered the citizen revolts and regime change initially hoped. It should also be clear that undoing this policy and enriching the Castros will only embolden their tyranny.

  • Insanity: Repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting a different result.

  • I believe the numbers of “pro-Castro sympathizers” are so insignificant that they safely can be ignored.

    There are a number of us who would very much like to see political change in Cuba but believe the hard line policies have caused no results after 50 years and a different approach is necessary. Cuba’s primary needs are economic. Normalization transfers economic power to the Cuban people. I see that happening now. The economic stranglehold the Cuban government has over the people is beginning to slip away and forcing change.

    50+ years of history has shown that economic sanctions will never cause the Cuban government to embrace democracy. Let’s continue to transfer economic power to the Cuban people thus coercing the Cuban government to change in their attempt to slow down the pace of the government becoming irrelevant to the country.

  • Pro-Castro sympathizers are misreading the tea leaves. American public opinion is indeed moving toward normalizing relations with Cuba, but the question is seldom asked what changes in Cuba must take place before this new relation is established. Only a minority of Americans would normalize relations with Cuba while demanding that NO political reforms are required of the Castros. Realistically, opening a dialogue with Cuba is the likely political outcome of this trend in public opinion. Lifting the US embargo, which is the real end game for the Castros, is still a long way off and will not come until Congress repeals the Helms-Burton law. Given the political challenges in Washington today, expecting Congress to pass legislation lifting the embargo and having the President sign that legislation WITHOUT significant steps toward democracy in Cuba is wishful thinking and foolish.

  • Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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