Cuba: Blockade or Embargo: It’s All the Same to Me

Vicente Morin Aguado  (photos: Juan Suarez)

Reading the paper.

HAVANA TIMES — During an unforgettable session of the recently-concluded yearly conference of the ASCE – an organization based in the United States devoted to the study of the Cuban economy – journalist Miriam Leyva spoke about the immediate future of relations between the great, northern nation and our archipelago. The blockade or embargo was an obligatory subject. “We should begin top ut behind us this unavoidable dilemma, take other kinds of steps, move forward without this burden on our shoulders,” she said.

If I’ve misquoted her, I hope Miriam will read this post and correct me. In any event, her words have inspired some thoughts on the subject, which has been transformed by the Castro leadership into the chief problem affecting relations between the two countries since the triumph of the revolution. Miriam Leyva is the widow of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a renowned Cuban diplomat and later dissident who became a valuable analyst of the island’s economy.

At the Miami Airport, I again saw what I perceived during my two days next to the very busy US Interests Section in Havana (USINT). The hundreds of people who gather in these two places every day confirm that relations between the two countries are beyond any attempt at a definitive rupture. Their roots reach deep into history and grow in a lush, green forest nourished by the beams of the tropical sun.

People’s luggage exceeded in weight those one comes across while boarding any other regular flight. I saw people paying the overweight to take those heavy loads to the island and asking other passengers with lighter luggage to carry some for them. The main thing, however, was and continues to be the links that exist among all Cubans, no matter where you may be. We know very well that such links exist in other places that the Cuban diaspora has reached.

The question invariably arises: why continue with the dilemma of the embargo or blockade? I don’t care one bit what they choose to call it, and less about what either part demands in this connection, if it’s more of the same political slogans.

I once again declare (and won’t be repeating this again) that I am opposed to the discriminatory punishment represented by this measure, implemented by President Kennedy. I don’t wish to repeat myself and propose that we move down a different road.

Snack time.

Cubans continue to arrive at US coasts, land borders and even airports looking for a habitat in the country. The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 favors them. Miriam was of the opinion, and I agree with her, that this legal status ought to be maintained, even if recent developments invite us to reassess the issue. It is still too early to decide on this: we are still hearing about people who beat women in Havana simply because they stage peaceful demonstrations against the government.

During a lunch organized by the ASCE, five young self-employed women who live and work in Cuba spoke of their experiences (successful until now) and gave their opinions about private property under the norms of Raul Castro’s reforms. They were evasive when asked about where their initial investment had come from.

Obama authorized the sending of up to five thousand dollars to anyone in Cuba through Western Union. One million Cubans live in the United States and smaller but not insignificant numbers are scattered around the planet. One of the attentive readers of my posts lives in far-away New Zealand.

Cuban-American relations cannot be suspended. They are above politicians, whose personal ambitions and wishes (be these pragmatic or ideological) are quickly left behind, and they adapt to the ties between families, that vast majority one doesn’t see on television, be it the Panda set one finds in Havana or the 3D device in Miami.

The blockade or embargo, I say, must be divorced from political slogans, and it is best to put it behind us. This would deal a devastating blow to the political extremes offered us by an opposition that, though once legitimate, is now out of step with the times, in Cuba and abroad.

Passing by the meat market.

At the farm product and livestock markets across the island, the price of pork continues to skyrocket. The same holds for the prices at other establishments, all under the monopoly control of the Party-State that still prevails among us.

On Miami television, I saw images of desperate Cubans on rafts, repatriated because they were intercepted at sea before setting foot on Vizcaino Key, Florida. I was also exposed to the unjustified cruelty shown Cuban immigrants by authorities in the Bahamas and no public condemnation of this on behalf of our government.

Cuban baseball players are securing multi-million-dollar contracts while some “luminaries of revolutionary sports”, already retired, prefer to do without the benefits offered them by their patriotic government and choose to seek refuge in the Sunshine State.

People come, go and leave: it is an unstoppable wave that no one dares to try and hold back.

We are skirting the dilemma of whether to keep or lift the blockade/embargo, going over those who, at either side of the Gulf, suck up the benefits of such an unsustainable position. It is time to boo at them and say to them the Cuban phrase of: “it’s all the same to us!”
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]

15 thoughts on “Cuba: Blockade or Embargo: It’s All the Same to Me

  • ha! it will NEVER go away because it is in fact an embargo, NOT a blockade. USA is the ONLY major country that imposes this. Cuba can and does trade with nearly every single country in the world. It will never go away because the Castros can blame their dismal failure of communism on the embargo and call it a blockade.

  • Terry you miss the point that Raul is not the mascot – he is the boss! He has been the head of the military since 1959. Who do you think appointed General Rodriguez to his post as CEO of Gaviota SA ? A binding commitment by Cuba to meet the conditions of free elections, multi-party elections with the parties being given time to form, free press and to meet the UN definition of Human Rights would result in lifting the embargo. It’s all in the US legislation. The obstacle is that Cuba is a Communist dictatorship and the conditions are unacceptable to those in power and potentially in power. If the US and the Cuban military were to meet it would be Raul representing he Cuban military!

  • Exactly, Carlyle. I think the only way that the US has any chance of turning the Cuban military (and lets face it…they’re running the country…Raul is just their mascot) is to give them assurances that should Cuba transition to a democratic government, their place at the head of the food chain would still be secure…and greatly enhanced too with the surge of new money that will be entering the country. Through careful and respectful negotiation in advance of normalizing relations, I firmly believe that they will agree to leave the politics of running the country to others. If not, then all bets are off. But the US and the Cuban military need to sit down and begin talking first.

  • You two (Moses and Terry Downey) are optimists. As long as the Castro family regime controls – and that could be for a long long time, relinquishing any power will not be within their minds. It is pleasant to see you agreeing with each other but following the much desired departure of Fidel and Raul, General Rodriguez and Espin with their economic power will exert power over Diaz-Canel who is let us remember the personal choice of Raul Castro Ruz. Fifty five years of the second US embargo has failed to initiate any change whatever. Wish I could share your optimism!

  • Not at all, Moses. I think your list is do-able, and in that order too. But I don’t think one can hope to have all 5 happen at precisely the same time. I think freeing Alan Gross is the easiest…but the US should also agree to allow the remaining Cuban 3 to return home too… done deal, and lets move on to bigger challenges. That would be a good start, and it would certainly lend confidence and spark enthusiasm for negotiating more. Your #2 could quickly follow that, although it would be interesting to know what the US government might provide in return… perhaps removing Cuba off the list of countries who sponsor terrorism. Your #3 and #5 could all happen simultaneously with your #4. But of course the US will need to begin normalizing relations first and tentatively begin to open up markets for joint business ventures to provide more confidence in the new relationship and potential for significant change. Dropping the travel ban is a no-brainer to kick things off for all concerned. Closer relations via tourism will inevitably breed and spin-off to create other opportunities for economic negotiation.

    Moses, to truly make it easy for the Cuban government to take on your #3 and #4, the US government will need to indirectly move them into a new comfort zone… they’ll need to have assurances that the top dogs will still have a place to earn a significant living in the new Cuba. Tourism is currently their meal-ticket, and they’ll need to be assured that with the marked increase in available US tourism, they’ll be living even better. That’s the carrot… have them follow the money. I agree with you…your #5 is neither here nor there as Raul’s days are numbered. But given that your list would take a number of years to accomplish, the US could at least begin the process with Cuba in advance of Raul stepping down. When he does, Cuba and the US will be perfectly positioned and aligned to then connect the dots and push hard at that time to finalize your #3 and #4. Money talks…and the US has more than enough to create new opportunities for negotiation, agreements, and business contracts. Dangle the carrot and watch them follow the money.

  • Agreed. One final point. After you peel away the egos and the grandstanding on both sides, what is it that the US would settle for to end the embargo? (1) Release Alan Gross (2) Free political prisoners (3) Establish an independent media (4) Schedule open elections (5) No Castros. #5 is going to happen sooner or later anyway. Three of the other four requirements are basic human rights and releasing Gross is a huge humanitarian gesture Terry. The missing requirement contained in Helms-Burton not delineated here is the one stipulating a market-based economy and that is vague and therefore fungible. Are you really opposed to any of these stipulations for the Cuban people?

  • Moses, I think we can agree to disagree. But keep in mind… without first establishing a level playing field, their can be no negotiation. And what you refer to as capitulation is a scenario your government created for themselves. In reality, your government would not be capitulating to the Castros…your government would merely be coming to its senses.

  • What you suggest is not negotiation. Negotiation is give and take on both sides. Your suggestion has no give on the part of the Castros. What you ARE suggesting is capitulation. You are hoping that the US, the most powerful country on the planet, will say to tiny Cuba, “you win, do as you wish” and then stand by hoping that Cuba will change. Obviously, you are not an American. We don’t ‘roll like dat’. Beside, Cuba will still not change under your scenario. Why should they? The Castros will continue to oppress to maintain the status quo. Worse yet, they would likely reverse even the most tepid recent reforms as they did in the early 1990’s once Venezuelan oil began to flow their way. Your hope for a peaceful transition to democracy based on America ‘seducing’ the Castros into giving up their power is noble but naïve. Words like “nurture” simply do not apply to tyrannical despots like the Castros. You also presuppose that as the Castros believe, so do the Cuban people. I disagree. My Cuban family and friends would welcome an open democratic election and an independent media. They don’t care whose idea it is to have it.

  • Moses, you have to understand…I’m not suggesting that a regime change is at all initially necessary. I’m not promoting that Cuba NEEDS to immediately be democratic. Continuing to demand that the Cuban government must immediately hold democratic elections is like China telling the US government that they must all wear red arm bands. You and I both know what America’s response to China would be. I’m trying to put the dilemma with Cuba in terms you will understand. The Cuban government has proven that they will not bend to intimidation, manipulation, threats, isolation, economic deprivation, or demands of any kind from America. All demands and expectations need to be completely scrapped. Only then can there be meaningful dialogue between the two governments to help nurture change as a residual by product of normalized relations. The stage would be set for an evolution of change as Cuba and America grow swiftly closer. It might only take a year…or perhaps significant change might come when Raul steps down…or when the Castros die. But change will most certainly be the natural by product of much closer ties with America…WITHOUT all the predispositions imposed. Cuba’s future can either be openly forwarded and nurtured by America, or it can be undermined and jeopardized for another 50+ years…only to find that the dilemma still remains the same.

  • I agree that the half-hearted application of the embargo has led to a variety of unintended results while the intended result remains illusive. However, to lift the embargo because it hasn’t worked WITHOUT a more effective plan to influence regime change would be stupid. At this point, the Castros are not interested in offering any “face-saving” changes in their government to make it easier for Obama or any other sitting President of the US to make changes in our policy with Cuba. Any unilateral movement in Washington would only result in the Castros staging a triumphal parade down La Rampa. If you were a tyrannical despot like the Castros what would you trade for an executive action by Obama in order to move the ball? What step does a dictator like Castro take that gives the most powerful country in the world breathing room to ease tensions. I am curious to read your response.

  • “They must be dealt with sternly.” But Moses, that attitude has produced nothing but contempt from the Castros… contempt from the international community… and even contempt from segments of the American population. Most telling…that attitude hasn’t produced any meaningful positive results after 5 decades. There comes a time when one should concede that a new approach needs to be contemplated and orchestrated bilaterally to end the stalemate. Even Kennedy was involved in secret talks with Fidel to find a compromise and allow both a negotiated “out” of the stand-off while providing a means for Fidel and Kennedy to also save-face. It seems to me that America should honor Kennedy’s memory and his legacy by continuing his efforts of diplomacy to find compromise… albeit, 50 years too late. Ironically, if Kennedy had not been assassinated, relations between Cuba and America would likely be vastly different today.

  • I agree that the Castros, like all dictators, are not likely to do anything that erodes their power. Those stipulations set forth in Helms-Burton that ask for democratic elections and a market-based economy are threats to the tyrannical control the Castros wield over the Cuban people. Nonetheless, were the Castros to release Alan Gross, legalize independent media, and free all political prisoners, the Obama administration would have to respond in some way towards normalizing relations. By the way, the Castros are dictators and would not respond to “honey”. To them, any concession is seen as a weakness. They must be dealt with sternly.

  • I’m also in agreement that the embargo needs to go asap. But to continue holding that process hostage to the terms dictated by Helms-Burton is not only unreasonable, it sabotages any real possibility of moving things forward. Because of it’s inflexibility, it guarantees that no progress can ever be made as I don’t see the Castros, nor their successors, fulfilling the prerequisites of Helms-Burton in advance. If anything, it does more to support the status quo in Cuba, rather than to promote and encourage compromise and a steady evolution towards meaningful change. What’s the old adage?? You attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar?

  • get rid of the stupid embargo i wanna visit there freely stupid us government

  • I agree that it is time to get rid of the embargo. As soon as the Castros implement the requirements set forth under Helms-Burton, the embargo should be lifted post haste.

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