Will Congress Stop Obama’s Plan for US-Cuba Change?

Manuel R. Gomez  (Progreso Weekly)

cuba-daily-life-1-685x342HAVANA TIMES — Until recently, it looked like President Obama was winning the fight between those who support and those who oppose his Cuba policy changes. The discussions with Cuba apparently continue to move well towards the establishment of full diplomatic relations.  And the Administration is apparently betting that it has the perfect formula to be accepted by Cuba, and also supported by sufficient US political forces to be able apply a new policy of “soft power” towards the island.  A policy that supports an end to the embargo, but that also continues to support the democracy programs that Cuba considers part of a policy of subversion for regime change.  “Engagement” instead of direct force.

With important segments of the press and public opinion in toe, the recent mood has been that the changes are irreversible, and that they would even occur rapidly. But two recent votes in the House of Representatives, and another one expected this coming week, have challenged these expectations.

Supporters of a travel ban and embargo fight back

For the first time, last week the opponents have forcefully deployed their legislative tactics, with considerable success.  As a result, we know a lot more about the thinking of more than 100 representatives about the issue, a key fact for projecting to the future.  And the facts suddenly no longer suggest that the changes are irreversible, at least in the short or medium term. It goes without saying that Cuban-American congressmen were in the lead of these efforts.

The House approved and will send to the Senate two bills–for the budgets of the departments of Commerce and Transportation–each with amendments that would sink any efforts to facilitate travel to, or trade with, Cuba, two key elements of Obama’s changes and of the legislation behind the embargo. An amendment that would refuse to fund an eventual American embassy in Cuba is expected to be successfully added to a similar bill for the budget of the Department of State next week.

The two bills passed with majorities of 120 and 71 votes respectively, numbers that for the first time reflect how many representatives think in the Republican-controlled House.  In contrast to the mood of supposed irreversibility, it looks like there is an important majority supporting not only of the embargo, but also in favor of rolling back even the modest changes by the Administration.  In other words, forget about eliminating the prohibitions for tourist travel or normal trade with Cuba, which would require eliminating the embargo’s legal framework.  Bad news for the supporters of the policy changes.

It is true that it is unlikely that the Senate will pass those bills, and the White House has already indicated its decision to veto them if they arrive in their present form—in part for the Cuba related amendments, but primarily for more important federal budget reasons. But a poor outlook for these bills with respect to their fundamental objectives is not what really counts with regard to the Cuba policy changes.

What matters are the margins of victory in these votes.  Putting aside the enthusiasm of these first few months, a true change in policy depends on the possibility that the US will abandon its embargo, which requires a majority on both the Senate and the House.  From that standpoint, the irreversibility of the changes in the short and medium term no longer look so promising.

To put these votes in context, it is worthwhile to summarize the status of another proposed bill in the Senate, among many others regarding Cuba, both for and against the changes. The one that has publicly received the most support is a bill that would eliminate the travel prohibition for US citizens and residents. This is a proposal that deals with a theme of personal liberty that is considered very important by Americans, and which is important in the US tradition. It has 37 sponsors at present, a sizable if not decisive number in a Senate of 100 members.

Even if we assume that the bill could reach majority support in the Senate, however, what would be its future in the House, in light of these recent votes?  Poor, if not impossible. Despite the fact that the issue is probably the one with the most popular support in the US.

It looks like the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations is coming, judging from the statements by both countries after the most recent negotiations, and because it is a decision the President can take on his own. But in the short run that would hardly amount to much more than the symbolic raising of the national flags in the two buildings, because it is not even clear that the Senate would confirm a nominee for Ambassador, or would give financial support for the level of embassy that Obama’s policy would require.

It is true that the Administration and others still have more than a year to try to give momentum to the changes. It is also true that we still don’t know how much influence the incipient business lobbies may have. They are still forming and catching speed.  On the other hand, although it seems improbable that a Republican president could go back and break diplomatic relations, he could certainly pull back many of Obama’s executive measures.  Proof are the past examples of Reagan and Bush II. Even with a Democratic victory for president, we are talking about a tie, not a victory by either side of the dispute.

While it is true that the projection in the long term, for numerous reasons is for a change in policy like Obama’s, it also looks like in the short and medium term, except for an unlikely political earthquake, everything is in doubt except the establishment of full relations. With regard to true normalization, which both countries recognize, at least at this point, would require an end to the embargo, the votes in the House suggest that we still have a long wait.

 


40 thoughts on “Will Congress Stop Obama’s Plan for US-Cuba Change?

  • August 25, 2015 at 1:07 pm
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    Too funny, should Rubio somehow become the republican candidate, you might as well just hand the whitehouse to Hillary or “other party candidate” now. The republicans handing a chance at the whitehouse to a guy who never served in the US armed forces -AND- no one in his entire bloodline ever served in the US armed forces -AND- when his most recent ancestor (father) had a choice to fight for freedom or flee his home and relatives, he chose to flee. At least Obama had a grandfather that served in WWII. Wow! That’s who I want as my commander in Chief. (…and in Rubio’s defense, he actually lied about his father’s cowardliness. They left Cuba well before the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra was even signed starting the revolution. -AND- his dad did go back several times looking for work AFTER Castro took power. From what I’ve read even coming back in direct violation of US immigration law as well as lying on his immigration form in 1965. GREAT candidate!

  • August 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm
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    The easiest way to end the current government in Cuba? Send in millions of US citizens scurrying around like cockroaches to all ends of the country…. especially spring breakers. The Castro’s would even flee the country. Seriously, I can’t imagine anything that could bring a quicker end to the regime. I do hope they are able to maintain their independence though.

  • June 15, 2015 at 11:57 am
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    Truly Poetry.

  • June 13, 2015 at 10:16 am
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    Thanks for blithely acknowledging that your original comments were wrong. The fact is that the US of Marti remembrances was a very different country than the US of today. The problems facing Cuba today are of Castro’s doing. Marti was probably wrong about the US then, and his views are certainly wrong today. Cuba’s best hope for recovering any measure of a quality of life they deserve demands that they adopt a free but regulated open market economy. Cuba needs a political system that encourages free speech and a work ethic that relies on and rewards individual initiative. The US, taking the good and leaving the bad is the best example in the world for such a system.

  • June 12, 2015 at 2:18 pm
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    Have you taken a look at his views of capitalism? Regarding his time in “capitalist” USA he committed that he had spent time, “…in the belly of the beast”! Both sides, anti and pro use Jose Marti to defend their views. Marti voiced strong condemnation of U.S. imperialism which he considered the product of greedy capitalism. His strong support for social justice and his dream of such in a new Cuba gives some indication of his views of a mix of socialism and capitalism as essential to his dream. Marti viewed the U.S. as Cuba’s “greatest danger”! How very true was this prophetic perspective.

  • June 11, 2015 at 10:13 am
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    So a little exploitation is good but a lot is bad?

  • June 11, 2015 at 8:00 am
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    An excellent and eloquent summary, sir!

  • June 11, 2015 at 7:57 am
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    Well then, that’s a facile and paternalistic view of the issue. Is any huge multinational industry focused on helping it’s host countries? The ones I presume you prefer as the engines of your great and “free” nation? If so, why do we have industry rooted environmental destruction on a scale never seen before? Why do we have human rights abuses and child labour violations on a staggering scale? If a small to medium sized operator brings some trade to Cuba and perhaps uses a support staff of locals, well then good all ’round. Focus on the monolithic corporations that are circling overhead above Cuba. The United Fruit Company of the USA did it once and others of their ilk are leering on the sidelines waiting for their chance. It’s commerce on a small scale that generates a healthy community, not indentured servitude to a self perpetuating, amoral corporation.

  • June 11, 2015 at 12:02 am
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    I have “obviously ” read more than you. Jose Marti said “Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand.” Doesn’t sound like a big fan if socialism at all.

  • June 10, 2015 at 11:51 pm
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    Cubans “bow the knee” to the Castros. You don’t seem to have a problem with that. 1959 only changed masters, it didn’t eliminate them.

  • June 10, 2015 at 9:00 pm
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    Kennedy, I’m a US and Irish Citizen and so independence, as an Irish man
    is part of my DNA. Cuba is fiercely and has been for a very long time in favor of remaining independent. They got royally screwed in the forties and fifties and we all agree is the reason Castro won and came to power.
    Where it changes, in my view, is that Castro was prior to the revolution, a marxist/communist and that’s where I began to have major fears. Those fears became realities with the Roman Catholic Church closed down, it
    doesn’t go well with marxism, and the murder of those who wanted to morph the change into something more in line with making Cuba independent but part of the western world. Too short to go further but again, social media, as it did in Ireland a few weeks back with gay marriage voted in favor, will change Cuba for the better. Perhaps without the McDonalds’ and Starbucks’ but better for all those living there.
    Glimmers of hope, I see, so let’s focus on the now and the positives rather than the saber rattling that we both tend to go for.

  • June 10, 2015 at 8:44 pm
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    Moses, I’ll assume you’re close to my age, 50-60. Free press, as we grew to know, isn’t what it used to be. The game is the internet and that’ pretty much as free as you can get. Access to that media or venue is what will change Cuba and I feel strongly to do so with giving the people living there independence and a new direction not, perhaps, in unison with what the US would like to see.

  • June 10, 2015 at 7:12 pm
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    If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio become our next president, they will have the same “executive powers” that Obama now has. This means they could, with one single executive order as the new president, wipe out all of Obama’s new policies toward Cuba! Dumb? Yes! But a very real possibility. After all, they are Republicans from Florida!

  • June 10, 2015 at 7:07 pm
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    My goodness, Moses! You obviously have never read much of Marti’s works. He might have very well been anti-Marxist but most certainly not anti-socialist. You do understand there is a major difference. Well, then again…!

  • June 10, 2015 at 7:03 pm
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    Millions!? Cuba has a population of a little over 11 million. You Cubans have a great capacity for “expanding the facts”!

  • June 10, 2015 at 6:59 pm
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    History, Moses, history! The U.S. has always sought to control national/domestic, internal affairs of Cuba. Beginning with the Platt Amendment and the Platt Amendment on steroids, the Helms-Burton Embargo. We robbed Cuba of her hard fought independence in 1902, continued to control the internal affairs of Cuba via our military occupation, corporate money, and manipulating its leaders to grant our wishes and desires to meet our needs, not those of the Cuban people. Chide and hate all you wish, but the 1959 Revolution gave Cuba that which it never fully possessed, SOVERIGNTY, self governing, the right to choose its own destiny void of U.S. control, this after almost 500 years of foreign domination and interference. Never again will Cubans “bow the knee” to U.S. demands. They will do this new policy their way, not ours and the “old carrot and the stick” B.S. with which we have controlled them for decades. Get over it Moses, the death rattle is in the throat of the old U.S. policy and the Embargo. May they perish soon and may all who support them enjoy eating the dust clouds of history moving forward.

  • June 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm
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    In the nearly 15 years of going to Cuba for the winter, staying in casa particulars,
    meeting and knowing many Cubans, I can say that I know the mindset of the
    Cubans. I must agree with some of the comments made in this forum that the revolution did produce and create a different Cuba than when Batista was dictator. However, I feel, after spending 15 years in Cuba, that there are many
    misconceptions about Cuba’s state of health. (I do not mean the Cuban health
    system here.) There are many aspects of the Cuban economy that were not created by the embargo. Cuba’s biggest trading partner, China, for example, has been helping Cuba for many years; so much so, that they have forgiven Cuba’s debt to them. Besides China, Cuba trades with other countries in the eastern bloc. The problem with the Cuban economy is brought on by the Socialist Party itself.They lack the know-how to bring Cuba into the 21st century. One of
    the many jokes that I hear on the streets in Cuba is, “what new law are they
    going to enact today.” Many laws are enacted and, then, shot down by the
    government. I feel that they lack the foresight to think about and prepare for the
    future. Another joke that I hear when something is difficult to find in the
    stores, be it food or building materials, is, “es la culpa del embargo/bloqueo.”
    (It is the fault of the embargo/blockade.) With smiles on their faces, many
    Cubans “blame” everything on the embargo: the weather, the late trains, the
    inability to find parts etc. I have spoken to Cubans who could not care less
    about the embargo being lifted. They say that food and other items are going to
    cost more than they do now. My last comment is directed to those who speak of
    students from other countries studying in the medical schools throughout Cuba.
    Do students go to these institutions because they cannot afford to get into
    medical school in their countries or that they did have the grades to get into
    medical school in their countries? I have spoken to good and dedicated Cuban doctors and nurses who have been educated in Cuba. Many denounce the educational system Almost to the person, when asked about his or her medical school experience and whether or not they would allow a Cuban trained doctor administer to them, the answer was a resounding, “No!” Why is it that Cuban doctors, who emigrate to other countries, have to spend years in the medical school in the country to which they emigrated? For those who want more proof, when next in Cuba, speak to a Cuban doctor and ask him what he thinks of Bolivian students studying to be doctors. Ask him what he thinks of a system that has to pass a student who actually has not met the criteria to be a physician. I am sure that not all Cuban doctors fall under this umbrella. The ones that have worked as doctors for years and who have studied abroad are good fine and professional doctors.

  • June 10, 2015 at 10:42 am
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    Exactly how do you define success? Is it the crumbling infrastructure? Is it the inability to freely access information? Perhaps it was, until very recently, the prohibition against traveling abroad? Or maybe its the lack of free speech?

    …I know, the greatest success of the revolution is breakfast, lunch and dinner! You are familiar with the old refran (saying) right? Its interesting that almost 60 years after the triumph of the revolution there are less cattle on the island than in 1959. And to this day Castro has not been able to keep his promise of a glass of milk for every Cuban.

  • June 10, 2015 at 10:29 am
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    I’m Cuban….and I don’t like Castro.

    Do the millions who fled Cuba, and those that continue to risk their lives on rickety rafts on the open ocean, love him? …I think not. And those are the ones who’s actions speak much more eloquently than anything you and I could ever say.

    To risk your life and the life of your family to flee Cuba is a very powerful statement!

  • June 10, 2015 at 8:44 am
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    His point is obvious. Richard Graves’ yachting business is clearly not aimed at helping Cubans, well except the Castros to whom he will pay bribes to run his business unmolested.

  • June 10, 2015 at 6:52 am
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    Marti was anti-Socialist yet you sing his praises. Interesting.

  • June 10, 2015 at 6:49 am
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    You are obviously not Cuban and it would seem that you have never visited Cuba. The Ladies in White are beaten and arrested on nearly a weekly basis. The Castros are increasingly harassing, beating and arresting more dissidents on a monthly basis. By comparison, the lawful protesters in Bavaria were allowed to demonstrate. The show of force may have been excessive (20,000? Source please ) but the protests still took place. The Ladies in White are often PREVENTED from protesting. Who longs to return to the “glory days” of the Batista-era?

  • June 10, 2015 at 6:37 am
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    We agree on one thing. …I am anti-CASTRO.

  • June 10, 2015 at 6:33 am
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    “….to make their Revolutin the success it is today!” Success?Are you serious?

  • June 10, 2015 at 3:08 am
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    Because it is the US which imposed the embargo against International Laws and which was of itself an act of war, aimed at destroying the Revolution. This act ignited the resolve, the determination, the will, the sacrifice, the sisterhood, the brotherhood, to make their Revolutin the success it is today!

  • June 10, 2015 at 3:02 am
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    bjmack, Dictators dont change their policy, they keep their people suppressed; the mere idea that the the little band of Ladies in white could demonstrate against the people and goverment of Cuba, paints a good picture of tolerance of the goverment which realizes that not everyone would support the cause;in the just concluded meeting of the G7 in Bavaria, protesters were met by 20,000 heavily armed police. If this was done in Cuba, what an outcry it would have been? You see the hypocrisy of the so-called free press? Why are you opting for change in Cuba, do you want the country to revert to the days when the minority ruled the majority? Tell me honestly, were you one of the oppressors, because only persons of your ilk will speak that way. If it was not the will and determination of the Cubanpeople to embrace a socialist pathway to their development, it would have bees impossible for them to do so just some 90 miies away from the Vampire. The success of the Revolution is testimony to the fact that the vast majority of the Cuban People prefer to live under umbrella of Communism. So, stop longing for the Glory days of Batista, they are not coming back

  • June 10, 2015 at 2:37 am
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    Marti, you are improving your stature in the realities of life. You almost sound as though you are living up to the name you portray- Marti. the Great National Hero of Cuba. The Castro Brothers were touched by the plight of their Cuban brothers and sisters depite their wealth which they forsook to work in the interest of the majority who were downtrodden and deprived of hope. Their sister was untouched by the degradation of her fellow men and wanted to hold on to the status quo. She has joined the Anti- Castro Goup in Miami along with those who long for the glory days of oppression and exploitation. You, my friend, bear a name which is synonimous to a man who stood for principles, a man who did not sell out Cuba and its people, a man who stood for his beliefs, a man who was true and honest, a man whose consciecnce to his cause was like the needle to the pole, a man who stood for the right though the heavens fall. Try walking in his shoes at all times and try not to walk out of step fo fear of missing his footprint.

  • June 10, 2015 at 2:19 am
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    I share your sentiments! You are facing the facts and he real world.

  • June 10, 2015 at 2:16 am
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    Moses, Moses,I keep repeating the same refrain–Why are you so anti- Castro? You know that the Castro’s are truly loved by the Cuban people. You know that they are the most honest leaders in the Latin American region. You damned well know that they cannot be bought or sold and that is why you hate them so badly. You cannot pierce their armour of integrity, because their conscience, their committment to their people is like the needle to the pole, Were they buyable, were they men of straw, they would be your heroes; but they are men of principles and character and that is what irks you, that is why you are griping. America received its Independence in 1776 (Thanks for the correction) 239 years ago and there are persons who cannot afford to send their children to College, persons who cannot afford to eat a good meal in the so-called richest country in the world. Stop pointing fingers at the Castro’s. There are over 70 countries from the Third world and even America, which have students studying in Cuba free of cost, an effort which will help to eradicate illiteracy and poverty. Name me one other country in the world which does this? The same Castro’s defeated the great Invincible South African army and brought True Liberation to Angola when your country, America, was supporting the Apartheid system in which the Black majority were subjugated and had to walk with passess in the country of their birth. People of your standing looked on, unconcerned about the plight of the Black man, When Nelson Madela, touched by the plight of his fellow men, decided to change this horrific, unjust and inhumane system, people of your ilk, labelled him a terrorist. No wonder you hate the Castro’s with with the nuclear power plant of hatred you have churning inside of you, for you hate anyone who runs to the assistance of the oppressed peoples of the world. Mandela and the Castro’s believe in the dignity, the integrity, the selfworth of the working class masses of the world. You, on he other hand believe in the oppression, the suppression, the indignity the subjugation of the wrking class people of the world. You believe that we were ordained to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. That you must sit on your veradah, your feet perched high and we must run to your every beck and call to supply your needs. If you possessed one ounce of the principles, the compassion the caringness of the Castro’s you would be a real human being of a person. Were the world to measure you againt the Castro’s, you will be so dwarfed, you wlill almost be invisible My departed Grandmother used to say, “You only discuss important matters and very important persons.” The Castro brothers have to be very important for you to be always attacking them. Every time you open your mouth to attack them you display your real self. You display that you are an oligarcgh who despises the advancements made by the working class. The Castro’s irk you because they are ensuring that we are in the same social standing as you are. That there are no differences between you and us.( That all of us are one) That all of us are a part of the human race and that all of us have our particular part to play in the devopment of the world we live in. Destroy the nuclear power plant of hatred you have churning in your heart for the Castro’s and the working class peoples of the world and join us in our efforts to create a more just, humane, peaceful and friendly world. Are you prepared to join the working class masses who are the most trusting and genuine of God’s Creation?

  • June 9, 2015 at 9:26 pm
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    What is needed is the carrot (normal relations) AND the stick. So far, Obama has been all carrot and no stick.

  • June 9, 2015 at 9:22 pm
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    Why must all the concessions to advance normal relations come from the US? I see legalizing a free press in Cuba as a lower hurdle to overcome than getting 217 votes to repeal Helms-Burton.

  • June 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm
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    Moses, you’re intelligent and know full well that won’t happen. What will happen is a rapid change in Cuba and one that I think we’ll both favor. This will take time but will happen sooner than later. Also, we know that there are powerful lobbies in the US, especially in Florida and NJ who absolutely, and perhaps with good reason, never do business with the Castro brothers. Freedom is slow in coming but it’s a whole lot better than five years ago and that’s a step in the right direction. Many Cuban’s are now traveling to the US and preaching for the end of the Castro regime and go back to Cuba without getting arrested and that in itself
    is a baby step that I’m in favor of.

  • June 9, 2015 at 7:24 pm
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    It’s posturing and that’s all for the Republican’s and I’m very conservative and think they look bad. It kind of reminds me how the politburo used to vote and again, not a very good idea. It will not pass without a veto and will be voted down so it’s a mute point and the future for Cuba and USA will proceed, ala Obama, as planned.

  • June 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm
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    It is a bit late to turn the clock back. Regime change in a country that is not a threat is not a viable policy. Obama who has made many foreign policy mistakes just like Bush, has it right on Cuba. The best chance of influencing developments are via engagement. Not engaging will leave the U.S. outside looking in as China, Brazil, France and others engage and invest. Brazil has put in $1 billion dollars via loans into the Marial Economic zone. Will they walk away if U.S. retreats ? Will China walk away ?

    The U.S. does not need to be best if friends. It can keep strict trade terms until old debts are paid. But a total freeze out makes little sense. Cuba is not going to join the union of states. Let it go to follow it’s own path. Soft influence via travel and cultural exchanges will do more than a 50 year old embargo.

  • June 9, 2015 at 5:48 pm
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    So what you’re saying is,… we need some kind of …..embargo that would surely bring about change and foster a higher standard of living. A bold and well thought out plan! – let’s do it!

  • June 9, 2015 at 5:45 pm
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    I can’t see the point of your comment…..

  • June 9, 2015 at 5:15 pm
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    So, in your research, how many Cuban yacht owners did you run across?

  • June 9, 2015 at 3:16 pm
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    It’s interesting to me that folks like you can share your options on the embargo without even the slightest mention of the repression the Cuban people endure under the Castro dictatorship. You drone on about business opportunities and remain silent about Cuban freedoms. Let’s say you start your yachting business. Will it bother you at all that Cubans will likely not be able to afford your tours? Will you lose any sleep knowing the Cubans who work for you will take home, if their lucky, about 10 cents for every dollar you pay the Castros for their work? I guess this is what they mean when they say “savage capitalists”.

  • June 9, 2015 at 12:01 pm
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    It is too late for the Congress to stop the momentum for lifting the embargo. There are quite a few U.S. business groups that have already visited Cuba to start relationships. Lifting the embargo will not only help the economy of Cuba but also help the economy of Florida and the rest of the country. Although I am not an expert on Cuba, I have visited the country twice doing research on their effort to build yachting tourism.

    I have been performing research on boating in Cuba for the past three years. I became interested in looking at Cuba as a gateway tor U.S boaters wanting to cruise the Caribbean ever since I sat on a ECLAC marina expert panel regarding the building of yachting tourism in the Caribbean.

    Ever since President Obama began this venture, I have seen many countries from Europe, China and others jumping on the band wagon trying to get a foot hold in Cuba before the U.S. opens it up.

    I have not heard any good reason for continuing this stupid worth less embargo

  • June 9, 2015 at 10:16 am
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    It would go a long way in helping the cause to normalize relations if the Castros would take a few steps towards democracy. Legalizing a free and independent press would be such a step.

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