South Bend Tribune, IN - June 11
In case anyone still in unclear why the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo and travel prohibition against Cuba doesn't make sense, a recent news report might clarify the issue.
Cuban cigars are legally imported into Canada, which has open trade with Cuba. Consumers in Canada are free to purchase Cuban cigars in Canadian stores.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently was in Canada on a trade mission. He reportedly bought a legal Cuban cigar in a country that legally imports and sells them.
Even so, if the cigar was Cuban, Schwarzenegger broke the law. U.S. law, that is. Not Canadian law.
Under U.S. trade restrictions against Cuba, U.S. citizens are prohibited from buying Cuban cigars anywhere in the world, not just in the United States.
It is hard to imagine U.S. Customs officials prosecuting citizens for such an arcane offense. But, should a visiting U.S. citizen be convicted of buying a legal cigar in Canada, the penalty is a fine and even prison. Luckily for the Governator, he smoked the evidence.
The United States has managed to develop productive, peaceful relationships with a host of former Cold War and shooting-war enemies, including Russia, Vietnam and China. Yet Cuba remains a Cold War relic.
The policy begun by President Nixon of spreading American values through contacts and commerce never has been applied to Cuba. And Fidel Castro continues to maintain the last bastion of Soviet-style communism in the western hemisphere. If Americans were free to trade with, visit and invest in Cuba, the once-and-future tropical paradise 90 miles off the Florida coast would be inundated by the free market. Castro quickly would become irrelevant. As it is, the old dictator has a handy scapegoat for Cuba's many problems.
Are there any reasons to cling to the embargo?
There are no trade-related reasons, to be sure. Schwarzenegger's cigar illustrates the ridiculousness of the United States trying to apply a trade embargo to the global realities of the 21st century.
There is no humanitarian reason. Millions of Cuban-Americans are separated from loved ones still living in the Caribbean nation, where deprivation of daily essentials is the norm.
Ah, but there is a political reason. No president, Democrat or Republican, has been willing to risk alienating the vehemently anti-Castro Cuban-American voting block in Florida.
That could change. There is a growing voice of moderation among Cuban-Americans as more come to understand that there are more sensible approaches than simply outliving Castro. It would be refreshing to hear presidential candidates in both parties address the Cuba question frankly.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes a cigar is a symbol of an outmoded foreign policy and a self-serving political view. This time it's a symbol.