Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Orlando Sentinel Calls for End of Embargo


Ease isolation
Our position: The U.S. needs to find approach to Cuba without an embargo.

November 1, 2007

Cuba and the United States are like an old dysfunctional couple that refuses counseling. They seem better cast on the set of Jerry Springer, going after each other's throats.

The root of the anger and angst is a trade embargo now approaching a half-century. Nobody wants to blink first and make any concessions, all while blindly ignoring the best interests of each country.

It's too late to expect a change of heart from the Bush administration, which recently ratcheted up the pressure on Cuba by dictating reforms.

We expect better from a new administration. It will need to stop pandering to the vocal and politically powerful base of Cuban-Americans. But so far, only Barack Obama has offered a different approach that calls for peaceful political and economic reforms.

Other candidates should have the courage to step forward and face the truth: The embargo hasn't hurt Fidel Castro, while "enforcement" remains a hypocritical joke. How else can you explain Cuba's allocation of $543 million for the purchases of U.S. goods such as corn, wheat, rice and poultry this year?

The embargo plays right into the Cuban leader's hands by providing a convenient boogeyman to blame for Cuba's harsh economic conditions. And who ultimately suffers the most? The Cuban people.

It also empowers countries like Venezuela to gain a stronger influence. Witness $3 billion in Venezuelan oil subsidies in 2006 to prop up Cuba's economy.

The next administration needs to dangle incentives such as access to international trade organizations and lifting the restrictive rules for travel and remittances. Doing so would allow the U.S. to strategically put all the pressure on Mr. Castro or, eventually, his successor.

If the U.S. boogeyman disappears, so does Fidel Castro's leverage. The onus would shift to Mr. Castro to make important concessions to loosen his omnipresent stranglehold.

The U.S. would play its hand by insisting that Mr. Castro ease up on dissidents and address human-rights violations. This issue should be nonnegotiable. Amnesty International has cited the Castro regime for abuses ranging from long-term imprisonment to intimidation, eviction, house arrests and telephone bugging. The organization lists at least 67 prisoners of conscience -- folks like teachers and journalists -- imprisoned in Cuba following trials that were nothing more than dog-and-pony shows.

The new administration can offer sensible compromises in return for reforms in Cuba. How about including Cuba in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, assuming that agreement eventually gets ratified?

It's all about inclusion, not isolation.

The U.S. has been there, done that for nearly five decades. Common sense says it's time for the U.S. to bury the embargo, an ideological dinosaur that lost its roar long ago.

My response:

Your facts are bad about US candidates. Dodd, Kucinich and Paul favor an end to the entire embargo, including travel restrictions. Richardson's position (repeated in a major policy speech on Latin America last week in Los Angeles) is the same as Obama's, unlimited family travel and remittances. Edwards supports only family travel.

Regrettably the editorial is only slightly less self-delusional than the Bush Administration. A unilateral embargo, condemned for 16 years by virtually the entire world, does not offer leverage for anything positive.

The changes you aspire to in Cuba are far more likely if the US simply backs off and shows respect for the country's sovereignty and independence.

We also can't wait until a new Administration gets around to thinking about a new policy on Cuba. The Congressional leadership should take responsibility now.

Second response

After posting, I reread your editorial. On the one hand, we agree, the embargo is stupid and countgroductive. Also that all politically motivated prisoners should be released--from both countries, which includes the Cuban Five.

Where we disagree is your effort to make one contingent on the other.

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