Monday, March 9, 2009

2007 Defeat of Rangel Amendment

Vote Rejects Efforts To Ease Cuba Trade Restrictions


Wall Street Journal
July 30, 2007

Anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress are delighted by a House vote last week rejecting efforts to ease restrictions on financing for U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba.

The 245-182 vote quashes speculation that the new Democratic Congress will change U.S.-Cuban policy substantially.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), a favorite of her party leaders, helped deliver 66 Democratic votes against an amendment sponsored by the House's chief tax writer, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.).

"The message is very clear," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Fla.). "There will be no possibility of a relaxation of sanctions until there is a democratic constitution in Cuba."

Most striking, the fight came on an issue touching on agriculture, always a weak point for proponents of the U.S. trade embargo, which was relaxed in the last years of the Clinton administration to allow U.S. exports of food and medicine.

The Bush administration has since imposed tough payment regulations that critics contend are overly burdensome, effectively requiring cash in advance of any shipment from American ports.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R., Mo.) has waged a running battle in the annual Treasury Department appropriations bill to try to get Congress to override these rules and allow cash on delivery. As recently as June 28, pro-embargo forces made a strategic decision not to force a House vote on Ms. Emerson's language.

But Mr. Rangel went further. His amendment -- offered to the farm bill last week -- would have allowed direct payments to U.S. banks and permitted visas for Cuban officials traveling to the U.S. to inspect agriculture export facilities.

"It went too far. We could not let it go," said Ms. Wasserman Schultz.

The timing also left the chairman vulnerable. The farm bill happened to come to the floor after advocates of Cuban sanctions had mounted a lobbying campaign in Congress; the vote on the Rangel amendment was just a day after Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, had addressed his nation on Revolution Day; and Ms. Wasserman Schultz warned colleagues against adding a politically volatile issue to the farm bill.

Undaunted, Mr. Rangel described the amendment as a "real win for America and a win for American farmers."

But even pro-trade allies were skeptical. "His timing was horrendous," said John Kavulich, a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council."

It's the best we've ever done on any vote that has an ag aspect," said Mr. Diaz-Balart.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz, who worked with another Democrat, Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey, said the 66 Democratic votes represent a solid core now that won't be easy to shake.

"The message is: there has not been a lessening of support for the sanctions against Cuba," Rep. Wasserman Schultz said. "Among Democrats there is a solid base for pushing for reform on the island."


Thursday, August 2, 2007
Reasons for the Failure of the Rangel Amendment
There’s no mystery about why the Rangel amendment failed. You can’t beat something with nothing. We have on our side no PAC, no organization on Capitol Hill to speak of, and no whip operation.

To begin with our lack of a PAC, since the beginning of the year, the US-Cuba Democracy PAC has given $322,500 to federal candidates, including at least two $1,000 contributions to every freshman Democrat. That means that all the new Democratic members have heard the pro-embargo arguments at least twice as they received their checks. In addition, two Democrats, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Cuban-American Albio Sires (D-NJ) are actively whipping Democrats – especially freshmen – to support the embargo. (The Diaz-Balart brothers have performed that function with incoming Republicans for several years).

In an unusual move, Speaker Pelosi installed Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a cardinal on the Appropriations Committee in only her second term. I.e. she Chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee that determines the funding level for the entire legislative branch. She also serves on the powerful Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition she holds a leadership position at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her job at the DCCC as head of the Frontline program is to help “vulnerable” Democrats win reelection. So, when she asks a new Democratic member to vote with her, she does so with considerable institutional authority.

If Wasserman Shultz’s status were not enough of a problem, we have lost Majority Whip James Clyburn. (Majority Leader Hoyer was always a problem on Cuba issues, but was thought to be offset in the leadership by Clyburn). The loss of Clyburn moves the situation in the House from serious to close to desperate.

To return to the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday, 51 (77%) had received one or more contributions from the PAC since the beginning of the 2007-2008 election cycle:

Altmire $3,000
Andrews $1,000
Arcuri $2,000
Baca $2,000
Barrow $8,000
Bean $3,000
Berkley $5,000
Boyd $1,000
Braley $6,000
Brown (FL) $5,000
Butterfield $1,000
Cardoza $1,000
Carnahan $4,000
Castor $1,000
Chandler $2,000
Clyburn $10,000
Cuellar $6,000
Davis (AL) $3,000
Donnelly $3,000
Ellsworth $1,000
Engel $5,000
Gillibrand $3,000
Hare $1,000
Higgins $1,000
Hodes $1,000
Hoyer $5,000
Jones (OH) $2,500
Kennedy $1,000
Klein $11,000
Lipinski $1,000
Mahoney $7,000
Marshall $2,000
Melancon $2,000
Perlmutter $2,000
Rothman $1,000
Ryan (OH) $2,000
Salazar $6,000
Schiff $1,000
Sherman $1,000
Schuler $2,000
Sires $10,000
Skelton $2,000
Space $2,000
Wasserman Schultz $10,000
Wexler $5,000
Wilson (OH) $2,000
Wu $5,000

Of the remaining 15, 7 (47%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba Democracy PAC in the 2005-2006 election cycle:

Ackerman $6,000
Green (TX) $1,000
Hastings $6,000
McIntyre $5,000
Meek $4,500
Miller (NC) $4,000
Pallone $4,000

Altogether, 58 of the 66 Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment on Friday (88%) received one or more contributions from the US-Cuba PAC in the last year and a half.

They didn't wait for the 110th Congress to convene either. The US-Cuba Democracy PAC gave out $62,000 after the 2006 general election - again mostly to newly-elected Democrats. That means the PAC gave a total of $384,500 to federal candidates since the 2006 general election.

The founding of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC and its targeting of campaign contributions coincides with the annual votes to defund enforcement of various provisions of the Cuban embargo. It is not to be critical – but only factual – to point out that those votes provided the basis for an annual appeal to wealthy Cuban Americans to provide funds to preserve the embargo in Congress. (As the list of PAC contributors reveals, they are almost exclusively Dade County-based Cuban Americans

It is always more difficult to pry a member of Congress away from a position taken in a recorded vote than to prevent that vote in the first place. At this point we must as a matter of urgency prevent a generation of Democratic legislators from becoming permanent embargo supporters. I hope our next discussion will be about how that might be done.

--Anonymous 1

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trade Mark Disputes

March 7, 2009 – 2:30 p.m.
Cuba’s Smoldering Brand Wars
By Shawn Zeller, CQ Staff

American businesses by and large hope that President Obama and Democrats in Congress will loosen the American embargo on trade with Cuba, which they see as a potentially lucrative market for their goods. But for U.S. companies that have trademark disputes with Cuban business rivals, the issue isn’t so simple.

Consider the case of the General Cigar Co. Inc. of Richmond, Va., which since the late 1990s has sold Cohiba brand cigars in the United States.

Cohiba, of course, is also Cuba’s premier brand and was reportedly a favorite of Fidel Castro before he stopped smoking in the mid-1980s. But Habanos S.A., the state-owned tobacco company, never registered Cohiba — the word Christopher Columbus says he was taught for “tobacco” by the native Cubans he met in 1492 — as the trademark in the United States. Even so, when General Cigar rolled out its own Cohiba brand in 1997, Habanos sued. After a nine-year court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the now 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba barred such a trademark challenge.

Granted, both companies use different logos. The Cuban brand features a black and white checkerboard above an orange stripe with the word Cohiba in block type in between. The Virginia brand’s label features Cohiba in black, gold or silver block type with the center of the “O” in red.

Even so, “the lifting of the embargo would potentially create turmoil over who owns those rights,” says Ignacio E. Sanchez, a lobbyist with DLA Piper who represents General Cigar.

The issue is serious business. General Cigar has spent nearly $3.5 million on Washington lobbying in the past decade, much of it on the Cuba debate. And the company isn’t alone. Sanchez estimates that there are $2 billion worth of claims against the Cuban government over property seized after the island’s revolution 50 years ago.

One of the most famous disputes pits rum distiller Bacardi U.S.A. Inc. against French distiller Pernod Ricard over the rights to the renowned Havana Club brand. Pernod Ricard entered into a joint venture in 1993 with the Cuban government to sell Havana Club outside the United States, but Bacardi claims to own the name.

In 1998, Congress included language in a catchall spending bill barring Pernod Ricard from registering the trademark in the United States, something that would enable the Paris-based company to sell Havana Club here if the embargo were lifted.

Both companies have maintained big lobbying operations in recent years to try to protect that provision, in Bacardi’s case, or repeal it, in Pernod Ricard’s.

Though there seems to be little momentum in Congress to lift the embargo, Democrats are pushing to loosen it. The $410 billion omnibus spending bill for the rest of this fiscal year, which is on course to clear this week, would lift Bush-era travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to visit relatives on the island and lift restrictions on U.S. exporters who want to sell food and medicine to Cuba. Under a 2000 law, U.S. companies may sell such products, though regulations imposed by President George W. Bush have curtailed the trade.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Embargo Costs to US

The Costs of the Embargo
The 47-year-old blockade now costs the United States far more than it costs Cuba.

By Margot Pepper

This article is from the January/February 2009 issue of Dollars & Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

On January 1, Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the revolution against the U.S.-backed Batista regime. For 47 of those years, Cuba has suffered under what U.S. officials call an “embargo” against the Caribbean nation. Cubans’ name for the embargo—el bloqueo (the blockade)—is arguably more apt, given that the U.S. policy also aims to restrict other countries from engaging in business with Cuba.

What’s surprising is that while the blockade continues to take a considerable toll on the Cuban people, it costs the United States far more, and the gap is widening. Given the economic meltdown, it is only fitting that a growing chorus of diverse voices is calling for an end to the costly vendetta.

The original justification for the embargo was Cuba’s expropriation of “some $1.8 billion worth of U.S.-owned property,” according to the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. In turn, Cubans argue that early in the century, the United States had seized control of 70% of Cuban land and three-quarters of Cuba’s primary industry. By the 1950s, as a result of U.S. colonialism and preceding Spanish rule, five out of six Cubans lived in shacks or were homeless, 80% of Havana suffered from hunger and unemployment, and two out of three Cuban children didn’t attend school. Cubans say such conditions left them no recourse but to expel the Yanquis, just as the Yankees had expelled the British in 1776.

Today, U.S. public opinion is turning against the embargo. A majority—52%—wants the embargo to be lifted, with 67% favoring an immediate end to the travel restrictions, according to the Cuba Policy Foundation (CPF), a nonprofit run by a former U.S. ambassador. Recent polls have even shown that a majority of Miami Cubans now support lifting the embargo.

These percentages might be even higher if the U.S. public were aware that the blockade is actually costing them more than the Cubans, something that is finally beginning to dawn on the U.S. business community. Representatives of a dozen leading U.S. business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, signed a letter in December urging Barack Obama to scrap the embargo. The letter pegs the cost to the U.S. economy at $1.2 billion per year. The CPF’s estimates are much higher: up to $4.84 billion annually in lost sales and exports. The Cuban government estimates the loss to Cuba at about $685 million annually. Thus the blockade costs the United States up to $4.155 billion more a year than it costs Cuba.

The U. S. government also spends $27 million each year to broadcast Radio and TV Martí, even though the television signal is effectively blocked by the Cuban government. The largely futile propaganda effort has cost U.S. taxpayers half a billion dollars over the last twenty years, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Beyond the economic costs, the blockade has deprived U.S. citizens of Cuba’s medical breakthroughs. Cuba has developed the first meningitis B vaccine; cures for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa; a preservative for un-refrigerated milk; and PPG, a cholesterol-reducing drug gobbled up by foreigners for its side effect: increased sexual potency. And last summer Cuba released CimaVax EGF, the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer. The drug triggers an immune response that extends life in lung cancer patients and can ease breathing and restore appetite.

The blockade has always cost the United States more, but the gap has widened considerably. By 1992, U.S. businesses had lost over $30 billion in trade over the previous thirty years, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. At that time, Cuba’s loss for the same period was smaller, but not by much: $28.6 billion, according to Cuba’s Institute of Economic Research. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s diversification and increased trade with other countries has widened the gap between the costs to Cuba and the costs to the United States.

While the dollar cost to the United States may be higher, Cuba has suffered a greater economic hit relative to its size and resources. Although lifting the blockade will inevitably boost Cubans’ living standard, the Cuban economy will still be saddled with its colonial legacy as a mono-crop producer. Unequal trade terms enforced by treaties and organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund maintain formerly colonized countries as underdeveloped purveyors of raw materials, subsidizing the high standard of living in industrialized countries. It is useful to remember this uneven playing field whenever making U.S.-Cuba comparisons.

Regardless of all these obstacles, the socialist island has managed to provide its inhabitants with what the United States, one of the most affluent countries in the world, so far has not: free top-notch health care, free university and graduate school education, and subsidized food and utilities. Meanwhile, 36.2 million people go hungry in the United States and 47 million lack health coverage. Indeed, Cuba compares favorably to the United States on a number of basic social factors:

* Housing: There is virtually no homelessness in Cuba. Thanks to the 1960 Urban Reform law, 85% of Cubans own their own homes and pay no property taxes or interest on their mortgages. Mortgage payments can’t exceed 10% of the combined household income.
* Employment: Cuba’s unemployment rate is only 1.8% according to CIA data, compared with 7.6% (and rising) in the United States. One factor contributing to Cuba’s low unemployment is undoubtedly the 350,000 jobs that have been recently created by the burgeoning sustainable urban agriculture program, one of the most successful in the world, according to U.S.-based economist Sinan Koont.
* Literacy: The adult literacy rate in Cuba (99.8%) is higher than the United States’ rate (97%), according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
* Infant mortality: Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate (4.7 per 1000 live births) than the United States’ (6.0).
* Prisons: Cuba even does better on prisons. Its rate of incarceration—estimated at around 487 per 100,000 by the UNDP—is among the highest in the world, yet it is considerably lower than the U.S. rate of 738 per 100,000. Now that the number of political prisoners Cuba locks up is in decline, according to a February Associated Press news release, there is even less justification for the blockade.

The fact that a poor, formerly colonized country can meet its citizens’ basic needs, while outperforming the United States on key measures, underscores how inexpensively the United States could follow suit. Cuba’s example could prove instructive to President Obama and his constituents as the United States faces economic collapse. And herein may lie the real motivation of the blockade, and its most significant cost: it keeps people from making such comparisons first-hand. If the only concrete threat the Cuban Revolution poses to the United States these days is the threat of a good example, isn’t it high time we bury the blockade?

Margot Pepper is the Mexican-born author of Through the Wall: A Year in Havana, a memoir about working in Cuba during the “Special Period.” Her work has appeared in the Utne Reader and Monthly Review and on Z-net, Counterpunch, and elsewhere, and can be found at and at
Sources: Anita Snow, “Reported Number of Cuban Political Prisoners Dips,” Associated Press, February 2, 2009; Brendan Sainsbury, “Cuba—Health Without Wealth.” Dan Griswold, Cuba and the United States in the 21st Century, speech at Rice University, Houston, October 12, 2005; Teddy Kapur and Alastair Smith, Housing Policy in Castro’s Cuba, May 16, 2002,; Cuba Vs. Bloqueo website; Jill Hamberg, “Cuban Housing Policy”, Transformation and Struggle: Cuba Faces the 1990s, ed. Sandor Halebsky and John M. Kirk, New York, 1990; Larry Luxner, “Sally Cowal: from ambassador to anti-embargo activist”, BNET Business Network, September. 2002; Patricia, Grogg, “Health-Cuba: Lung Cancer Vaccine Available”, IPS, June 26, 2008 (; Rory Carroll, “Cuba approves first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer”, The Guardian, June 26, 2008; Sinan Koont, “The Urban Agriculture of Havana,” Monthly Review, January 2009; reports from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the U.N. Development Programme.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cuba No Threat to US

Annual Threat Assessment of the
Intelligence Community for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Dennis C. Blair
Director of National Intelligence
25 February 2009

President Raul Castro’s record since formally taking power in February 2008 indicates
his primary objective in the coming year will be to make Cuba’s dysfunctional socialist economy
more efficient. His task has been made more difficult, however, by the extensive damage to the
country’s already weak agricultural sector and infrastructure by three major and successive
hurricanes last year. The global economic downturn will further slow growth, diminishing the
regime’s options for addressing public dissatisfaction with living conditions.

Havana’s competent and immediate response to the hurricanes underscores the
effectiveness of regime controls and indicates that it remains capable of preventing a
spontaneous mass migration. Nevertheless, we judge that at a minimum the annual flow of
Cuban migrants to the United States will stay at the same high levels of about 35,000 legal and
illegal migrants annually that have prevailed over the past several years.

Raul almost certainly will continue to proceed cautiously on any reforms to the economy
in order to maintain elite consensus and avoid raising public expectations beyond what he is able
or willing to deliver. We have seen no indication in the modest changes he has implemented that
he intends to abandon core Communist economic principles, such as state ownership of
production. On the political front, all indications are that Raul will continue to deny elements of
civil society and pro-democracy dissidents the exercise of free expression.

Venezuela’s preferential terms for oil sales and payments for Cuban medical personnel
and other technical specialists will remain Cuba’s economic lifeline, despite Cuba’s efforts to
attract other sources of foreign investment from countries such as China and Russia. President
Chavez probably will prioritize aid to Havana over other foreign policy commitments.

We assess Raul will continue his efforts to bolster Havana’s international legitimacy by
projecting a more moderate political image. Nevertheless, Cuba almost certainly will remain
heavily involved behind-the-scenes in counseling and supporting authoritarian populist
governments in Latin America and otherwise seeking to undermine US influence across the

Cuba, though an economic basket case, can still influence the Latin American left because of its socalled “anti-imperialist” stance.

Venezuela and Cuba have been particularly adept at parlaying provision of charitable
medical services to nationals of other countries into support in international forums such as the
United Nations.