Friday, February 17, 2012

What Embargo? [Part 2]

Over the decades, countless arguments have been made for keeping the US embargo (e.g. Soviet threat, property nationalization, approaching success, violation of human rights). In Miami, no two defenders will have the same defense. And, asking "What embargo?" is not only an effective excuse from again defending a half-century of sanctions, but it also expresses widespread exhaustion and disappointment with the effectiveness of current policy. But, despite its accepted failure, embargo defenders still view the embargo as the fine line that protects the Cuban exile identity, the necessary line that divides friend and enemy.


I was listening to Nancy Perez Crespo on WWFE (670 AM) last week. She appeared shocked to see that Diario Las Americas, whose editors are hard-liners on Cuba policy, published an EFE article on the 50th Anniversary of the embargo which she thought was intolerable. She barely got halfway through reading the article on-air because she refused to accept the article's contention that economic reforms have been implemented in Cuba. "What reforms?," she asked. Maybe not the reforms that Perez Crespo had in mind. But, it seems, even to suggest any change in the cruelty of your enemy is unacceptable. God forbid the enemy does change and produces the need for a new strategy.

Upon the 50th anniversary, embargo defenders in Miami had to remind themselves why they should remain committed. One example came from Jesus Marzo Fernandez, former Cuban official who defected in 1996, and now a local "expert" on the Cuban economy (appearing countless times on Spanish-language TV and radio). Last week, Fernandez outlined chronologically why the US embargo was justified. Fernandez begins: "1960 - During this year 473 citizens were executed by firing squad, unprecedented in Cuban history." Interestingly, his chronology ends on October 24, 1960 when supposedly all American companies in Cuba have been nationalized. In fact, most of the dates in the timeline have to do with Cuban intervention and nationalization of foreign companies during the 60s, and therefore we can assume that Fernandez, like others in Miami, believe the embargo is justified because of these nationalizations (without fair compensation).

But, as usual, the timeline is incorrect and misleading.

There's no mention that both Washington and Havana did attempt to negotiate for fair compensation of future nationalized properties during 1959. But, the U.S. eventually rejected the compensation offer of 20-year bonds. (Of course, there were huge disagreements over what was "fair" compensation, such as the case of United Fruit properties which Cuba estimated at around $6 million, but the company wanted around $38 million!) By the time 1960 came around, negotiation attempts were replaced with escalating threats. And, as mentioned in the previous post, throughout the 60s the Eisenhower administration already had plans to overthrow the Cuban government with a covert war.

This is the context missing from Marzo Fernandez's chronology defending the embargo. In addition, his timeline has errors. According to Fernandez, on Jan. 3, 1960 "all phosphorous plants are confiscated." I assume he means sulphur plants, which the biggest one (Moa Bay Mining Co.) was intervened upon (not confiscated) in March 1960.

Also, Fernandez doesn't mention the accurate date the U.S. embargo began on (Oct. 19, 1960), and instead makes the chronology look like the embargo followed a long series of Cuban nationalizations. On the contrary, the Cuban government confiscated over 100 American companies in reaction to the Eisenhower embargo. (Interestingly, Moa Bay Mining Co. was not yet confiscated.)


Over the years, I've heard countless excuses on why the U.S. embargo towards Cuba should be kept. None make much sense to me, but that's because the embargo means something deeper than rational thinking. It's more about exile identity and its corresponding narrative of combating an eternal enemy. Recently, Jaime Suchlicki made it very clear (and revealing his militant side) in a recent op-ed for El Nuevo Herald, arguing that "[a]ll forms of struggle for liberty are legitimate. The last recourse of a defenseless and oppressed people is violence. Cuba is on that road. Let us hope the last sacrifice is coming soon."

Preserving the line between friend and enemy is something that draws hard-liners and militants together. And those voices are also our political leaders. As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen once said on Radio Mambi: "[it's] not very difficult Ninoska. The intellectuals want to make it like - Oh, this is so difficult, you have to look at this as very complex. No, no, no. There are friends and there are enemies. Who's side are you on?"

In this world of eternal battle, who knows when intolerance, ignorance or violence may fall on either side.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Embargo? [Part 1]

That's an often repeated line from callers and guests on Radio Mambi. The denial seems to be premised on the US being one of Cuba's top trading partners since 2000 when Congress allowed exceptions for agricultural exports (with several restrictions which you can look up here). In 2007, the US became Cuba's fifth-largest trading partner with approx. $582 million in agricultural sales (and approx. $710 million in 2008). In 2010, sales in food products dropped to approx. $410 million (seventh-largest trade partner with Cuba).

Of course the embargo exists (just ask the US-Cuba Democracy PAC), but, in Miami, hard-liners towards Cuba have grown incredibly frustrated defending the policy. The easiest way out of an argument is to say: "What embargo?" And, even the most adamant defenders of the policy know they don't have much to stand on. Let's take a look.


Lot of articles were written this week about the US embargo towards Cuba, and its 50th year in operation. But, the embargo actually began in 1960 under the Eisenhower administration when US exports were cut. You can see from the picture above (courtesy of The Miami News on Google Archives), the top headline is from 1960, and the bottom one is the Kennedy administration's ban on imports from Cuba in 1962 (good chronology of US sanctions on Cuba here [PDF]). This is an important distinction because the Eisenhower administration made the goals of economic sanctions against Cuba very clear. Last year, historian Robert S. McElvaine wrote this in his op-ed to the L.A. Times:
"Noting in a 1960 memorandum that 'the majority of Cubans support Castro,' Lester D. Mallory, deputy assistant secretary of State for inter-American affairs, argued that 'the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.' The objective, he wrote, was 'to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.'"
And, it was throughout the 60s that the US was secretly planning a covert war against Cuba. You can check this great chronology from the National Security Archive to get an idea of how extensive American plans were to overthrow the Cuban government (also good is "The Castro Obsession" by Don Bohning).


The above context is important, especially when you hear today about how "moral" it is to keep the US embargo. While it certainly won't topple the Cuban government today, the embargo is perceived in Cuba as a policy of aggression, as it was in 1960 and 1962.

So, last Tuesday our four Cuban-American representatives in Congress came out with their defense of the US embargo. According to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, "the embargo is a moral stance against the brutal dictatorship. Over the last 50 years, the embargo has served as a constant form of solidarity with the Cuban people."

What Rep. Ros-Lehtinen really means when she says "moral stance" is to say that the embargo is a symbol of our confrontation against Cuba. A message that should be interpreted by the Cuban government as "we are enemies, not friends." (Nevermind the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggesting " it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.") Also, the embargo is not a "form of solidarity" with the people of Cuba. The majority of Cubans oppose the embargo (a 1994 poll inside Cuba found widespread opposition, and a 2006 poll showed Cubans highly favoring the US as an ideal trading partner.) Anyway, our foreign policy should not ignore the majority voice of Americans that oppose the US embargo.

Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Albio Sires make similar comments defending the embargo, but Rep. David Rivera seems to describe the need for expanding sanctions on Cuba because of their "Chavista and Mullah" allies. If we follow this logic, the US should expand their embargo to the rest of the western hemisphere.

Speaking of irrationality, let's not forget the other intransigents in Miami.