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.


Tijerón said...

Thanks for this context.

As you know, I enjoy listening to Mambi for non-traditional reasons. Their reading of history, the way you can still smell the Cold War, is both fascinating and depressing.

In this sense, I often suspect that Mambi's function as a news station has a more nostalgic purpose than an informational or journalistic one.

In essence, I have grown to believe that Mambi's role is to massage Cuban American narcissism pertaining to an older and influential demographic. They want to matter in a time and place where younger generations want to forget them.

In relation to your post, I think you do a great journalistic job and provide great information, but, when it comes to identity (which is what Mambi seems to provide a estos viejitos), no amount of facts or context will make them give that up.

I suppose your blog is designed to inform anyone who happens to stumble across Mambi and has a more critical eye.

Now, the reason I mention all of this has a purpose. Here is the purpose:

It might be benefitial for our understanding of Mambi not to judge them in an exclusively journalistic matter (this is great, don't get me wrong), but to also comment on their social role. Who do they speak for? what is the meaning for example of all those segments on alternative medicine and spirituality?

The fact that Tres Patines is on everyday at lunch tells me that this is a radio that lives in black and white not out of choice but out of the necessity of its listeners and anchors.

Mambi_Watch said...

Thanks for the comments.

There's no doubt that Radio Mambi does provide nostalgic needs inside the Cuban exile community. (e.g. its music programs, Tres Patines), but I believe it serves more as a propaganda radio station that sees itself in battle against enemy propaganda.

That is its main role IMO.

My theory is that Radio Mambi represents the voice of exile militancy in Miami, and since militants see themselves in a life-long battle (against communism, totalitarianism, or any evil infiltration) they need the technology to sustain their battle.

Radio propaganda is only natural since it was an important feature of the Cold War, where many still see themselves fighting. But, this war mentality has also recently spilled onto the web.

Narcissism, I think, is a difficult word to use, in terms of definition, application, and reception. I don't think anyone in exile is narcissistic. But, militancy is a quality that many do accept.

I don't think younger generations of Cubans "want to forget" their older generations. Instead, like any other social group, younger generations struggle with and feel ambivalent towards some of the values that their grandparents/parents cherished.

Finally, the alternative medicine and spirituality stuff on Radio Mambi is very interesting. Some of it is naturally geared towards an older audience that is concerned about their health, but the spirituality segments (like from the late Santiago Aranegui) represent something more complicated. IMO they describe dimension of the eternal battle that I mention: the religious conflict between good and evil, the grandness of the eternal battle, and awareness of its impact on your personal life.

Some of it is very paranoid, but most of it is meant to recruit people into seeing this world of "black and white." Why?

That's worth researching more.