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.
EXILE NEWS BUBBLE
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.)
WHO'S SIDE ARE YOU ON?
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.