Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A reasonable and effective Cuba policy

Response to Daniel Larison's article on U.S. Cuba policy in The American Conservative


Maintaining economic sanctions and not resuming normal relations with Cuba has been a responsible and sensible policy that has served the just interests of the United States for more than a half century. U.S. policy on Cuba has not been static over these past 55 years but has shifted course and sought new opportunities to advance American interests.

However, from its inception the embargo policy never sought regime change in Cuba. Its objectives in the early 1960s were : 1) Reducing the capabilities of the Castro regime to direct and support subversion and insurrection within the other OAS states; and 2) Maximizing the cost to the Soviet Union of supporting the Castro regime.

During the Carter (1977 – 1981) and Clinton (1993 – 2001) Administrations’ efforts were undertaken to loosen sanctions unilaterally that correlated with disastrous results in both cases. During the Carter Administration the Castro regime achieved a totalitarian beach head in Nicaragua and during the Clinton Administration the Castro regime was able to project itself into Venezuela with the presidency of Hugo Chavez. This has had a profound impact on the entire region with the Cuban military and state security service combined with Venezuelan petrodollars achieving regional goals that it had wanted to undertake since 1959. In both cases the United States back tracked on fully normalizing relations, but failed to pursue the policy of isolation and containment that had existed in the 1960s.

An interesting comparative analysis is to look at a country who ended its policy of isolation and fully engaged with the Castro regime. For example, diplomatic relations were restored between Venezuela and Cuba in December of 1974, oil deliveries resumed, and the democratic government of Venezuela under Carlos Andres Perez's first presidency advocated Cuba's readmission to the Organization of American States. At the start of his second presidency (1988 - 1993), Carlos Andres Perez invited Fidel Castro to his inauguration. In 1992 Hugo Chavez was involved in a failed coup against the Andres Perez government. Pardoned by Andres Perez's successor, Rafael Caldera, in March 1994 Hugo Chavez made his way to Cuba later that same year where he was received by Fidel Castro as a hero not a failed coup plotter. Four years later, in a reaction to generalized disgust with the corruption endemic to the Venezuelan democratic order epitomized by the Carlos Andres Perez administration the former coup plotter was elected president. Caldera, who had pardoned Chavez, handed power over to him in 1999. Together with Fidel Castro, as a mentor, Chavez began the process of turning a flawed democratic order into the totalitarian regime it is becoming today.

Strategic policy towards Cuba more sound than China
Mr. Larison claims that the sanctions policy stopped making sense 20 years ago but just 18 years ago following the shoot down of two civilian planes over international airspace by Cuban MiGs on the orders of Fidel and Raul Castro killing four (three of which were U.S. citizens) gave policy makers three options: 1) a military response 2) toughening sanctions or 3) doing nothing. Codifying sanctions into law seemed a prudent and conservative response.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the embargo was overhauled first in 1992 and again in 1996 following the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down and its objective to the present day is to: 1) To maintain sanctions on the Castro regime so long as it continues to refuse to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights; 2) To be prepared to reduce the sanctions in carefully calibrated ways in response to positive developments in Cuba;

If the Castro regime has been a “minor nuisance” for the past half century, as Mr. Larison claims, then he should take a closer look at U.S. Cuba policy. On the other hand the decision to normalize relations with the totalitarian communist regime in China combined with trade has had terrible consequences for both strategic and economic concerns of the United States. At the same time the behavior of the United States and much of the rest of the world with regards to the dismal human rights situation there has been one of complicity.
Patrick Buchanan, one of three founders of The American Conservative, has this to say about relations with China:
“Today, someone should write a speech titled, ‘The Conquest of the United States by China.’ For consider how we are corrupting ourselves, chasing the receding rainbow of “the China trade. Scientists at U.S. satellite companies have gone up to the line, maybe over it, in helping China perfect rockets that can carry nuclear warheads. U.S. corporations like Boeing have become lobbyists and apologists for Beijing. Republicans, who once prided themselves on standing with the Reagan Doctrine of containment-and-rollback of the Evil Empire, now prattle about how trade will transform China.”
Apologists for de-linking human rights concerns often cite national interests and strategic concerns. President Clinton took it to a new level in 1998 when having to justify a second waiver involving the Loral Corporation providing technical information to the People's Republic of China that Clinton justified at the time saying: "I believe it was in the national interest and I can assure you it was handled in the routine course of business, consistent with the 10-year-old policy." However CNN in  1998 reported that "[a] Pentagon office concluded in a still-secret report that 'United States national security has been harmed," according to government officials.' 

Shameful human rights policy in China

June 3, 1989 marked the beginning of the Tiananmen Square massacre where estimates placed the number of dead at 2,600. At the time the Bush Administration announced a package of cosmetic sanctions while secretly sending on July 1, 1989 a high ranking delegation consisting of Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who met with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing to explain "Bush's view of the importance of the long-term relationship between the US and the Peoples Republic of China." Part of the reason for this approach was a call from Henry Kissinger discarding human rights concerns as "fuzzy-headed liberals/bleeding hearts" whose successful consulting group Kissinger Associates represents companies that deal with China.

Scowcroft and Eagleburger returned to Beijing in December 1989 to "explore the possibility of developing a ‘road map’ toward better relations with Chinese leaders." In the meantime, Bush "vetoed legislation permitting Chinese exchange students to remain in the US until the Chinese government improved its human rights record."In the aftermath of Tiananmen 1,000 Chinese were sentenced to death and executed.

Clinton went further than the Bush Administration when he de-linked human rights concerns in China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) status renewal criteria on May 26, 1994.

Sound economic policy that benefits U.S. taxpayers
 The ban on U.S. imports from Cuba remains but U.S. exports to Cuba have been going on since 1992 with the amounts dramatically increasing since 2002 reaching its peak in exports to Cuba under the Bush Administration in 2008.

President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in September of 2000 and a month later signed the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act and opened cash and carry trade with the Castro dictatorship at the end of his Administration. At the time of its passage, Fidel Castro said "his country would not buy 'even a grain of rice' under the current terms."

The Cuban dictator ended up buying much more than a grain of rice under those terms. Between 2000 and 2013 American companies have sold $4.689 billion dollars in goods to the Castro regime on a cash and carry basis. Despite the 2003 crackdown on dissidents known as the Black Cuban Spring where the Bush Administration tightened sanctions on being able to travel to Cuba and set limits lower on remittances sent to the island. However, nothing was changed in the cash and carry sales made by U.S. companies to the Castro regime. Towards the end of the Bush Administration in August of 2008 the Cuban government announced that the United States was its fifth leading trading partner.

Meanwhile countries that do not have restrictions on granting credits to the Castro regime such as Russia, Venezuela, China, Japan, Spain, Argentina, France, Romania, Brazil, Italy, and Mexico are owed billions of dollars. Russia is forgiving $29 billion dollars of debt that the Castro regime owed it and Mexico is waiving 487 million dollars of debt owed it by the communist regime in Havana.

Where do you think the United States would be on this list if sanctions were lifted and credits became available to the Castro regime? How much would U.S. taxpayers have to shell out?
Bottom Line

Bottom line if sanctions are completely lifted and trade with credits takes place the Castro regime wins, American corporations win and U.S. taxpayers are left holding the bag. In the meantime the 2000 change in embargo policy by the Clinton Administration has created a lobby not interested in human rights in Cuba but in business with the Castro dictatorship, and unlike a scattering of ideological fellow travelers, they have deep pockets, access to corporate media and the ear of the White House and Congress. The shameful and failed policy in China is the future the business lobby has in mind for Cuba. 

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