|President Kennedy signs decree broadening trade restrictions with Cuba on Feb 7, 1962|
The claim that the economic embargo on Cuba is a failure gives an impression that economic sanctions on Cuba have been static and unchanging over that period. American Administrations over the decades have not only “tinkered” with the embargo loosening or tightening it but also made radical changes and there have been dire consequences.
The original objective of the Embargo was not to overthrow the Castro regime but limit its ability to expand into the rest of the hemisphere while forcing the Soviet Union to expend large sums to keep their client regime in Cuba afloat.
President John F. Kennedy signed a decree broadening trade restrictions with Cuba on February 7, 1962 that became known as the Cuban embargo. In the aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the objective of the trade embargo was set for the rest of the Cold War in a Memorandum From the Coordinator of Cuban Affairs to the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, January 24, 1963 which in part states:
“We will not, of course, abandon the political, economic and other efforts of this hemisphere to halt subversion from Cuba, nor our purpose and hope that the Cuban people shall some day be truly free."
The objectives of the economic embargo were to reduce the capabilities of the Castro regime to direct and support subversion and insurrection within other OAS states; and maximizing the cost to the Soviet Union of supporting the Castro regime. The Cuban regimes insurrections failed to succeed in the Americas and Soviet expenditures in Cuba were high but whether or not that contributed to its eventual collapse is a subject for debate.
However the failure of loosening sanctions is normally not up for debate. This blog entry aims to change that.
The first effort to loosen sanctions and normalize relations was a spectacular failure and here is how it unfolded.
On April 27, 1977 representatives of the Carter Administration and the Castro regime sat down and personally negotiated an international fishery agreement. This was the first time since 1958 that any officials of the United States government sat down with representatives of the Castro regime to formally negotiate an agreement.
|Dictator Fidel Castro and President Jimmy Carter|
Towards the end of the Carter Administration the discovery of a Soviet ground forces brigade operating on Cuban territory and the ineptness in handling the Mariel boat lift crisis spelled not only the end of the policy but was also a contributing factor to the defeat of President Carter during his 1980 re-election bid.
However, the lifting of sanctions and starting to normalize relations during President Jimmy Carter's watch did provide disastrous results in the hemisphere. Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista rebels in 1979 financed and backed by the Cubans, took power and a civil war erupted in El Salvador in 1979 with efforts of Cuban backed guerillas to overthrow the existing government. Central America became a blood bath.
President Reagan took office in 1981 and reintroduced sanctions and turned the tide in the hemisphere. It was during this period that Latin America experienced its longest and deepest wave of democratization in its history.
On March 1, 1982 Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This was less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Castro regime was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government. Despite the Castro regime's denials, it has a long and well documented history of sponsoring and taking part in terrorism.
For the second time tightening sanctions generated stability in the region, and in the 1980s was one of the factors that led to a democratic renaissance in the region.
The second time loosening sanctions and engaging with the dictatorship was also a failure.
The Clinton Administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre. On June 26, 1993 three Cuban patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers trying to reach the Guantanamo Naval Base, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. he Clinton Administration reported the incident witnessed by U.S. personnel on the base. This was but one of five separate "incidents" documented in the summer of 1993. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
|Maleconazo protests in Havana on August 5, 1994|
"Apart from the distances: in China they tried to erase what happened in Tiananmen Square and in Cuba the Maleconazo."In both cases the government of the United States backed up the regimes in power at the expense of the people in the streets.
|Plane clothes police with gun drawn pointing at protesters on August 5, 1994|
|President Bill Clinton with Dictator Raul Castro|
|Brothers to the Rescue planes destroyed by Cuban MiGs on 2/24/1996|
The Cuban dictator ended up buying much more than a grain of rice under those terms during the Bush years. Between 2000 and 2013 American companies sold $4.689 billion dollars in goods to the Castro regime on a cash and carry basis. This was a politically motivated operation that sought to purchase influence both at the state and federal level.
The Castro regime used openings in trade from the Clinton era (medical products in 1992 and agricultural products in 2000) to build up a pro-Castro lobby and to target congressional districts in agricultural states to advance its interests. The dictatorship accomplished this by purchasing American exports and requiring U.S. corporations and members of Congress to sign "advocacy contracts" that turned them into lobbyists for the dictatorship as a condition of the Castro regime buying their goods.
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, cash and carry sales made by U.S. companies to the Castro regime remained unchanged.
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. The peak year of trade between the United States and Cuba was the last year of the Bush Administration.
The third time loosening sanctions was also a failure.
The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 loosened sanctions on the Castro regime. On April 17, 2009 President Barack Obama said that his Administration sought "a new beginning with Cuba" and stated further that he was “prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues — from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration, and economic issues.” Less than eight months later Alan Gross was taken hostage in Cuba. Nevertheless, the Administration continued its policy of unilateral concessions.
The Obama administration, not only began to loosen sanctions on the Castro regime in April of 2009, but also refused to meet in June of 2009 with the winners of the NED Democracy Award who happened to be five Cuban dissidents that year. It was the first time in five years that the president of the United States had not met with the award laureates.
|Alan Gross before and after 5 years in a Cuban prison|
The Obama administration doubled down on concessions ignoring the Castro regime's continued sponsorship of terrorism and smuggling of weapons to sanctioned countries in order to eventually take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
This ignored that in 2012 there were reports in the media of Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials meeting in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks on U.S. soil allegedly seeking information about nuclear power plants in the United States. Supposedly the FBI had opened an investigation into the matter, but there was no mention of this in the State Department's 2012 report.
Human rights defenders were victims of brutal and life threatening machete attacks in the same month that the secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro dictatorship started. On June 8, 2013 in Holguin, Cuba Werlando Leiva of the Christian Liberation Movement was attacked with a machete on a public street.
Later that same month on June 21, 2013 in Camaguey, Orlando Lazaro Gomez Hernandez, a member of the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front stepped out of his house with a sign demonstrating his solidarity with hunger striker Luis Enrique Santos Caballero. Seeing this the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), an individual known as “Julio” ran out of his home with a machete and started to attack Orlando Lazaro with it, cutting part of his right hand and also striking him on the back. Others in coordination with the CDR president came out as the activist fell to the ground and began to kick him.
|Machete attacks, breaking bones, knife attacks since 2012|
The Cuban government was caught red handed on July 15, 2013 trying to smuggle tons of weapons hidden under bags of sugar to North Korea through the Panama Canal. "A total of 25 standard shipping containers (16 forty-foot and 9 twenty-foot) and 6 trailers were found, for a total of about 240 tons of arms and related materiel." The Cubans provided the North Koreans with surface to air missile systems, two MiG 21 jet fighters, and 15 MiG-21 engines, eight 73 mm rocket propelled projectiles (PG-9/PG-15 anti-tank and OG-9/OG-15 fragmentation projectiles) to be fired with recoil-less rifles, as well as a single PG-7VR round, a high explosive antitank tandem charge to penetrate explosive reactive armor, were also in the shipment.
|Tons of weapons being smuggled to North Korea by Cuba discovered in July 2013|
In addition to the war planes, heavy weapons and projectiles outlined above, the Castro regime provided technology that could aid North Korea's efforts to develop a delivery vehicle for their nuclear weapons.
The Obama Administration ignored all of this and followed through on his pledge to work for the lifting of economic sanctions on the dictatorship. On his watch human rights worsened with an escalation in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and prominent opposition leaders who would have been critical for a democratic transition were killed extrajudicially.
|Some of the Cuban rights defenders since 2009 who have died suspiciously|
The rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists. included machete attacks, and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012), and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012).
By December 17, 2014 the Obama administration had freed all five members of the WASP spy network, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who had been serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue, murdered during the previous attempt at normalizing relations during the Clinton Administration. They de-linked the pursuit of full diplomatic relations from the rise in human rights violations in Cuba and in the region by Cuban state security.
|President Barack Obama with General Raul Castro|
On March 2, 2015 news broke that the government of Colombia had seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship due to a lack of proper documentation. The BBC reported that "Officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products."
Raul Castro was invited to the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama in April of 2015. This violated the democratic ideals of the summit and democratic charter signed in September 2001. On the eve of and during the course of the summit, the anti-democratic and violent nature of the dictatorship in Cuba was made evident. The Panamanian government had hoped that extending an invitation to all elements of Cuban society would propitiate a dialogue where all involved could “listen to each other within the frame of respect.” The summit was inundated with Cuban officials and state security agents that carried out acts of repudiation and violence to disrupt events of the Summit in order to prevent Cuba’s or Venezuela’s independent civil society from participating in designated summit activities. "
|Leticia Ramos and Augusto Monge attacked in Panama|
On January 7, 2016 The Wall Street Journal broke the story that in June 2014 an inert US Hellfire missile sent to Europe for a training exercise was wrongly shipped on to Cuba when it was supposed to be on its way back to the United States. Since 2014 the United States had been privately asking the Cuban dictatorship to return the missile but refused to do so when first discovered.
|Mystery: How did a US Hellfire missile (pictured above) end up in Cuba?|
Despite a request from the Administration, Cuba refused to return the missile, until it became a public embarrassment, over a year and a half later in February of 2016. This was happening while the Obama Administration and the Castro regime were in secret negotiations to normalize relations.
|Did Castro manipulate Obama into this photo-op or did White House want it?|
The aftermath did not generate positive results.
U.S. diplomats in Havana started being harmed in health attacks in November of 2016. Despite that on December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and signed 11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation.
No word on these attacks. On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops in Havana marched in a parade over which Castro presided chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat of lead to the head.”
American diplomats were suffering serious harm, including mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss that included loss of balance, headaches, and brain swelling. Yet, according to The Wall Street Journal no complaint was made until February of 2017 but the attacks on American diplomats continued until August 2017. Cuban officials at first said they did not know what was going on, and later claimed that the noises were crickets and the injuries imaginary.
On top of all this, trade between Cuba and the United States collapsed during the Obama Administration. The peak year of trade between the two countries was during the last year of the George W. Bush Administration that had taken a harder line on Cuba than either Presidents Clinton or Obama.
In November of 2017 former Cuban diplomat, Jose Antonio "Tony" Lopez was linked to terrorists responsible for the June 17, 2017 bombing in Bogota, Colombia that killed three and injured nine according to prosecutors in the South American country. A mother of one of the accused denied her son's involvement in the attack but confirms the link with the former Cuban diplomat.
Perhaps tightening sanctions, recognizing the nature of the abnormal and dangerous regime in Havana, is a better approach than pretending that it is "normal" while watching it wreak havoc in the hemisphere in both lives and treasure.
Speaking of treasure. What of the countries that have normal relations and do business with the regime in Cuba?
James Prevor, President and Editor in Chief of the publication Produce Business in October of 2002 in the article, Cuba Caution, reported on how Cuba "had exhausted all its credit lines and, at best, was simply rotating the accounts. When the opportunity came to buy from the United States, Cuba simply abandoned all those suppliers who supported the country for 40 years and began buying from us." The suppliers were not the ones impacted by Cuba's failure to pay its debts, the taxpayers of the suppliers' home countries were the one's left holding the tab.
"[S]ince March 2009, a select group of commercial banks now will be able to offer terms of 180 days to five years on federally-guaranteed loans to the foreign buyers of U.S. exports without having to obtain prior federal approval. ... Because of the foreign risks involved in export lending, most commercial banks through-out the world do not make these loans without government guarantees. In the U.S., the guarantees are provided by the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), a federal agency.Seventeen years ago Prevor predicted where things have now arrived in the Cuba policy debate as far as agribusiness is concerned:
But what the really big grain traders want is to sell to Cuba on credit - and get those credits provided or guaranteed by various federal loan programs. In effect, these agribusiness behemoths want to sell to Cuba and have the U.S. tax- payer pick up the tab. And their bet is that once produce shippers have gotten a taste of the business, they will become a kind of Amen corner for the Cuban lobby, pushing Congress to approve whatever laws will be to the liking of the Cuban government. This really brings to the forefront why trade with a communist country poses unique dangers to a democratic society.The gullible will believe the Castro regime's claims that the billions in goods purchased from the United States is just the tip of the iceberg for trade opportunities once the embargo is lifted. The reality is that what is taking place is the ultimate variation of the bait and switch con. A policy of normalization with the current government in Cuba may be good for agribusiness, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Castro regime but it will not be good for American taxpayers who will be left holding the bag like so many other tax payers around the world.