Thursday, September 29, 2016

Newsweek's bait and switch on Cuba in the 2016 election

The ugly truth
Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and Raul Castro in 2015
Kurt Eichenwald's article " How Donald Trump’s Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba" is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," in terms of the main charge, carried in the report's title, but requires adding a few more facts to provide context and meaning.  Chris White in Law Newz characterizes Trump's dealings in Cuba as "another media distortion" and a "non-scandal" and one should read Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates analysis of the Trump non-controversy.

President Bill Clinton in 1992 ran  as a "hardliner" on Cuba policy supporting the Cuban Democracy Act also known as the Torricelli Bill. A bill that President Bush had initially refused to sign, but relented once Cuban exiles got Candidate Clinton's backing. As was the case with his approach to China once he got into office he did an about face.

First, President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 1996 pursued a policy of engagement with the Castro regime. In 1994 the Clinton administration initiated regular contacts between the U.S. military and the  Castro regime's military that included joint exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. This was  confirmed by Raul Castro in a December 2008 interview with Sean Penn where he stated "we've had permanent contact with the US military, by secret agreement, since 1994." Not only contacts but joint military exercises according to General Raul Castro:
"It is based on the premise that we would discuss issues only related to Guantánamo. On February 17, 1993, following a request by the United States to discuss issues related to buoy locators for ship navigations into the bay, was the first contact in the history of the revolution. Between March 4 and July 1, the Rafters Crisis took place. A military-to-military hot line was established, and on May 9, 1995, we agreed to monthly meetings with primaries from both governments. To this day, there have been 157 meetings, and there is a taped record of every meeting. The meetings are conducted on the third Friday of every month. We alternate locations between the American base at Guantánamo and in Cuban-held territory. We conduct joint emergency-response exercises. For example, we set a fire, and American helicopters bring water from the bay, in concert with Cuban helicopters.
( Despite his rhetoric George W. Bush continued the practice during his presidency.) During this period of "constructive engagement" brutal massacres of Cubans such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down took place. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters. Since it occurred while President Clinton was seeking re-election and his only options were to do nothing, military action, or toughen sanctions he opted for the latter signing the Cuban Libertad Act of 1996. 

This ended his first round of normalizing relations which lasted less than two years. Thus Eichenwald's reporting on the Clinton administration's Cuba policy is incomplete when he writes:
"The first signs that American policy might be shifting came in March 1998, when President Clinton announced several major changes. Among them: resuming charter flights between the United States and Cuba for authorized Americans, streamlining procedures for exporting medical equipment and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to send small amounts of cash to their relatives on the island."
Nor does Eichenwald mention what happened after 1999. Bill Clinton was the first sitting president to shake hands with Fidel Castro on September 6, 2000 and one month later he signed  Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Castro regime and U.S. companies. Opposition in congress led to that trade not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers by through government backed credits ensuring that business would be cash and carry.

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 2016 American companies sold $5.2 billion dollars in goods to the Castro regime on a cash and carry basis.

Trade with the Castro regime peaked at $711.5 million in 2008 under the Bush administration with sanctions that protected U.S. taxpayers from picking up the tab while under the Obama administration's Cuba policy of unilateral concessions trade collapsed to $180.3 million in 2015 and in January 2016 the White House opened up financing for the notorious deadbeat nation. This may be great for the Chamber of Commerce but it is terrible for the American taxpayer.

Young Cuban Americans picketed Clinton, protested Cuban embassy opening (2015)
Donald Trump explored opportunities for business in Cuba in 1998 and a year later in The Miami Herald explained why he would not do it. When President Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations with the Castro regime Trump gave his lukewarm support saying "I think it's fine" but characteristically that we "should have made a stronger deal."

On this blog I explained repeatedly why Trump's echoing of Obama and Clinton's Cuba policy would cost him and the Republican Party the Cuban American vote.  This would not be the first time that Republican's abandoned an anti-communist position supported by an ethnic group only to lose their support. This happened with Chinese Americans in the 1990s.

Only 35% of Cuban Americans were supporting Trump before he indicated on September 16, 2016 that if elected he would rollback Obama's normalization of relations with the Castro regime if human rights were not dramatically improved in Cuba. It will be interesting to see what are the new polling numbers for Mr. Trump among Cuban Americans after his mid-September announcement on Cuba policy.

Yesterday, on this blog the question was raised if the Obama Administration's Cuba policy legacy project would throw Clinton under the bus? Reading today's desperate piece in Newsweek Magazine the answer appears to be yes. Remember both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama maintained a pro-embargo position when running for president and did well in Florida.

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