Cuba Diplomacy: A Critical Reexamination
By Wayne S. Smith
Cold War is over. The Soviet Union has disintegrated. Its former ally,
Cuba, no longer represents even a potential threat to the security
of the United States or to that of any other country. In fact, all
U.S. foreign policy concerns with respect to Cuba have been overcome,
our objectivesmet: Cuban troops are out of Africa; Cuba is no longer
assisting revolutionary movements in Central America or anywhere else
in the world; Cuba's military ties with the former Soviet Union have
been reduced to near zero.
Given all this, one would have expected U.S.-Cuban relations to take
turn for the better. Indeed, in years past, the United States had
consistently stated that once the above conditions had been met,
relations would improve. Rather than improving them, however, the
United States, with the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act, moved
exactly the opposite direction. It tightened the embargo and increased
efforts to isolate the island, including measures to dissuade other
countries from investing there, often in such a way as actually to
movement toward privatization.
Rather than seeking a peaceful transitional process in Cuba, the Clinton
administration's policy seemed more intent on provoking some kind
internal explosion in Cuba. Indeed, the principal author of the Cuban
Democracy Act, New Jersey Democratic representative Robert Torricelli,
publicly acknowledged that the objective of his legislation was to
wreak havoc in Cuba.
The inexorable result of wreaking havoc is bloody conflict or a massive
outflow of refugees, or both. In August, 1994, the inevitable
consequences of the Cuban Democracy Act came home to roost: tens of
thousands of boat people setting out from Cuba for the shores of Florida.
How did this hard-line policy come about? Was it the result of a careful
analysis of changing foreign policy concerns? No, not at all. It came
about purely as the result of electoral politics. The Bush administration
had opposed the Cuban Democracy Act on grounds that it would cause
the Castro regime only minor inconvenience while at the same time
creating serious problems for us with major friends and trading partners,
such as France, Great Britain, and Canada, which saw the Cuban
Democracy Act as an unacceptable effort to impose U.S. law beyond
U.S. frontiers. Given the Bush administration's opposition, it appeared
the act would fail in Congress. But then, in the summer of 1988, candidate
Clinton went to Miami, embraced Jorge Mas Canosa, an
ultra-conservative Republican who heads the Cuban- American National
Foundation, and accepted a $276,000 campaign contribution raised for
him by Mas Canosa.1 He endorsed the Cuban Democracy Act
introduced by Representative Torricelli, who is himself one of the
recipients in Congress of funds from the Free Cuba Committee, the
Cuban-American National Foundation's political-action committee.2
Bush quickly shifted ground and endorsed the Cuban Democracy Act.
Thus, in November, 1992, with the heads of both parties now
supporting it, the Torricelli legislation, was passed by Congress
signed into law by President Bush.
The results have been essentially as predicted by opponents. The
legislation has not brought about the downfall of the Castro regime
there is no likelihood that it will. It has, however, provoked other
countries, which regard it as intervention in their own affairs, to
condemn the U.S. embargo. In terms of its policy toward Cuba, the
United States, thanks to the Cuban Democracy Act, now stands almost
entirely isolated in the international community.
In an effort to suggest that current policy is effective and is based
principled foreign policy considerations, rather than on narrow domestic
politics, proponents of the Cuban Democracy Act have made a number
of claims in its defense. The principal purpose of this paper will
enumerate those claims and to comment on their validity. Before moving
on to that task, however, it may be useful to first examine the central
domestic political calculation which in fact has so far shaped this
administration's policy toward Cuba.
Clinton's objective: Florida
In a democracy, domestic political considerations always play a role
shaping foreign policy, for the latter must have the support of the
if it is to be effective. That is clear. By the same token, however,
policy should serve the interests of the American people as a whole,
not cater to a small minority. But that is precisely what U.S. policy
Cuba, now configued by the Cuban Democracy Act, does: cater to a
small minority. Wider U.S. economic and political interests are being
sacrificed to the hope of adding a few percentage points to the
Democratic vote in Florida. Clearly, what would really serve the interests
of the United States would be a peaceful transitional process, leading,
over time, to a Cuba with a more open political and economic system.
Also, while Cuba does not represent a large market, estimates are
the United States could quickly do some seven billion dollars per
trade with the island, as well as participating in a number of lucrative
Increasingly, U.S. businessmen are asking why they must stand on the
sidelines and watch their European and Latin American competitors
corner the market.
The United States should also be encouraging Cuba to play a
constructive and responsible role in the international community.
has offered to participate in peacekeeping activities. Under the right
circumstances, that might be to everyone's advantage. Why not pursue
Rather than that kind of approach, however, U.S. policy aims to isolate
the island, and seems more designed to provoke a bloody explosion
or a massive exodus, or both, rather than the peaceful transitional
that would better serve everyone's interests.
To say that the United States needs to change or moderate its policy
not necessarily to say that it should immediately lift the embargo
have full economic ties, including extension of most-favored-nation
status. There are those, including dissidents inside Cuba, who argue
for that, but there are others who advocate a more gradual approach.
common-denominator policy might be that the United States, as a
gesture of good faith, lift travel controls and the embargo on foods
medicines, signal to the Cuban government its readiness to begin a
dialogue aimed at improving relations, but note that much will depend
upon how rapidly Cuba, in its own interests, moves toward a more open
system. The United States would not thus lose its leverage, and if
Cuban government did not move ahead with internal reforms, the
bilateral process could be frozen. It is certainly worth a try. We
lose nothing from making the effort.
The right-wing Cuban-American minority in Miami, however, do not
wish to try this or anything else that entails a reduction of tensions,
so the Clinton administration, in quest of an electoral victory in
has so far moved in exactly the opposite direction, increasing the
pressure and hostile rhetoric.
This is hardly statesmanlike. But even worse, the electoral tactic
based on a miscalculation, and thus not likely to work any better
1996 than it did in 1992. Clinton supported the Cuban Democracy Act
in the last elections thinking it might swing Florida in his favor.
not. He won a few more Cuban-American votes, but the cynicism
reflected by his embrace of the most reactionary elements of the
Republican Party turned a number of Democrats off. Thus, overall,
Clinton garnered no more votes than had Michael Dukakis four years
earlier 39 percent of those cast. The race was closer than in 1988
because Clinton did better, but because Bush lost some 15 percent
of the Republican vote to Ross Perot, and thus ended up with only
percent of the vote in Florida, rather than the landslide he had won
Interestingly also, Clinton won Dade County, where the majority of
Cuban-Americans live, even though he won only 18 percent of that
community's votes. He lost in the northern counties where few
Cuban-Americans live and lost over issues that had nothing to do with
Cuba. Cuba, clearly, was not the deciding issue, or even a significant
issue, in the Florida elections.
It is likely to be even less so in 1996. For reasons that have nothing
with Cuba, disgruntled Republican voters who went for Perot will be
even less inclined to vote for Clinton in 1996 than they were in 1992.
Most can be expected to return to the fold of the GOP, thus sharply
increasing its vote over 1992.
On the other side of the fence, many moderate Democrats continue to
be turned off by President Clinton's willingness to make a pact with
likes of Jorge Mas Canosa, a man who has said often and publicly that
he hates the very memory of Jack Kennedy. Clinton is supposed to revere
Kennedy, yet he not only embraced Mas Canosa and took money from him
in 1992, but as recently as May 20, 1994, singled him out for a congratulatory
message on Cuban independence day, praising him for his commitment
to the cause of a free and democratic Cuba. No such messages were
sent to democratic Cuban-American groups such as Cambio Cubano or
the Cuban Democratic Committee. And during the August-September-1994
refugee crisis, President Clinton not only singled out Jorge Mas Canosa
as the representative of the Cuban-American community, but clearly
allowed him to dictate the policy with disastrous results.
This is shortsighted, for the power of the hardliners in the
Cuban-American community is receding. Candidates for city council
put up by the Cuban-American National Foundation lost last year, despite
massive funding by the foundation; so too did the hard-line
Cuban-American candidate for mayor of Miami. In part, this is
generational. Younger Cuban-Americans don't tend to be hardliners
even to see everything through the optic of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
They don't vote the way the foundation wants them to.
Further, more and more moderate voices are being raised in the
community, voices such as Eloy Gutirrez Menoyo's, the leader
Cambio Cubano, and Alfredo Dur n of the Cuban Democratic
Committee, who call for negotiations and some degree of engagement
between the two countries in order to avoid bloodshed on the island.
In thinking that the way to win Florida is to take an unremitting
line toward Cuba, the Clinton administration may well be placing itself
behind the curve and positioning itself to lose Florida by a larger
margin in 1996 than in 1992. Clearly, this is a matter on which the
president has been badly advised.
Assertions in support of the policy
If the electoral calculation that is really behind the policy is highly
questionable, other efforts to justify it are either out-and-out
misrepresentations or simply wrong.
Assertion 1. The Cuban Democracy Act will bring Castro to his
Congressman Torricelli has publicly stated that the purpose of the
to wreak havoc in Cuba. In December of 1992, he predicted that
Castro would fall within months.3 In 1993, he assured his audience
Castro would be out by the end of the year. Now he is saying the Cuban
regime will not last through 1994.
Cuba is, to be sure, suffering through an acute economic crisis and
period of agonizing readjustment. With the collapse of the Commmunist
bloc, there are no more sister socialist republics with which it can
trade on preferential terms. It must find new trading partners and
reconfigure its economy. Meanwhile, its standard of living has plummeted.
Inevitably, popular disgruntlement is on the rise.
There are, however, no signs of internal collapse. The armed forces
remain loyal to Castro. There is no organized opposition, and not
to be any. And while discontent is on the rise, it expresses itself
wish to leave the country, not in efforts against the government.
seen during the August-September refugee crisis this year, tens of
thousands of people departing, or wishing to depart, the island imply
more problems for the United States than for Cuba. However difficult
the economic situation, then, there are no factors in the equation
would suggest the near-term overthrow or fall from power of Fidel
Further, while the economy remains a muddle, the free fall seems to
have ended. The sugar harvest for 1994 will be even worse than last
year's, and 1995 may not be any better. Compensating somewhat for
low production, however, is the fact that the price of sugar on the
market has gone up over the past couple of years. So have the prices
of nickel and a number of other Cuban export commodities. Income from
tourism is increasing at the rate of about 25 percent a year. A Canadian
company has just brought in a new oil well off the north coast. The
quality is not high, but the yield is, thus suggesting a major new
field. A French company is drilling in the adjoining bloc and Brazilian
and British companies are not far behind. The oil find may not prove
to be the economic miracle Cuba has been looking for, but it will
certainly help bolster the economy.
The same Canadian company is investing heavily in production of nickel
and cobalt. A Mexican company has just signed a $1.5-billion agreement
to buy 49 percent of the Cuban telephone system, which is to be completely
All that aside, however, Cuba has a long way to go before its economy
could be sound again. If it is to get there, it must carry out reforms
more sweeping than what it has experimented with so far. The
government can keep the economy afloat without such reforms, but it
cannot hope for full recuperation and a relatively high standard of
rather, the economy would simply stagnate.
Meanwhile, Cuba is not isolated, as indicated by the agreements cited
above. And its economic problems result from the collapse of its trading
arrangements with the Communist bloc, not from the embargo. In the
same way, the Cuban Democracy Act only adds to the island's
difficulties. It does not by any stretch of the imagination have the
capability to bring Castro down. Cuba can, after all, trade with 150
If anything, the law has helped Castro divert attention from economic
failures at home and point instead to "U.S. economic aggression
against the Cuban people" as the real source of the problem.
Cubans may not buy the argument altogether, but they do resent what
appears to them to be the Cuban Democracy Act's intention to starve
them out. (Over 90 percent of U.S. subsidary trade was in foods and
medicines, trade which the Cuban Democracy Act halted.) On balance,
these popular resentments help Castro more than the law hurts him.
Also, while many Cubans may disagree with the present system under
which the island is ruled, they overwhelmingly fear the possible return
the right-wing exiles in Miami who give the impression of wishing
come in, take control and undo the social gains of the Revolution
such as universal education and health care. As it is well known that
the Cuban Democracy Act is the handiwork of those same right-wing
exiles, its passage strengthened the tendency to support the present
government (however reluctantly) rather than risk creating a situation
in which the ancient regime might return.
For a variety of reasons, then, the Cuban government is not likely
follow in the footsteps of the Eastern European socialist governments.
has far more staying power. Something calling itself the Cuban
Revolution will almost certainly survive. If reforms are not forthcoming
and stagnation persists, popular frustrations could explode in
spontaneous outbursts of violence. The mini-riot on the Havana
waterfront August 5 could be the portent of things to come. Violence
wold have to reach the level of a full-scale civil war, however, to
the government's hold. That is unlikely, but should it come to that
result would be massive instability and bloodshed. As some have put
we would then have the Haitianization of Cuba. Certainly that would
not serve the interests of the United States, much less of the Cuban
Meanwhile, present U.S. policy is simply sterile. It neither brings
Castro's downfall nor encourages the sort of bloodless evolutionary
change that would serve the interests of the United States, neighboring
countries, and the Cuban people themselves everyone, in fact, except
the right-wing Cuban exiles. Peaceful change would not suit their
purposes at all, for that would leave them out of the picture. The
only way they can hope to gain power in Cuba is as the result of a
bloody conflagration. They therefore have no interest in dialogue
and a process of gradual reform.
Assertion 2. The United States must not soften its policy or diminish
pressures because Cuba is not democratic and is a violator of human
Encouraging more open political systems and greater respect for human
rights should always be a principal objective of U.S. foreign policy.
The problem with the assertion cited above, however, is that it is
so totally inconsistent with the approach we take everywhere else.
China is not democratic and has a worse human rights record than Cuba's,
yet we maintain full diplomatic and trade relations with it and even
extend it most-favored- nation treatment. That is true also of Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, and a whole series of other countries. In all these
other cases, the United States argues that it can accomplish more
by remaining engaged with the respective governments, using its influence
in a constructive way to encourage them toward more open systems.
Why is it only with Cuba that we eschew engagement? Because it has
no oil? Because it is a small island rather than a huge, irresistible
market like China? Or, more to the point, because, given these economic
vulnerabilities, the administration can more easily afford to take
an unbending line toward Cuba, thus playing to that minority in South
Florida, whatever the unfortunate consequences for the causes of human
rights and democracy.
If those causes were truly the motivating force behind the administration's
policies, one would expect it to pay some heed to those in the forward
trenches of the struggle, Cuba's religious and human rights
leaders. Instead, it turns its back on them. The Cuban Council of
Catholic Bishops, the Ecumenical Council, and most human-rights
leaders call for an easing of U.S. policy. The first two, and human
leaders such as Elizardo S nchez, Vladimiro Roca, and Yndamiro
Restano, even call for the lifting of the U.S. embargo and the
abolishment of all travel controls. They want the Cuban government
carry out liberalizing reforms and argue that it is less likely to
under pressure from the United States. S nchez has suffered many
in prison for the cause of human rights. He says, U.S. policy impedes
rather than helps that cause.
The inescapable fact is that, given the history between the two countries,
so long as the United States is attempting to pressure, isolate, and
intimidate the Cuban government, the latter will react defensively
maintain tight internal discipline. It is only when there is a relaxation
tensions that the climate for positive change can exist.
It is for that reason that the majority of human rights activists
least for dialogue, as do all Cuba's religious leaders. So far, the
administration has not listened to them.
Assertion 3. Our policy has international support and other nations
join the embargo.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Canada, Mexico, Great Britain
and various other countries passed legislation to block implementation
of the Cuban Democracy Act in areas under their jurisdiction as soon
as it was enacted. The European Community as a whole has condemned
the law, and in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly by a vote
of 88 to 4 called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
The embargo was also condemned at the Ibero-American summit by the
Latin American countries, plus Spain and Portugal. Even the report
by the United Nations special rapporteur which criticized Cuba for
violations of human rights also pointed out that measures such as
the embargo are counterproductive and only make the situation worse.
Indeed, it would be difficult to find any international support for
Cuban Democracy Act, or for U.S. policy toward Cuba in a broader
sense. On this issue, the United States stands alone. And as for
internationalizing our embargo, that is an absurd pipe dream. No other
nation has joined us and none is likely to do so. Israel votes with
the United Nations, but even it trades with Cuba. And our most stalwart
NATO allies refused to join our embargo against Cuba even at the height
of the Cold War.
Rather than sympathizing with us on Cuba, most other nations regard
our policy as the result of some irrational obsession, or, at best,
rather tawdry response to domestic political concerns that it is.
Canadian diplomat put it: You may base your policy on the wishes of
small minority in Miami if you wish, but don't ask us to follow suit.
Assertion 4. There is a "second track" to the Cuban
Democracy Act under which we are reaching out to the Cuban people,
providing them with food and medicines, assuring them of our friendship
and trying to expand communications with them.
Even before the new sanctions imposed by the administration during
the August-September refugee crisis, the so-called second track existed
almost exclusively as a gimmick in the minds of official spokesmen
trying to put a better spin on an unconscionable action. One had only
to examine the specific claims on which it was built to see that it
was without substance (see below). Certainly the Cuban people didn't
seem to have received or believed the reassuring message the second
track was supposed to convey to them, as evidenced by the fact that
the Catholic bishops, the Ecumenical Council, and Cuba's most prominent
human rights leaders continued to say our policy was wrong and to
urge us to change it.
With the new sanctions enacted on August 20, the second track lost
any shred of credibility. Administration spokesmen had claimed they
wanted to expand communications with Cuba, but now they rescinded
the general license under which members of the Cuban- American
community in the United States could visit their families still on
island, and vice versa. Also rescinded was the general license under
which academics had been able to travel freely to Cuba to conduct
research and scholarly exchanges. This was a flagrant infringement
academic freedom. Also, flights between Miami and Havana were
drastically reduced and Cuban-Americans were told they could no longer
send remittances to their families. Supposedly, all this was done
to tighten the noose on Castro and force him to halt the flow of boat
people out of Cuba. But even after Castro entered into an agreement
with the United States on September 9 which in effect halted that
flow, the United States refused to lift the newly imposed sanctions.
As of this writing, they remain in place.
Almost as questionable were the earlier claims on which the alleged
second track rested. To wit:
The Cuban Democracy Act has lifted the embargo on medicines to Cuba.
No medicines have been sold to Cuba as the result of the Cuban
Democracy Act. To say that the embargo on their sale has been lifted
is a gross distortion. The law states that medicines can be sold to
Cuba, but only if there is on-site inspection to verify the purposes
for which they are to be used. In other words, foreign inspectors
would have to track the distribution of the medicines. No self-respecting
government would accept such conditions. The U.S. government certainly
would not. Nor would the Mexican, or the French. Nor will Cuba. Hence,
for all practical purposes, the embargo on medicines remains in place.
The Cuban Democracy Act opened the way to and has resulted in a
tremendous increase in humanitarian shipments of foods and medicines
This is true only in an extremely limited sense. It was possible for
churches and various other organizations to make humanitarian
shipments to Cuba even before the enactment of the Cuban Democracy
Act. The latter did simplify the licensing procedure and such shipments
have increased, totalling now some $33 million over the two years
since the law was passed. This, however, must be seen against the
background of what the Cuban Democracy Act prohibited. Prior to its
enactment, Cuba was purchasing some $500 million per year of foods
and medicines from U.S. subsidiaries. The law cut off those purchases.
Cuba can, to be sure, purchase them elsewhere, but usually at a higher
cost. Few Cubans, then, see the law as having benefited them. As one
elderly Cuban put it: The Cuban Democracy Act has reduced the quantities
of foods and medicines we receive from U.S. sources to about 4 percent
of what used to come in.
The Cuban Democracy Act has opened the way to the expansion of
The Cuban Democracy Act opened the way to nothing. The president all
along had the authority to authorize the negotiation of contracts
expand telephone service between the two countries. What stood in
way was Cuban insistence on payment of the some $85 million owed to
it for past services and held in a frozen account, and U.S. reluctance
to pay. The Cuban Democracy Act changed that situation not at all.
Indeed, if anything, it imposed even narrower guidelines for negotiations
than already existed, thus reducing rather than increasing the prospects
for improved service. Three smaller U.S. firms did reach agreement
with the Cubans that would have resulted in expanded service (the
Cubans having agreed to put in abeyance the question of the frozen
account), but all three were turned down by the State and Treasury
departments as providing too much in the way of revenue to the Cubans,
thus prompting the comment that this was foreign policy with a bookkeeper's
mentality. Denying the Cubans an extra five cents per call took precedence
over communicating with the Cuban people.
The long and short of it is that almost two years after enactment
Cuban Democracy Act, telecommunications between the two countries
have not been expanded, and, in large part, this is precisely because
the law. Its effect, in other words, has been exactly the opposite
its proponents would have us believe. As of the end of September,
1994, agreement between Cuba and a major American telecommunications
firm seemed near. Should this, hopefully, finally come to signature,
however, it will have been despite the Cuban Democracy Act, not because
The Cuban Democracy Act has opened the way to direct mail service
between the two countries.
Not true. The obstacle to direct mail service is that the Cubans interpret
international conventions to require that mail be carried via
regularly-scheduled air links. Only charter service exists between
United States and Cuba. One may argue with the interpretation, but
not an arbitrary one. Further, since the administration says it wants
expand contact with the Cuban people, why not negotiate a new civil-air
agreement and establish regularly-scheduled air service between the
two countries? The president has all along had the authority to do
so, i.e., since long before the enactment of the Cuban Democracy Act.
The latter does not take that authority away, but its accompanying
rhetoric militates against such a step. Rather than opening the way
to direct mail service, then, the Cuban Democracy Act makes it less
Assertion 5. The Cuban government refuses to negotiate an agreement
to compensate American owners for nationalized goods and properties,
thus blocking the way to any improvement in relations.
The exact opposite is true. All other countries that had claims resulting
from nationalized properties successfully negotiated compensation
agreements with the Cuban government. The United States is the sole
exception, and that is because the United States itself refuses to
negotiate the issue with Havana. The reason is clear: a compensation
agreement would represent a long step toward normalization of relations,
and the U.S. government is simply unwilling to take such a step. It
cannot say that, of course, so it trots out other, woefully specious,
explanations, one of the most prominent being that negotiations are
blocked by the preconditions the Cuban government attaches to them.
Havana, so the argument goes, demands as a precondition that the United
States compensate it for losses resulting from the Bay of Pigs invasion
and the U.S. embargo. But this is not a precondition and never has
been. Havana's position is that it has claims against the United States,
just as the United States has claims against Cuba. But acceptance
and payment of those claims is no more a Cuban precondition than acceptance
of the $2.8 billion figure, plus 6 percent per annum, put forward
by the United States is a precondition on Washington's part.
Both are opening negotiating positions. One suspects that if both
ever got down to serious negotiations, the Cubans would throw out
claims, the United States would throw out its demand for payment of
percent percent per annum, and the two would then get down to settling
on the principal.
As recently as 1993, Cuba reiterated its willingness to begin negotiations.
Does the U.S. government not have some obligation to its citizens
to secure for them a reasonable compensation arrangement after all
these years? Are American citizens to be the only foreigners who lost
properties in Cuba not to be compensated? The Cold War is over. U.S.
refusal to negotiate can then only be seen as capricious.
Assertion 6. It would be inconsistent to relax pressures against
Cuba after having embargoed Haiti.
The argument here is that Cuba and Haiti are two faces of the same
undemocratic coin and that we should employ the same economic and
military measures against Cuba as we did against Haiti.
In fact, however, the two situations are not at all comparable. The
facto Haitian military government was an outlaw government. It seized
power illegally, was not recognized by other governments and was
excluded from the United Nations and the Organization of American
States. The economic sanctions imposed against it were multilateral
nature, and the military measures taken by the United States and other
countries were authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution.
Moreover, the military government had violated an agreement, the
Governors Island accord, brokered by the United States.
The Cuban government, on the other hand, is recognized by over 160
other governments, including the United States. It is a fully participating
member of the United Nations and various other multilateral
organizations. In short, it is not an outlaw government. U.S. sanctions
against it are strictly unilateral in nature, not supported by any
government. There is no possibility of securing international support
efforts we might wish to make against Cuba.
Assertion 7. There have been no political or economic reforms
at all in Cuba.
As suggested above, reforms so far have only scratched the surface,
and even they have been carried out reluctantly, or emasculated almost
as soon as they were announced. If Cuba is to adjust to the world
that has changed around it, it must open up its political system and
economy to a far greater extent than it has been willing to do so
This is not to say, however (as advocates of the present policy often
say), that there has been no change at all. On the contrary, Cuba
already is moving (albeit slowly) toward a mixed economy. It has legalized
the dollar, begun to allow private enterprise on an individual basis,
and in late September, 1994 finally authorized small private farmers
as well as larger cooperatives to sell directly to the consumer. Significantly
also, it has invited in foreign private capital and begun a process
of privatizationof major enterprises.
U.S. reaction to these steps has been puzzling. One would think, for
example, that it would especially welcome privatization. Not so. Some
time back, when a private Brazilian investment group was negotiating
to buy half of Cubana Airlines, the United States strongly opposed,
reportedly even threatening economic sanctions if the deal went through.
More recently, the United States opposed Mexican purchase of 49
percent of the Cuban telephone system though this time no sanctions
were threatened. The question remains: why, logically, should the
United States be against such steps toward privatization?
Political reforms have been even more tentative. Human-rights activists,
or others who publicly express strong disagreement with the government,
face repressive measures, including, at least until recently, deplorable
attacks by so-called rapid-action brigades. These were simply government
goon squads mobilized to repudiate those who spoke out too openly.
There is no freedom of press and no such thing as an independent court
system. Elections at the national level exist in name only, there
being only one candidate for each seat in the National Assembly.
Even so, it must be acknowledged that there are no death squads, as
in Guatemala, El Salvador and so many other countries. Citizens who
challenge the government may be handled roughly and imprisoned, but
they are not "disappeared." The use of "rapid-action
brigades" is on the wane, and, significantly, in July, 1994 the
government announced that it had extended an invitation to the U.N.
High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Cuba.
Further, there has been some movement toward a more open system. The
government has changed its attitude toward the practice of religion.
There is no longer any official discrimination against believers,
now able to worship rather freely.
Elections at the local level have always been free and open, with
candidates nominated by the people of each district and competing
against one another. Until February of 1993, however, there had been
no elections at the national level, delegates to the National Assembly
being appointed by the municipal councils. It had been hoped that
electoral reform law of 1992 would simply elevate the local system
to the national level. But that was not to be. The system of nominating
candidates at the national level is tightly controlled, and, even
indicated above, there is only one candidate for each seat. As elections,
then, those of February 1993 were something of a farce. As a plebiscite,
however, they were not without significance. Despite calls from exile
radio stations in Miami for citizens to destroy their ballots or vote
in blank as a gesture of disapproval (something they easily could
have done as the ballot is cast in secret), some 93 percent voted
for the candidates on the ballot. This does not mean that 93 percent
of the Cuban people enthusiastically support the government, but it
does suggest far more popular support than sources in Miami would
have us believe.
Further, Cuban officials indicate there will almost certainly be further
reforms in the electoral law before the next elections, some even
predicting that by then the way will have been opened for there to
two or more candidates for each seat.
The United States could do far more to encourage the reform process
by shifting to a policy more suitable to the post-Cold War era, rather
than holding to the hard line it has pursued for thirty years. As
official put it, "There is a direct relationship between the
level of tension
between Washington and Havana and the degree to which there can be
internal relaxation in Cuba."
So long as it exercised caution, the United States could not possibly
lose by giving relaxation of pressures a try. Let it not be said that
because of narrow electoral considerations, our government did not
at least make the effort. Events of August and September, 1994, moreover,
point up the need for such an effort. The United States does not want
tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of refugees
on Florida beaches, yet that would be the result of civil war or continued
efforts to strangle the Cuban economy. In its present policy then,
the United States is working very much against its own interests.
It is time to change course.
1. Jane Franklin, The Cuba Obsession, in The Progressive, July,
1993, p. 20.
2. In 1987, Congressman Torricelli was not identified as an ally of
the CANF and only received a donation of $250 that year from its PAC.
He traveled to Cuba in 1988 and came back saying, Living standards
are not high, but the homelessness, hunger and disease that is witnessed
in much of Latin America does not appear evident. (Jane Franklin,
ibid., p. 21).
In 1989, he received only $500 from the PAC and that year he
supported Congressman Bill Alexander's efforts to lift the embargo
the sale of foodstuffs to Cuba, saying, . . . embargoing medicines,
embargoing food, is not a worthwhile addition to a nation's foreign
policy. It makes victims out of children, the weak, and the sick,
of governments or tyrants.
In 1990, however, he received $1,500 from the PAC and his position
began to change. By 1992, he was receiving $10,000 from the PAC, had
become the principal recipient in Congress of money from the right-
wing exiles, with over $1.5 million in his campaign fund, according
to them Bergen Record, and was sponsoring the Cuban Democracy Act.
3. On Cable News Network's Crossfire program, December 30, 1992,
Congressman Torricelli predicted imminent collapse in Cuba: It's coming
not in a year, it's coming probably in months.
Wayne S. Smith was head of the U.S. interests section in Havana from
1979 to 1982 and the State Department's leading Cuba expert. He is
visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University.
1994 by the Center for International Policy. All rights
reserved. Any material herein may be quoted without permission, with
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organization dealing with U.S. policy towards the Third World and
impact on human rights and needs.