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Cuban-Americans Watch Obama and Worry

The president-elect already faces pressure to make nice with Havana. Will he cave?

by
Henry Gomez

Bio

November 17, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Already the American left is agitating and pushing Obama to go back on his pledge to Cuban-Americans. At the Huffington Post, an anti-embargo activist agreed that Cubans didn’t buy the kinder, gentler approach to Cuba but also believes that this fact gives Obama license to flip back to the position he held before he flopped.

Cynthia Tucker, the editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, similarly urged Obama to work with Congress to engineer the lifting of the embargo in her appearance Sunday on ABC’s This Week. She actually used the disingenuous term “blockade,” which is oft repeated by the Castro brothers and their lackeys in the official Cuban press, demonstrating where Ms. Tucker gets her news and opinions.

A “blockade” would imply that the U.S. controls what goes in and out of Cuba, but the truth is that Cuba trades with — and owes money to — virtually every other country in the world. Even under the embargo, the U.S. is Cuba’s largest food supplier. Agricultural products and medicines are exempted from the embargo with the key condition that they are paid for with cash.

Really, the U.S. embargo on Cuba has been severely weakened over the years. But it does three key things that make it worthwhile:

First, it prevents U.S. corporations from becoming minority partners with the regime the way other foreign companies have. The Castro regime does not allow majority foreign ownership and dictates to the minority partners the terms under which business is conducted. For example, employees are provided by the regime and the foreign partner must pay the regime the going rate for such employees. But then the Castro brothers pay the workers whatever they want, pocketing the difference.

Second, it keeps U.S. tourists from legally frolicking on the beaches of a totalitarian state and otherwise being a source of revenue that the regime uses to fund the repressive apparatus and spend on arms.

Third, it prevents Cuba from receiving credit from U.S. firms and banks. Cuba has proven to be one of the world’s worst credit risks because the Castros don’t believe in capitalism and thus the regulations that govern it (i.e., repayment of debts).

Current U.S. law does not permit lifting of the embargo until certain conditions exist in Cuba such as the freedom of Cuba’s internationally recognized political prisoners and the legalization of political opposition to Cuba’s ruling communist party.

One could argue the merits of the embargo for days on end — Lord knows that I have — but one cannot argue what Barack Obama’s position on it was while he was running for president. As president he will be under extreme pressure from his own party to lift the embargo completely or dismantle it piece by piece. Time will tell if he is a man of his word, though we have some indication that he isn’t by his broken pledge to accept federal funding for his campaign and thus the spending limits associated with them.

If Obama reneges on this pledge to maintain the bulk of the embargo not related to family travel and remittances, he will be the latest in a long line of Democratic presidents to stab Cuban exiles in the back and allow the Castro regime to get over on them, further reinforcing Cuban-American identification with the Republican Party. More importantly, the president that was elected on a platform of change will have proved that he’s just one more politician that says one thing and does another. Not exactly a big change.

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Henry Louis Gomez is Cuban-American and blogs at BabaluBlog.com.
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