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The Cuban Trade Embargo Paradox

President Bush is intent on toughening restrictions on Cuba, while the American people and the U.S. Congress are ready to lift them
Wayne S. Smith
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Spy Scandal, May/Jun 02

(continued from page 1)

The Bush administration was not having any of it. It almost immediately answered that it had no intention of entering into a dialogue or of improving relations until Cuba held elections, released all political prisoners and made other fundamental moves toward a fully democratic system. The problem with that approach, as most of Cuba's human rights activists point out, is that it impedes rather than encourages movement toward the kind of changes we—and they—would like to see. As long as the United States is pressuring and threatening, the Cuban government will react defensively and emphasize the need for internal discipline. That is the antithesis of what is needed for positive change.

But, then, bringing about democratic reforms in Cuba is not the prime motivation behind the Bush administration's Cuba policy; rather, it is a domestic political concern. The president wants to see his brother Jeb reelected as governor of Florida this year, and he wants to win the state more convincingly in 2004 than he did in 2000. He believes that to do that, he must have the votes of the hard-line exiles; thus, he will avoid offending them at all costs.

The calculation may be wrong. The Cuban-American community is not monolithic and does not vote as a bloc. A growing segment inside the exile community advocates engagement with the present Cuban government. On top of that, many Floridians resent the power of the hard-line Cuban exiles and the tendency of politicians, the president included, to listen only to them. Their growing hostility could backfire on anyone trying to preserve the anti-Cuban status quo. But right or wrong, that is the president's calculation and he is likely to hold to it.

The hard-line exiles in Miami do not want any engagement with Cuba, and so there will be none. The president's only real concession was to offer foodstuffs to Cuba on an emergency basis after Hurricane Michelle. The previous year, the Cuban government had said it would buy no food from the United States so long as the DeLay credit restrictions were in place. Given the Bush administration's offer of "humanitarian donations to the Cuban people," Cuba reversed course. It refused donations, but said it would buy some $35 million in foodstuffs to replace stocks lost during the hurricane. In February, it expressed interest in buying another $35 million under the same conditions, but made it clear that it would not buy in greater quantities until the credit restrictions are removed.

But taking up where it left off last year, the new Congress is gathering itself to do just that, and also to lift travel controls. Will it succeed? And if it does, will the president go against majority public opinion and veto the legislation? Stay tuned!

Wayne S. Smith is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., where he runs the center's Cuba program.

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