Cuba and twisted logic, double standards

By Bernd Debusmann
July 20, 2010

It is time for the United States to stop trading with China and ban Americans from travelling there. Why? Look at the U.S. Department of State’s most recent annual report on human rights around the world.

“The (Chinese) government’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas,” the report notes. “Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated (in 2009).”

U.S. relations with Egypt should also be frozen, because “the government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas…Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity.”

No American politician would consider sanctions on China, the U.S.’s second largest trade partner, or Egypt, one of its closest allies in the Arab world. They should, if they followed the logic that has underpinned five decades of a trade embargo on Cuba and a ban on travel to the island for most Americans.

Proponents of maintaining the sanctions routinely cite the State Department’s human rights reports on Cuba. The most recent, for 2009, lists 194 political prisoners and criticizes “harsh and life-threatening” prison conditions.

For decades, the U.S. case has been that the embargo must remain in place as long as Cuba doesn’t have democratically-elected leaders, holds political prisoners and violates human rights. By that token, a long list of countries in addition to China and Egypt should be subject to American sanctions. Cuba has long been treated as a special case.

U.S. policy on Cuba has become subject of debate again after the release of seven imprisoned dissidents in July under an agreement between Cuba’s Roman Catholic church and the communist government led by Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008. Another 45 dissidents are due to be freed over the next few months.

Will that ensure success for the latest attempt in the U.S. congress to normalize relations, a pending bill that would end the travel ban and ease the embargo? Don’t bet on it. Castro-hating Cuban exiles have a long track record of torpedoing moves towards change and President Barack Obama shows no sign of helping to push the proposed legislation.

As a presidential candidate, Obama frequently talked of a “new strategy” on Cuba and once in office, he lifted some restrictions on remittances and travel to the island by Cuban-Americans. Other than that, he and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have been serving the country “refried Bush-era policy,” as Larry Birns of the liberal Council on Hemispheric affairs put it.

TORTURED LOGIC

The pending bill, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, is backed by agriculture exporters and business groups who think that the embargo is ineffective — and bad for business.

The loudest opposition has come from Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator from New Jersey, and to fully appreciate the tortured logic of Cuban policy hawks, a passionate speech he made on the floor of the Senate in mid-July merits attention.

After vowing to do everything in his power to block the legislation, he complained that “the big corporate interests behind this misguided attempt to weaken the travel ban could not care less whether the Cuban people are free. They care only about opening a new market and increasing the bottom line.”

What a concept! American corporations wanting to open new markets and make a profit! Capitalism gone berserk?

The position of Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, is at odds with the rest of the Democratic party and, according to polls, with most Americans. Hard-liners like him tend to blank out a chapter of Cuban history that also featured a dictatorship and American businesses intent on increasing their bottom line.

In the 1950s, when Cuba was run by Fulgencio Batista with an iron right-wing fist and scant regard for human rights, U.S. companies were active in virtually every sector of the economy, close to 60 percent of Cuban exports went to the United States and imports from the U.S. accounted for more than 70 percent of the total.

The joined-at-the-hip relationship came to an end in 1959, when Fidel Castro and his bearded revolutionaries seized power. The expropriation of U.S. property, from banks to tobacco enterprises, soon followed. In 1962, Washington retaliated with the trade embargo in expectation that economic hardship would help topple the government and bring democracy to the island.

Instead, it gave Fidel Castro a convenient excuse to blame the many shortcomings of his government on the Americans.

“We have tried to isolate Cuba for more than 50 years and it has not worked,” said Collin Peterson, the Democratic congressman who introduced the bill to allow travel and relax the embargo. “As it has in other countries, perhaps increasing trade…will encourage democratic progress.”

Why not try?

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

50 comments

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Great article Mr. Debusmann…I’m with you adeath!!!! It’s time to hit the reset button!

Posted by Human905 | Report as abusive

Medley: that question and reply referred to U.S. foreign policy, not policy mistakes around the world.

Cheers.

Posted by BDebusmann | Report as abusive

The US should stop using sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy towards any country. Thus, all sanctions against Cuba, Iran and other countries should be removed. The US has to stop trying to enforce its ideas on other countries. Americans may choose not to trade with certain countries, but we should not limit what a third party may desire to do.

Posted by Logical123 | Report as abusive

The U.S. has a long, long way to go concerining diplomacy with other nations. As stated in nearly all posts, the U.S. has not dealt with the oppression, and disparity, and ruthless manner in which it treats our own citizen’s. America has not made repaired persons in this country for racism, dissinfranchisement from business opportunity, voting, education…The list goes on. Cuba is no doubt a great nation, despite the U.S.’s involvement in its past, and currents delima’s.

I really wish we could have world peace.

Posted by P42 | Report as abusive

And as a result of isolation they didn’t allow Cuba to hook up to the internet, forcing them to use expensive and slow satellite links, making it inaccessible for the larger public. How’s that for freedoms?

Posted by Petter | Report as abusive

Debusmann fumbles with the right premise, then falls flat with his conclusions: The point is that it IS time for the United States to reconsider it’s trade relations with China and with any other country whose system falls far short on democratic principles and human rights.

We should now look back at the capitalistic logic that passed “PNTR for China” in September of 2000:
http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekl y/aa091900a.htm
Ten years later, what has that done for human rights and democracy in that country? And, more importantly, what did it do to the American worker, the American economy and our trade deficit with our “second largest trade partner!?” Yes, for corporate profit, our government failed the American worker.

Let’s hope American trade policy will begin to stand firm on demanding human rights and maybe even democracy, yes, even in China, and anywhere else, including our close neighbor, Cuba. America should again stand for something, and against governments that continue to exploit their workers and oppress their people.

When America succumbs to short-term corporate self interest it withers. When America champions it’s founding principles both at home and abroad it flourishes.

Posted by humanwrites | Report as abusive

My dear Mr. Debusmann –

Can you really be unaware of the Roosevelt administration’s policy of deterrance of Japan from a position of military inferiority in Asia? Or the Nixon administration’s policy of offering the Soviets more concessions when it was discovered they were violating the SALT I treaty? Both were significantly more foolish than the current policy toward Cuba.

Cheers!

Posted by medley | Report as abusive

Yes, this is a very antiquated policy. Reason Cuba is a small Caribbean mostly Afrolatino/ Spanish mulatto country that has little to offer the U.S.in the eyes of the public. China on the other hand, we have sold ourselves to. They own a great deal of our debt due to the financial crisis we’ve put ourselves into years ago, which in turns allows them to flood our Country at will with often times cheap and inferior goods. Im of Cuban decent and I can assure you, most generations of Cubans, except the older ones 55yrs and up, think this Embargo is biased and a waste of time. Moreover, with natural resources, tourism, culture, and strategic geographic positioning there, a partnership with Cuba in the 21st Century makes good “Cents” for all parties.

Posted by Sosa | Report as abusive

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