Trade With Cuba
Let's end the embargo and have free trade with Cuba. There is no military reason for the trade embargo. The policy of using trade barriers as a tool to push the Cuban government towards more democracy has not been working. The embargo violates the liberty of U.S. citizens in the name of trying to induce more liberty in Cuba. Politics, not justice, is the real reason for the embargo.
The Clinton administration has sent mixed signals about its policy towards Cuba. With one had it has liberalized sending private aid to Cuba, and with the other hand, it has blocked the entry of Cubans to an academic conference titled "A Dialogue with Cuba," held in Berkeley on March 19-21. The main barriers against trade and travel have been put in place by Congress, and the anti-trade lobby will make any reform politically difficult this year. However, if the courts were doing their job properly, they would uphold a challenge to the embargo as violating the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to engage in trade abroad. And a proper jury system would let U.S. citizens, not government authorities, decide if the embargo is just.
It was announced on March 20 that the Clinton administration will allow direct flights to Cuba and let family members in the United States send up to $1200 per household in medicine, clothes, and cash to relatives in Cuba. This liberalization, reversing bans imposed in 1996, was criticized by members of Congress representing Cuban exiles opposed to the Castro regime. Administration officials stated that this relaxation of restrictions was a response to the visit to Cuba in January by Pope John Paul II. Aid previously had to be sent via other countries such as Canada, so this mainly makes it less expensive to send funds and visit.
The Conference at the University of California in Berkeley was labelled the first major public dialogue between Cubans and Americans. This year, 1998, is also the 100th anniversary of the Spanish-American War, during which the U.S. took possession of Cuba from Spain. The U.S. occupation is documented in the postage of that era, when in 1899, U.S. stamps were overprinted with "CUBA" for use there. An independent republic was then set up by the U.S. military, which lasted until 1959, when Castro took control and brought Cuba into the Soviet rubric. The U.S. government then enacted an embargo on trade and investment in Cuba, which has continued for 35 years. Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, passed after two airplanes flown by anti-Castro activists were shot down in Cuba, the embargo may not be lifted without the approval of Congress, and Clinton's liberalization may be challenged as violating that Act.
Yet while private aid was being liberalized, the U.S. State Department denied visas to 12 out of the 20 Cubans who were invited to participate in the Berkeley conference. Some of those blocked from entry were members of Cuba's National Assembly, but others were scholars. Six of the Cubans banned from attending were able to provide video tapes of their presentations. State Department officials cited a directive of 1985 by President Reagan banning visits to the U.S. by members of the Cuban government and Communist Party. The conference was also criticized by some members of Congress for not including opponents of the Castro regime, while other members supported the conference. It seems inconsistent to liberalize aid while stifling academic dialogue with Cuba.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce favors lifting the embargo. Trade would benefit U.S. business and consumers as well as the Cubans. The rationale for the embargo that it pushes Cuba towards democracy is contradicted by the U.S. position that trading with China helps open up that country to liberalizing influences. U.S. trade policy is contradictory. The real reason for the embargo is the strong anti-Castro lobby in Congress. Since Cuba is not a military threat to the U.S., a citizen of the United States has a Constitutional right to trade with people in Cuba, a right that ought to be recognized by U.S Courts. It is therefore not just Congress, but the U.S. Courts and the lack of a proper jury system that maintains the unwise, counter-productive, and long obsolete embargo on investment, travel, and trade with Cuba.