Ending the Cuban Embargo

The Insanity of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba
By Nathaniel Hoffman, AlterNet. Posted May 23, 2007.

A growing group of American activists and politicians are on a mission to end our Cold War-era embargo on Cuba. They believe that business, not isolation, is a better way to change governments.

“Don” Albert Fox, a stocky Floridian who talks in a hushed, confidential tone, has his own custom cigar bands and a retired master cigar roller in Havana who keeps him well stocked.

The tiny labels contain a Cuban flag and an American flag, representing the friendships that Albert A. Fox, Jr. has been carefully nurturing since about 2000.

In the late 1990s Fox tried to take his aging mother to Cuba, her birthplace. The U.S. government denied them permission to travel there.

Since that first denial, the Tampa political operative has been to Cuba more than 60 times. He’s met with President Fidel Castro on nine of those visits and has contacts at many levels within the Cuban government.

And he knows his cigars.

Fox fancies Cuban shirts, because they have more pockets. To hold cigars. Every time I saw him, he had fat ones, long ones, sweet and smelly ones sticking out of every pocket. He handed them out everywhere. Slipping one from a pocket, his head bowed, he offered them slightly concealed.

“You smoke cigars?” he growled.

Occasionally he had one in his mouth. A glass of Bucanero, the best Cuban beer, in one hand.

Fox is among a small but growing clique of activists in the United States who are on a mission to end our Cold War-era embargo on the Communist-run nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Their foot soldiers include U.S. politicians like Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter, the most recent in a string of state officials who have visited Cuba on what are generally billed as trade missions.

“They’ve gone to Cuba to sell grain, and then once they’re there, they see that we’re in the middle of one of the biggest foreign policy screw-ups in our history,” said Phil Peters, an expert on Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.

Otter first visited Cuba in March 2003 with the Lexington Institute as a congressman. I traveled to Cuba in April to cover the Idaho governor’s fourth trip to the island.

“We’re doing the exact same things that we did in the ’50s when we cut Cuba off and threw them into the arms of the Russians,” Otter told me, riding in the front of an air-conditioned Havanatur bus. “We’re isolating ourselves from them, we’re not talking, we’re not doing business deals, we’re not exchanging products, thereby exchanging values. We don’t have to agree with everything they do. But understand it.”

Cuba is not an easy place to understand.

A recent story in the Miami Herald, citing a dozen people in positions to know, asserted that Washington “is now largely ignorant of what is happening within the inner circles in Havana as Cuba undergoes a transfer of power” from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul.

And as I prepared for my recent trip, I got a not-so-subtle message that Cuban spin doctors are weary of Norteamericano reporters coming down to the island to speculate on the impending implosion of Caribbean Socialism.

The question often asked is, what will happen when Cuba opens up? But the growing coalition of Congressional bedfellows who oppose the embargo, like to remind us that it is not Cuba that is closed. It is the United States.

WHAT KIND OF TANK?

On my last night in Cuba, an older European woman who has lived there most of her life asked me about think tanks.

She wanted to know if it was “tank” as in fish tank or as in army tank.

I was momentarily stumped.

Is the growing support in places like Idaho for normalized relations with Cuba a result of thoughtful humanitarian motivations (aquarium) or an imperialistic bent (M1 Abrams)?

Folks like Peters at the Lexington Institute and libertarian-minded politicos like the Idaho governor are not exactly the type of people you’d expect to be doing the bidding of socialist stalwarts like Fidel Castro. Not if there isn’t anything in it for them, or at least for the economy.

“I’m not a fan of Communism at all,” Peters told me. “I would hope that the Cubans could find their own way toward a more open society with political and economic freedom.”

Idaho’s Governor Otter, who sold french fries all over the world for Simplot International before entering the political sphere, is no fan of Communism either.

But he believes that business is a better way to change governments than isolation.

Read the rest here.

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