Recently Joe Garcia was interviewed by a web site called “Activate”. The topic was Cuba and Cuban-Americans. As part of my ongoing debate with Joe I fisked parts of his interview. Here is that fisking:
Activate: Can you describe the Cuban American community? Why does it appear more conservative than it really is?
Joe Garcia: The Cuban American community has shifted through the years because 70% of Cubans alive on earth today were three years old or younger when Castro came to power. However, a lot of the leadership of the Cuban American community today is historic; these are people who came from Cuba in their 20s and now today they’re in their 60s and 70s. They never held power in Cuba, and to some degree they’re just reacting against Fidel Castro. Their resistance to Cuba is impassioned because their memories of Cuba are painful. Families were broken up, possessions taken, and the Cuban government humiliated and scorned them for leaving, but they don’t have many links left to kin back home. On the other hand, recent émigrés to the US, who might represent a more progressive voice in the Cuban American community, have very little political power because they’re not registering to vote. It takes a while to become a citizen — usually a generation or more. Plus, if you’re a progressive or want to discuss things that aren’t seen as the dominant hard-line ideology, you can have a tough time here [in the US].
Faulty premise, faulty answer.
Pre-Castro Cuba was very progressive society. A simple look at the constitution of 1940 will dispel any ideas to the contrary. The death penalty was abolished, there were social safety net programs and contrary to popular opinion there was quality public education. What there wasn’t in Cuba in the 1950s was democracy. The press was censored and there was plenty of corruption. But Cubans identified with a classic form of liberalism. The revolution changed all that for most Cubans. They came to America after their businesses had been seized, their livelihoods ruined, their property confiscated, and their liberties taken. All in the name of the greater good and the betterment of society. Yes they had a traumatic experience, but their reaction was not an emotional one without basis in reason and logic as you suggest. One party in America uses the same codewords about social justice and equality that they had heard before. In the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s one party talked about the dangers of communism while the other one tried its hardest to convince America that it posed no threat. One party routinely stabbed Cubans in the back, while the other at least talked to them in terms they could identify with. Property rights, low taxation, individualism instead of collectivism.
Now we have successive waves of Cuban refugees. In fact most were born well after the revolution. And you are correct about the time lag between arrival and citizenship and voting. You are also correct that these people come with ideas that are very different because of their different formation. Many of them have simply been indoctrinated to believe in those lofty concepts about social justice and equality they just feel that fidel screwed up the plan. Thus the left wing may be somewhat appealing to them. Most however are exhausted with politics. But the “inconvenient truth” that you don’t mention in your spiel for liberalism is that during the “cooling off” time between arrival and the voting booth is that a lot of acculturation takes place. Acculturation is the process whereby a person from one culture adopts aspects of a new culture into which he is injected. For our parents that meant American culture. But here’s the key, for recent Cuban arrivals it’s Cuban-American culture (The so-called Miami Mafia). The problem for you and your colleagues is that along the way Cuban refugees defect from the liberal reservation. By the time they become citizens most of their family may have also arrived (removing the need to send stuff or travel to Cuba), they may have started their own business or achieved some sort of professional or work success. They don’t want high taxes or the government telling them what to do anymore than any other right thinking person. During the cooling off period, they learn that the Miami Mafia doesn’t bite. When they first arrive they don’t want hear or talk about Cuba. But as they acculturate and learn they acquire for the first time in their lives a way to discern the lies they were told in Cuba. Many of the most intransigent people I know are relatively recent arrivals.
The idea that there’s going to be a mass defection of Cubans or that the wave of current immigrants will favor the democratic party is in my opinion a myth that’s being peddled by you, Oscar Corral and a few others.
As for your swipe at the hard-liners being intolerant, eso es un disco rayado. Explain how Max Lesnik does what he does, how the Herald gets away with what it gets away with, how Aruca is still spouting his ridiculous propaganda, how you can go on TV any time you want. Please.
AT: Does the US embargo against Cuba make any sense?
JG: How do you have an embargo and still be Cuba’s number-one trading partner? Cuba buys more food and agricultural products from the United States than any other country.
AT: That’s because the US has adjusted certain aspects of the embargo for humanitarian reasons.
JG: I understand that, but then there’s no embargo. That’s like saying I’m going to starve you, but I’m going to sell you food and water so that you don’t starve to death. An embargo is an economic siege. What most Cubans are willing to protest are the travel and remittance restrictions. On a short-term basis, the US can say, “Let’s try this: nobody travels to Cuba and the regime is going to fall.” Maybe after five or ten years that would work, but it’s been four decades. It’s counterproductive to what we want, which is a vibrant civil society. The overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans — especially those with family still in Cuba — believe that the current travel restrictions are completely absurd.
An embargo to overthrow the regime?
The biggest misconception about the embargo is that it is in place to overthrow the castro regime. By this definition it can be categorized as an obvious failure. 48 years and castro is still there. But that definition strains credulity. If the United States seriously had an overriding interest in toppling the Castro regime it could simply do what it did to the Hussein regime in Iraq. It would take nowhere near that amount of military might to remove castro. In other words, for the US government, getting rid of the regime is a “like to have” not a “have to have”.
So why an embargo?
The embargo was enacted as a punitive measure in response to unlawful expropriations, without compensation, of American assets in Cuba. In fact, as you know, Joe, this was the largest such expropriation of American assets ever in the history of our country. The underlying condition that created the embargo still exists today. Cuba has made no attempt to settle with the American property owners who had their property stolen. I can make a solid argument that the embargo should remain for this simple fact alone. In order to uphold the principles of international law, such acts as theft cannot be permitted to stand. Cuba must agree to some sort of settlement in restitution for its actions.
The embargo today
More recently, as you know Joe, the lifting of the embargo became tied to additional conditions. Conditions that the US would “like to have” in Cuba. Conditions such as the release of political prisoners, the legalization of the opposition and opposition parties and the scheduling of free and fair multiparty elections. So how can the embargo achieve these goals? The idea of the embargo is to put pressure on the regime to do what it wouldn’t do otherwise by denying it of sources of hard currency. The embargo is a stick and removing it is a carrot.
Busting the embargo
You cannot deny that the embargo severely limits the amount of hard currency that enters Cuba. The Cuban government itself cries about it. But to point out one of the fallacies of your argument, the sale of agricultural products to Cuba does not “bust” the embargo. How can this be? Because under the current rules of the game, Cuba is buyer not a seller when it comes to bilateral trade. As a buyer, hard currency leaves Cuba but does not come back. That’s why its imperative for the regime to have the embargo, and specifically the travel restrictions, lifted. One of the few things that Cuba can still sell is its beaches and its culture to tourists. It also can sell family reunification.
Irrational and capricious
Now you can argue that, and I will concede, that the regime has proven to be remarkably resistant to the great pressure the embargo puts on it. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is pressure. And the answer to why the regime has been able to resist is because the leadership has simply decided the well being of Cubans is not as important their irrational capricious desires. It would be very simple for the regime to lighten the burden of Cubans. All they have to do is release the political prisoners, allow space for organized opposition and say that they’ll agree to come to the table to reach some sort of agreement on the stolen American property. Simple enough. But obviously the dictatorship, being a dictatorship, only acts in its own self-interests.
Reshuffling the deck
So if the embargo can’t put enough pressure on the dictatorship to make it change, what’s the point of keeping it? Well, that’s easy. The regime’s leadership today (and for the last 48 years) has been the same. But obviously nothing lasts forever. When fidel reaches his expiration date there will be a re-shuffling of the deck. The official discourse of the regime is that Raul is the successor, but all bets are off on that. Who knows how long a Raulista regime can survive, and/or how long Raul himself will survive? Perhaps fidel’s death and Raul’s succession without meaningful reform in Cuba, in and of itself, will be enough to create the tipping point among the average Cuban. But one thing is certain. At some point in the near future the person holding the reins of power in Cuba will not be a Castro. And that person may not be as capricious or irrational as the Castros have proven to be. That person may be the Cuban Gorbachev who will usher in change. And such a person will want to normalize relations with the US. To a true reformer, the simple concessions outlined above will be easy to make.
A logical fallacy
Beyond the possible future usefulness of the embargo, there’s another thing that needs to be addressed. That’s the logical fallacy that embargo opponents always indulge in. They argue that if the embargo hasn’t worked then removing it must work. This is called a false dichotomy. It’s a faulty construct in which the person creates only two outcomes. If answer A does not work then Answer B must. I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that regardless of status of the embargo, that there won’t be significant changes in Cuba (the kind you and I desire) until that deck I talked about gets reshuffled in a manner that’s favorable to rational decision making.
The downside to removing the embargo
So one must ask oneself if neither keeping or ending the embargo will end the regime what do we have to lose by ending it, by giving up the carrot without getting anything back in exchange? And the answer should be obvious to close observers of Cuba. Allowing the amount of hard currency to enter Cuba that lifting the embargo would represent will serve only to enrich the oppressors, fortify their oppressive apparatus and fund subversion outside of Cuba. We know this to be true based on Cuba’s history under Castro.
AT: If you open up travel and remittance limits, don’t you potentially dissolve the regime with a flood of money and outside contact?
JG: Yes, but that’s not how it’s seen by [older] Cuban Americans. I don’t think the embargo has much of an effect, but if my grandmother thinks it will somehow help to get rid of Castro…
It’s a lovely thought to think that we could “flood” Cuba with money and outside contact, but you know as well as I do that the Cuban economy is set up like the hoover dam. The only the thing that passes is what the government allows to pass. And it charges whatever it wants for what it allows to pass using its monopoly profits for things that don’t help Cubans. The regime simply will not give someone like me a visa to come to Cuba. You know that. How can I be an outside contact, an agent for change in Cuba if the dam prevents me from entering. And even if I found a way to get in, how long do you think someone like me acting as an agent of change would last?
The game is rigged and you are saying we can win it despite the fact that it’s rigged. I disagree. I don’t think we should play a rigged game.