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Posted March 30, 2009 by publisher in Cuban American Politics

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Patrick Doherty | The Havana Note

Senator Menendez, the Dike has Burst

There he was, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, holding forth from the well of the Senate making his Alamo stand against some very innocuous provisions to allow Cuban-American family members travel to Cuba and for American agricultural producers to carry out the business they already do with Cuba more efficiently during a time of economic recession.

Most analysts I speak with say this was a picture of a man trying to put his finger in a dike, knowing it was about to burst. Senator Menendez is, you see, the highest ranking Cuban American in Congress and, with the Diaz-Balart brothers and Rep. Lehtinen in the minority, the last hope for defending the embargo against Cuba in the 111th Congress.

Now, however, the dike has burst. At a time when the nation is reeling from the worst recession in years, our failed embargo on Cuba is keeping American farmers and businesses from significant orders. After the devastation of the 2008 hurricanes, the Cuban government is providing 75% of the food for its 11 million people. Most of that has to be imported from countries much further away than 90 miles. China just received the order for a new fleet of Cuban Buses—not Detroit. One third of Cuba’s housing stock is still gravely damaged or destroyed because the island cannot get the building materials to rebuild. Yet American suppliers would be happy to fill those orders.

Today that objective reality was made political reality by 15 Senators who signed onto a letter organized by Max Baucus, an ag state Senator from Montana. Addressed to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the Senators urged Tim Geithner not to stray from the letter of the law as passed by Congress in the Omnibus legislation, in effect telling Geithner that whatever deal Menendez thought he had with Treasury, it shall not stand.

This is important. The 2008 presidential election showed that the Cuban American community in South Florida no longer has a lock on Florida’s electoral vote, liberating the president from having to continue a policy of isolation that makes no sense for America. This letter, and its strong showing of support in the Senate, reveals that the Congressional control that pro-embargo members had is crumbling around them.

Menendez had already angered the Administration by holding up the appointment of Science Advisor John Holdren over perceived slights on Cuba policy. That Menendez, a member of the Senate Democratic Leadership, caused such tumult and likely embarrassment for the Obama administration and for Senate Majority Leader Reid on a must-pass piece of legislation was too much, and now Senator Baucus has added some parliamentary dynamite.

The new reality is that there is no political obstacle to a decisive shift on U.S. Cuba policy. Not in Florida and not on Capitol Hill. Now the question is about political will in the White House.

Seeing the Tipping Point

Patrick Doherty | The Havana Note

“It’s sort of all over but the shouting, whether our country should maintain this embargo.”—Senator Byron Dorgan

On the front page of The Washington Post today is an article by Karen DeYoung, entitled, “Momentum Grows for Relaxing U.S. Policy on Cuba.” The article announces the unveiling this week of bipartisan legislation to end the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans.

It’s a party-line blurring fight. Senators Byron Dorgan (D) and Richard Lugar (R) and their House colleagues Reps. William Delahunt (D) and Jeff Flake (R) are lined up against Sen. Robert Menendez (D) and long-time House hard liners the Diaz-Balart brothers (R) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D). What it represents, however, is the first steps of a broad coalition of Members who are standing up to at long last to assert the national interest over the pecuniary interest of a small but well-monied and vocal clique that has held sway over Cuba policy for decades.

As I’ve written before, what we are seeing is the recognition that our Cuba policy is doing more harm than good to the United States. The policy has served more to keep the Castro regime in power than to dislodge it, by providing the communist government with a ready-made excuse for why their domestic economy is in such a shambles. The embargo itself is a massive black eye for the United States internationally and it remains the single most important issue for Latin America heads of state, as President Barack Obama will shortly find out at the Summit of the Americas. And, of course, the trade embargo is hurting American businesses, from farming to heavy machinery, to biotechnology to oil production.

The timing, however, is the consequence of the 2008 elections. The national polls tested the hypothesis that the demographic balance of forces in Florida had changed, thus freeing Washington from this onerous policy. That is indeed what happened. President Obama won Florida with only 35% of the Cuban American vote—the first time since the end of the Cold War that this happened. With 10% of the electoral college, Florida is seen as an essential state, giving any must-have constituency an outsize say in the affairs of the nation. With more recent polling showing that the 55% of the Cuban American community in Florida wants to end the embargo, the tide has unmistakably turned.

This new legislation is the manifestation of of all these changes. While the Vice President maintains a position that the administration has no intention of ending the embargo, the statement is tactical. The administration does not control the embargo, Congress does and what Congress is doing is proposing legisation that takes aim directly at the embargo while giving the President political cover.

The embargo, it seems, is not long for this world. I just hope everyone is ready for when the walls actually come down. On both sides of the Straits of Florida.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 31, 2009 by texasfree

    Well written and informative story.  Blessings and please keep us informed.  CNN and other networks will distribute what the government wants us to know in a timely fashion.

    Your work is immeasurable.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 31, 2009 by CubanDan

    Yeah great writing, probably one of the most ignorant pieces I have read in quite some time.  I love when AMERICANS proclaim themselves experts on the Cuban situation and condem the BIG BAD Cuban Americans in Miami. 
    I hope you enjoy your vacations at the expense of the liberty of the Cuban people.  Have you no morals?  Do you not care about the situation in Cuba?  You do realize that the whole non-sense you wrote about us getting more business from Cuba is just an excuse.  We already are the number 1 food supplier to Cuba and the 4th largest commercial partner with Cuba, and THATS WITH THE EMBARGO IN PLACE.  Our farmers have done fine for 50 years, this is just a chance for you to sip on a mojito and take advantage of that beautiful sun, while ordinary Cuban citizens can’t.  You know… those citizens who are in jail for speaking there mind, kind of what like you are doing now…

  3. Follow up post #3 added on March 31, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I want my right to travel. Don’t punish me because Fidel Castro took control of Cuba.

    Also, we openly support Yoani Sanchez and Oswaldo Paya.

    So, am I a Commie Castro lover or am I a right wing Imperialist?

    The answer is neither.

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on April 10, 2009 by Xion

    And how much has that failed embargo and travel ban helped us CubanDan? Your argument is specious as it is entirely emotionally-based and has no basis in reasonable, intellectual discourse. I find it sad how so many ignorant people make it seem like removing the embargo or travel restrictions equates to going against the will of the Cuban people. Does that explain why so many Cubans and Cuban-Americans hate this failed, Soviet-era, us-versus-them policy? You obviously have little analytical or critical thinking skills or else you would see differently on this matter. You have nothing but your emotional angst. By denying Americans the ability to travel to Cuba it restricts our natural rights and liberty to travel freely. Hell, we could travel to North Korea and Myanmar if we so wanted, but not to a country that is noticeably more friendly and less-restrictive? Not to mention we have no problems propping up dictators, trading with oppressive regimes (Saudi Arabia makes Cuba look like a picnic), and dealing with other “hostile” nations yet we nevertheless stand by this embargo. Your appeal to the “Cuban people” is complete and utter BS as the embargo has given the Cuban government an excuse for its ineptitude, has harmed our standing on the world and Latin American stage, and has completely shut off Cuba from trade it desperately needs to help modernize and improve the living standards of its citizens. In addition, U.S. businesses and industries suffer due to the restrictions. The restrictions hinder our rights, harm Cuba’s economy, harm our economy, garner unwanted international condemnation, give “martyr” status to Fidel Castro, and do not work and have not worked. Wait until Cuba has democracy? Yeah, that’s political theater for you from the completely ignorant and backwoods Cuban-American lobby for the embargo. We have no problem doing business with China or even Iran for that matter. No problems at all. We don’t demand they become democratic. CubanDan go back into your foxhole because no one wants to listen to ignorance incarnate anymore. Menendez is a tool and a dumb guy and anyone who supports the embargo is likely to be one as a well. Ad hominem? Perhaps, but I do hate people that go along with something with close to zero evidence. That is called fanaticism.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on April 10, 2009 by paul

    Great, now we can have our own China and Vietnam on our shores. Enslaved people, while the Americans “won” their “right” to spend money propping up another undemocratic regime.

    Enjoy that Cuba Libre gringos, you’re the only ones that have a government that “changes”.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on April 10, 2009 by Xion

    Nice Paul. Very detailed, well-thought out argument there.

    By the way, that’s called sarcasm. Appeal to emotions = FAIL.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on April 11, 2009 by paul

    Castro and his apparatchiks have been using emotion laced arguments at every chance they get. Hilarious how they were once subsidized by an authoritarian colossus, but now themselves and useful idiots try to make Cuba appear like the poor widdle harmless island.

    Your sympathy for Communism and upcoming retort= EPIC FAIL BOAT.

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