http://havanajournal.com/politics/entry/al_fox_one_man_lonely_crusade_to_change_us_policy/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Al Fox: One man’s lonely crusade to change U.S. Policy

Posted May 26, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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CubaNews | March 2003 | By Larry Luxner

Albert J. Fox Jr. isn’t particularly Cuban, even though his elderly mother Luisa, the daughter of a Spanish opera singer, was born in Havana, and Fox grew up in Ybor City, an immigrant enclave of Tampa, Fla.   

In fact, the Washington lobbyist never gave Cuba much thought until just a few years ago, when he decided to take a trip there for the first time in his life. 

“As my mother’s 80th birthday approached, I thought it would be nice to visit the country of her birth,” Fox told CubaNews last month. “I started inquiring how I could go to Cuba, and was told I couldn’t, because Fidel Castro was a bad guy. Then OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] turned me down for a license. So I called CANF [the Cuban American National Foundation], and you can imagine what they told me.”

Fox promptly decided that as a veteran lobbyist, he would start an organization dedicated to overturning the embargo.

ALLIANCE INCLUDES FORMER CONGRESSMEN

In November 1998, he established the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, a non-profit organization backed by a 15-member board of directors. Fox has since added the word “Foundation” to the group’s name in order to comply with IRS regulations allowing the tax-exempt group to accept contributions.

Many of the alliance’s directors are former members of Congress, including Beryl F. Anthony, Jack W. Buechner, Rod Chandler, Dennis DeConcini and Bruce A. Morrison Other names on Fox’s board are J. Paul McNamara, president of Washington’s Sequoia Bank; attorney John Ray of Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, and Alexander B. Trowbridge, a former U.S. secretary of commerce.

“Our objective is to remove the embargo and establish full trade relations with Cuba,” said Fox. “My original idea when I formed this group was to get 15 American companies to put in $100,000 each for 12 months, and we could eliminate the embargo.”

Things didn’t happen that way, though Fox has bankrolled the alliance in the last four years with $250,000 of his own funds. The group, which leases office space from Manatt Phelps, has also received money from Tyson Foods, Federal Express, Trailer Bridge Inc. and half a dozen other Fortune 500 firms.

“I don’t believe you can bribe a member of Congress,” said Fox. “However, Congress is motivated in two ways only: by votes and by money. The people on my side of the fence have no votes and no money.”

FROM POOL SHARK TO WASHINGTON LOBBYIST

Fox is hardly new to this game. In 1965, thanks to family connections, the 20-year-old college dropout who spent his time in the pool halls of Ybor City landed a Washington internship with Florida Sen. George Smathers.

He also enrolled at the University of Mary-land, earning degrees in both political science and psychology.

In time, the young man was hired by then-Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield, advising lawmakers on pending bills, and eventually became legislative director for former Florida Rep. Bill Chappell.

Years later, Fox who also worked for Allied Chemical finally established his own consulting firm, Riley & Fox. Today, his full-time job is running Access Management, a Maryland-based company that out sources accounting and information systems.

But Cuba is clearly his passion. Since inaugurating the alliance five years ago, Fox, 58, has traveled to the island 32 times taking along CEOs of major U.S. companies as well as politicians like Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

All of this is part of Fox’s lonely crusade to end the embargo.

In his view, embargo opponents “don’t have the political muscle, because we don’t work together. The other side, the CANF, knows how to play the lobbying game. They’ve been substantially weakened [by recent defections] but they’re still more powerful than we are.”

DISSENT AMONG FRIENDS

In fact, from 1959 until the mid-1980s, pretty much the only Americans who really cared about Cuba were exile groups like the CANF.

Then, following the decline of U.S. involvement in Central America, a slew of left-leaning, non-profit groups turned their attention to the island, using foundation grants to hold seminars, issue policy statements, lobby and sponsor fact-finding missions to Havana.

Later, individuals like Fox and Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates, entered the scene, using their personal connections with top Cuban officials, including Castro, to open the door for their U.S. business clients.

More recently, the real heavy hitters powerful organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation have joined the fray. Thanks to their political muscle, they’ve had success in limited areas, most notably the Trade Reform and Enhancement Export Act of 2000, which allows food sales to Cuba on a cash-only basis.

At least a dozen non-profit organizations, most of them based in Washington, now support some degree of normalization of econo-mic and political relations between the United States and Cuba (see box, page 9).

Yet these organizations don’t have a particularly good track record of working together. In fact, Fox reserves some of his most biting criticism not for adversaries like the CANF but for anti-embargo groups such as the Cuba Policy Foundation that share his objectives.

“I am frustrated that so many of our groups are more concerned with self-promotion than with working together and speaking with one voice to eliminate the embargo,” he said. “The name of this game is winning. That’s what the legislative process is about. It’s not about making philosophical pronouncements or having seminars.”

According to Fox, “when the CPF was esta-blished, their official position was they were not going to work with any group that shared their point of view on lifting the embargo.”

He added: “In any lobby campaign going on in this town, people meet once a week, even once every other day. When do the opponents of sanctions against Cuba gather to discuss strategy on Capitol Hill? I feel a sense of failure that I have not been able to hold regular meetings with those of us who supposedly are working towards the same goal.”

CPF Executive Director Brian Alexander said Fox’s allegations are untruthful.

“We work with all the groups we think are effective on the Cuba issue and we’ve reached out to groups throughout Washington and the United States,” he told us. “Increasingly, there’s cooperation among our organizations. That’s something we haven’t seen in a while,  and it’s a welcome development.”

Alexander also disagrees with Fox’s basic premise that lobbying alone will do the trick.

“Clearly the action is in Congress, but unless you’re able to deliver that message to the rest of the country and then get them to deliver that message back to Washington, you’re not gonna change the policy,” he said.

Wayne Smith, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana during the Carter administration and now a leading embargo opponent, appears to agree with Alexander.

“If you’re lobbying Congress but there’s no groundswell of support, it won’t work,” said Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, which is funded largely by grant money. “Lawmakers have to perceive that public opinion is in favor of moving ahead with Cuba. You help bring that about with conferences, trips, talks and so forth.”

Alamar’s Kirby Jones, who also heads the U.S.-Cuba Trade Assocation, declined to comment for this story except to say that “Al Fox has done very positive work” for the cause of improving ties between the two nations.

RUFFLING FEATHERS IN TAMPA

Fox views his biggest accomplishment so far as having taken Tampa’s Dick Greco to Cuba, putting the popular mayor directly at odds with Miami’s political establishment.

“Dick Greco is a Democrat. But he was on Jeb Bush’s finance committee and made it quite clear to Fidel Castro that he endorsed Jeb Bush for governor of Florida and George W. Bush for president,” Fox told CubaNews. “The day Tampa completely breaks ranks with Miami [over the Cuba issue], it’s over.”

The lobbyist says that unlike Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), co-author of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, Florida’s two U.S. senators Bob Graham and Bill Nelson will eventually change their views on Cuba. “Bob Graham can’t possibly in his heart believe this nonsense [about Cuba],” he said. “Helms did.”

Time is running out, however, for immediate action in Congress on the travel ban and the embargo in general, Fox warned.

“If we cannot accomplish something substantial in the next six months, then we’re talking about another two or three years,” he said, explaining that the 2004 presidential elections will soon get in the way of debate on Cuba. “When it comes to Cuba, there’s always a very legitimate, logical reason not to act.”

But Fox figures that if he could influence his 83-year-old mother to finally change her mind about the embargo, then members of Congress will also see the light someday.

“I took my mother to meet Fidel,” Fox said proudly. “All her friends were anti-Castro, and so was she. But now after visiting Cuba, she’s convinced that U.S. policy is absurd.”

Member Comments

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On February 20, 2008, vapaday wrote:

100 % American. I am not Cuban, nor am I Hispanic. However, a few rather salient points you should consider. Firstly you do not speak English. What is spoken here, in the USA, is a bastardized version.  So before you spew your bile, please note your indequacy speaking or writing in the English language. Secondly, you do not have the distinct honor of being 100% American. However, you do share that honor with Canada and Latin America. If you have not noticed, The Americas is both North and South America.
Now as to your name calling. For those of us better informed, and certainly, better educated, do engage in honest and intelligent discussions over our differences, a quality, it appears, is not part of your DNA.
Just a piece of advice. Get an decent education, not the type you so proudly wear on your sleeve.

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On February 20, 2008, "La Cubanita" wrote:

I am a proud “Cuban-American”.  Born and raised in the island until the age of 12.  I do speak the English language - better than some US natives, as well as Spanish.  I am disgusted by the comment of the so called “100% American” who can’t even spell correctly.  Just to let you know that us Cubans will always LOVE our island - but we also LOVE the USA - and we are here to STAY and for your information - (read the article again) us Cubans are not the ones lobbying for the removal of the embargo - We support the Embargo.  You should tell that to Mr. Fox and hews crew of clowns that should go live in Cuba for at least 5 years (as regular citizens) and he might have a different image of the Castro’s dictatorship there. 
P.S. I suggest you research your family tree and see where you ancestors come from.

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On February 20, 2008, publisher wrote:

Initial comment #1 deleted and user has been banned for inappropriate behavior.

We apologize for the behavior of the uneducated.

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On February 21, 2008, Yeyo wrote:

Sorry Cubanita, I’m also born and raised in Cuba, but found stupid the embargo policy.
The fact is that the embargo had done nothing to erode the Cuban Goverment. The embargo had been in place for so many years, while we Cubans were waiting for Castro to disappear in any way or shape. 
The embargo had been used by Castro rather than doing anything against him.
Castro was there all this long years watching how 9 US presidents were passing by the White House.
No, certainly the embargo is a wrong policy because it does not work.

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On February 23, 2008, La Cubanita wrote:

Yeyo, I might guess that you arrived in the USA in the 90’s or later.  That would be the mentality. 
Although - it’s obvious the the embargo has not worked, what makes you think that free trade would benefit the Cuban people and not Castro himself.  He’s already one of the richest men in the world, and let me remind you that he did not create/own Microsoft.  He has become rich by exploiting “el pueblo cubano” the Cuban people.  He makes them think they have dollars - when what they have is “chavitos”.  Leave Cuba, try to buy anything in any other country in the world - chavitos are worthless.  What do you think he’s doing with the “real dollars” that the Cuban-Americans send to their families in the island?  Castro has gotten richer by the minute. 
The fact that there has been 9 presidents in the White House and only one in Cuba - it spell DICTATOR, and is shameful to say the longest ruling dictator in history so far.  Today’s Cubans (in Cuba) have no knowledge of freedom- it’s been so long, they are just trying to survive.  God Bless my family and ALL the Cubans back home.

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On February 26, 2008, Yeyo wrote:

Cubanita you are right I left Cuba in the 90’s and that allowed me to understand better the Cuban issues. You are right, that’s the mentality of the people that know a little more about Cuba than the Cubans that left in the 60’s and 70’s (including most of my family).

I agree with you in most of the issues including that Castro is a Dictator and has been exploiting the Cuban people for ages. The fact that I am against the Embargo does NOT means that I am in favor of Castro, actually, all the opposite. I, like many other Cubans, consider that finishing the embargo is among a few things that should be done to finish with Castro and his cronies.

My knowledge of the Cuban realities gained while living there and here, allowed me to understand that the embargo had done nothing but provide excuses to Castro for all Cuba’s miseries.

You seem to agree with me that the embargo “has not worked”, and I completely agree with you when you say “today’s Cubans (in Cuba) have no knowledge of freedom- it’s been so long, they are just trying to survive…”

That’s exactly what free trade can do, show the Cuban people that there is another way of life out there, completely different to what they had been taught all those years.

It is time for change, and change from both sides. If the embargo has not worked them we should try something else.

I have a question, why is it that you agree with me on the fact that the embargo has not worked, but you are still in favor of the embargo?

It does not make sense. But obviously that’s the mentality.

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On February 29, 2008, Cubanita wrote:

Yeyo, my “mentality” about the embargo is based on fear:  what if we invest billions of dollars, and then Castro (now Raul) does what he did in the early 60’s with my grandparents and great grandparents, he took everything (and from every other business there at the time) and it all belonged to “the revolution”.  You are right about having more knowledge about what is going on overthere than me.  I came in 1979 at the age of 12.  But I have vivid memories of “los registros” and running because my mother had 20 cans of concensed milk in the “escaparate” - that fear-you never forget.  Well, Embargo or not - it’s a shame that we’ve been talking of the same thing for 49 years, and counting!!!!

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On March 14, 2008, Yeyo wrote:

Cubanita in certain way I share your fears and I do not feel that lifting the embargo equals investing billions there. At the end of the day there would be many risks, among which would be the risk for the foreign investors.

Unfortunately I also share most of your memories: my grand parents also lost everything to the “revolution” and I was present during the “registros” and the always present fear because almost everything was prohibited.

From the point of view of my family one of my regrets is not leaving Cuba earlier. It took me to long to realize that there was no much for my family and I there. I wrongly thought that the future was probably better but luckily later realize that there was no real solutions to the conditions of the country.

I agree with you, it is a shame that we are still talking about the problems in our beloved country 49 years later, and unfortunately it looks like the problems would never ends…..

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On March 22, 2008, Cubanita wrote:

Yeyo, finally I think with are at peace with our thoughts.  Viva Cuba Libre - Algun Dia!