I WANT TO ANSWER YOUR POLITICAL QUESTIONS! I've been involved in politics and government for a little while, now. I'll do my best to answer your question, though I make no guarantees you'll love the answer. Email me at bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com.
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Dear Spencerian Editors:
I have asked this question many times with different people and haven't received a satisfactory answer. Why do we still have a trade embargo with Cuba, a communist country. We now have as major trading partners, Vietnam and China, both communist countries, not to mention that we lost over 50,000 American lives in Vietnam. I don't understand this!!!
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Great question, JS!
Usually I go around the world to tell a story, going into painstaking detail in order to answer these questions (which I always enjoy). Today, though, I've got something different. I will answer this question in one word, and then bore you with the details: Florida.
To be more precise, it's really two words: Florida politics. Now, I fully expect a political and demographic expert on the order of Steve Schale to come along and correct my inevtiable errors, here, but I'll take a stab at this, nonetheless.
Florida, as you are likely aware, JS, is a critical swing state in presidential elections. And a critical constituency in Florida are Cuban immigrants, and people of Cuban descent (including our new Senator, Republican Marco Rubio). These Cuban Americans despise the dictator Fidel Castro and his oppressive Communist regime.
From the Biography.com link preceeding, this would prove to be the pivotal moment in relations between Cuba and America, and set the tone for the next fifty years:
The year 1961 proved to be pivotal in Castro's relationship with the United States. On January 3, 1961, outgoing president Dwight Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. On April 16, Castro formally declared Cuba a socialist state. The following day 1,400 Cuban exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow the Castro regime. The incursion ended in disaster; hundreds of the insurgents were killed and nearly 1,000 captured. Though the United States denied any involvement, it was revealed that the Cuban exiles were trained by the Central Intelligence Agency and armed with U.S. weapons. Decades later, the National Security Archive revealed that the United States had begun planning an overthrow of the Castro government as early as October 1959. The invasion was conceived during the Eisenhower administration and inherited by President John F. Kennedy, who reluctantly approved its action but denied the invaders air support in hopes of hiding any U.S. participation.
Fidel Castro was able to capitalize on the incident to consolidate his power and further promote his agenda. On May 1, Castro announced an end to democratic elections in Cuba and denounced American imperialism. Then at year's end, Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and announced the Cuban government was adopting communist economic and political policies. On February 7, 1962, the United States imposed a full economic embargo on Cuba, a policy that continues to this day.
The Castro regime remains an oppressive dicatatorship -- there's a reason tens of thousands of Cubans fled towards American shores over the last fifty years -- but it is undergoing important and complex changes. More on the changes in a moment.
For many years, being tough on Cuba was a litmus test for any presidential hopeful who came to Florida, and especially South Florida (it's worth noting that Clinton lost Florida when he was elected in 1992, but won in it in 1996, after he signed the Helms Burton Act into law, which expanded the scope of the embargo; this was made political easier for Clinton when the Cuban military shot down a plane on a humanitarian mission).
That said, the the specifics of the actual embargo have grown more complicated over time. (For your reference, here is a pretty good timeline of events since 1962.)
Looking at that timeline, the most recent entry is from 1997, and it notes this bill from Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) , which would loosen travel restrictions to Cuba.
Easing restrictions on a Communist dictatorship? From a Republican? The times they really are a-changin'.
It is worth noting that Cuban Americans (and not just any Cuban Americans -- Cuban American Republicans) broadly supported the DREAM Act, which died in Congress a few weeks ago. The DREAM Act would have allowed children who were brought into America illegally to stay. The DREAM Act -- which had the strong backing of the Obama White House -- died in Congress, thanks to immigrant-unfriendly Republicans.
(As a brief aside, the issue of immigration is going to be huge in the Republican Party for the forseeable future.)
Although politics marches on, and Obama has renewed the Cuban embargo as so many of his predecessors have, it's worth noting that he has largely lifted the travel restrictions between our two nations, a move which, if you recall the Enzi Bill, should have bi-partisan support. It indeed has the support of at least one established Cuban American group:
Pepe Hernandez, head of the moderate Cuban-American National Foundation, called the changes very positive, most importantly the decision to allow all Americans to send money to Cubans.
"It's going to help the interaction between regular Cubans and U.S. citizens, it's going to help Cuban people inside the island to gain independence from the Cuban government, especially now that roughly a million will be without jobs," he said, referring to Raul Castro's decision to reduce the government workforce.
Hernandez said the Cuban government would get some benefit from the remittances, but that he could live with that because Cuban citizens, particularly dissidents, would now have another source of support.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the top Catholic leader in South Florida, applauded the changes.
Still, the real question persists: should America lift the Cuban trade embargo?
JS, this answer is probably no more satisfactory than any other answer you've ever gotten. The short version is, sometimes politics is slow to change.
And with that, let me offer a bit of hopeful prognostication: someday the embargo will go away. Probably not tomorrow, not the next day, not next week, probably not even next year. The embargo hurts the people of Cuba, not the terrible regime (even a kid can understand this concept). My guess is you'll see a gradual erosion of the broadly-defined "embargo," starting with the lifting of travel restrictions.
Some day Fidel Castro, at this point more a symbol of tyrrany and oppression than anything, will die. It's hard to know just how much the country will shift towards a more democratic model (as you noted, China and Vietnam have), and at what rate. My guess -- just a guess -- is that my daughter will live to travel to a relatively free Cuba, and it will no longer be a political football, either on the global stage or in presidential elections here at home.
The real question may be, when Cuba is no longer a political issue, what will rise to take its place?
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Just email me: bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com