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The Politics of the Cuba Embargo

by Tom Crumpacker

An August 17 article by Mark Helm of Hearst Washington Bureau about our House Speaker Dick Armey’s upcoming retirement casts some light on the way our Congress and Administration have been dealing with Cuba issues in recent years. By way of background recall:

(1) under House rules the House leadership–the Speaker and majority whip (Tom Delay, also from Texas)–determine when, where and how bills are voted on;

(2) bills have been introduced every year and have been pending for many years to repeal the Cuba embargo and Helms-Burton blockade–and have had very substantial, increasing support–but votes on the merits with full debate with one partial exception have never been allowed;

(3) the only other Cuba bills voted on have been on amendments to Administration budget requests for money to enforce the embargo and travel restrictions, which have to be voted on each year, and by substantial, increasing margins the travel enforcement money has been turned down in the Hou! se the last three summers and once in the Senate (where it comes up again soon, maybe next month);

(4) in November, 2000 a vote was finally forced on a bill which would allow medicine and nutritional food to be sold to Cuba, which passed in both chambers by large margins only to be gutted in conference by the addition of two provisions tacked on by Miami Congressman Diaz-Balart, apparently appointed to the conference committee by Armey and Delay, which prohibited normal use of credit in sales to Cuba and “codified” the unconstitutional travel restrictions (completely unrelated to the bill which had been voted on), which was then signed into law by Clinton in that form;

(5) regarding this maneuver Rep. Mark Sanford (R, SC) said his leadership had “behaved shamefully” and Sen. Max Baucus called the matter a “travesty of our democracy”;

(6) this summer the House also voted for amendments to the budget requests to end the credit restrictions and the limits on amounts which could! be given to Cuban family members and against amending the budget by ending the embargo, 200– 225.

This latter vote may not be an accurate measure of the full anti-embargo sentiment in the House because some members might have felt it was procedurally improper to do away with all the embargo laws on a budget request amendment, including the lengthy Toricelli (1992) and Helms-Burton (1996) provisions, without amending or repealing or addressing these laws directly.

In other words this vote appears to have been just another “show trial” by Congress to help present members keep their seats or a preliminary testing of the waters never intended to be legal. The Cuban people don’t have lobbyists or numerous people or powerful organizations working for them in the US Congress. Our Constitution provides that foreign affairs are supposed to be in the domain of the executive branch representing the nation as a whole. The August 17 Helm article, titled “Armey’s independence shows as time runs out,” quotes Armey as follows:

“He predicted the 42 year old Cuba trade embargo won’t last long because it’s losing support in Congress. Armey said his own past support for the embargo was based on his loyalty to two (Miami) Cuban-American House members, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Armey also said that House members whose districts could benefit from trade and travel to Cuba should vote against the embargo.”

In other words we are to believe that Armey’s personal loyalty to two House members out of 425–rather than his own policy considerations or his loyalty to the Administration–has brought about two additional unnecessary years of virtual prohibition of food and medicine and continued travel restriction. The question I have of Mr. Armey is this: how many innocent Cubans have become sick or died in the last two years because of your loyalty to your two Miami friends?

A binding vote with full debate on the merits of the embargo or the travel restrictions has still not happened and apparently is not in the cards this year again because of Armey and the well named Delay. Therefore Congresspersons cannot meaningfully vote against the embargo as Armey now suggests. The “demand” of the two Miami congresspersons is the same weak excuse Armey and then Senate majority leader Trent Lott gave for their maneuvering two years ago. Despite what Armey says, it’s obvious from what our President has said about Cuba issues and the way things work in Washington that Armey and Delay have been acting under the direction of the White House. It’s also clear that if Armey were running again, he wouldn’t be trying to take the hit for the Administration. Delay has been uncharacteristically quiet on Cuba issues this summer. He appears to be the choice for our next Speaker if the Republicans keep control of the House in November. If this happens it’s doubtful t! hat the Cuba embargo will be voted on until 2005 if ever.

This is another example of how the people who run this country are using Florida’s Cuban-Americans to take the political heat off themselves for their absurd, genocidal Cuba policy. The Florida Cuban-American community actually is relatively small, less than 9% of the state’s population, and according to the most recent polls I’ve seen, done by Florida International University about a year ago, Miami Cuban-Americans are about evenly divided on lifting the embargo and strongly in favor of lifting the travel restrictions.

Many years ago the two Miami districts in question were gerrymandered, so the two incumbents get to run uncontested there. They are part of the 85% of Congressional seats in this so-called democracy of ours which are uncontested or not seriously contested.

Tom Crumpacker is with the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba. He can be reached at: New Print Edition of CounterPunch Available Exclusively to Subscribers:

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