The Politics of US Cuba Policy

In his May 20 message to Cubans this year our president made no specific reference to any further steps being considered to bring about a “transition to democracy” (code word for unregulated capitalism), the legally required US policy towards Cuba. There have been bills pending in Congress for at least ten years to end the US blockade of Cuba or various segments of it, and there have been a substantial majorities in both House and Senate favoring these bills for at least five years. Each year the Administration must ask for enforcement funding. In the past three years both bodies have refused to fund the unconstitutional travel restrictions (hence there are no judges to enforce them) and some other aspects of the blockade. The only time a vote was allowed on the merits, public pressure in the fall of the election year 2000 had forced party leaders to permit voting on a bill allowing the sale of medicine and nutritional food to Cuba. This passed by substantial margins in both chambers, only to be worse than emasculated by the party leaders in conference (they appointed as conferees members who opposed it). Financing was prohibited for the food and medicine, and as a kicker the unconstitutional travel restrictions, heretofore administrative regs only, were codified — although they were never part of the bills which had been passed. Rep. Mark Sanford, R., SC said his leadership had “behaved shamefully,” and Sen. Max Baucus, D., MT called the maneuver “a travesty of our democracy.”

Our Constitution provides that the responsibility for foreign affairs resides in the Executive rather Legislative Department. The reasons are obvious — relationships with other nations are not legislative matters, and Congress is not set up to deal with them. Foreign policy must be flexible, subject to change for good reason within reasonable time periods, based on expertise of officials who have contact with and knowledge of what is happening in the other nation. Even a century ago when it was still somewhat functional, our Congress would never have considered involving itself in the details of a relationship with another country. This is the purpose and business of our State Department.

In trying to change the regime in Cuba, our Executive bureaucracies such as NED, CIA, State Department (including its AID) and others are simply enforcing detailed Cuba laws passed by Congress in the 1990s, such as the Toricelli and Helms-Burton Acts. The primary political event that has effected US Cuba policy in the last 20 years has been the transfer of the responsibility for Cuba affairs by default (at the apparent desire of our last four presidents) from our State Department to our Congress. This is the only time in US history this has happened. Normally our Executive bureaucracies can be counted on to protect and save their turf.

The primary factors which motivate our Congresspersons are personal — retaining their offices, which bring them wealth and power. They therefore respond primarily to the businesses and other powerful lobbies which fund their campaigns. Our Congress functions slowly if at all — it takes years to resolve most issues, and many are never resolved. What and when issues are voted on are determined by a few powerful men called “party leaders.” Seats become secure when public positions on controversial issues are avoided. Most are elected in uncontested or not seriously contested elections, with about 35-40% of the eligible electorate voting. Pursuing primarily private rather than public interests, our Congress has become oligarchic rather than democratic. It has become apparent to everyone, including the Cuban government, that the Cuba blockade will never fairly be voted on in Congress, therefore change within the present US political system is impossible.

The key to our present Cuba policy can be deduced from our president’s answer a couple of years ago to a question why his Cuba policy differs so radically from his China policy. He said it was because there exists in China a strong “entrepreneurial” class. In other words before we change anything, there needs to be a class society in Cuba based on big business, wealth and power, led by elite’s who run things through the media and politicians, as in the US. This is why former Secretary of State William Rogers is saying we must rely on the Miami “exiles” to return Cuba to teach Cubans how to become good capitalists. This is why seminars are being held in South Florida for Cuban businessmen — to help them run things in Cuba without making the mistakes that were made in Eastern Europe. This is why AID, CIA, NED and other government agencies have been funneling money and property to Cuban American “free Cuba” groups, and thence to Cuban “dissenters” (code word for counterrevolutionary mercenaries) directly and through our Interest Section in Havana. This is why not only hard-line Cuban emigres, but also members of our Administration and our Florida governor, are now openly talking about regime change.

The Miami hard-liners can be counted on to do everything they can to destabilize and overthrow the Cuban people’s government, but they lack national power. The real power behind present policy rests with people on Wall Street and in Washington. What we are now seeing is the Cuban American community being used as the “fall guy” for an unpopular policy. For example, when Republican House majority leader Dick Armey retired last year was asked for his biggest regret in office, he said it was promoting the Cuba blockade which he had really wanted to end but didn’t permit votes on because of his friendship with the two Miami Cuban American Congresspersons. According to recent polls, the majority of Cuban Americans want the blockade ended.

The Cuban government seems to be the only one in the world that is standing up publicly against the US drive for world commercial empire based on its neo-liberal ideology. Although many Third World governments apparently agree, they are presently unwilling to risk capital disinvestment in their countries. Cuba is not particularly rich in natural resources, but it has twelve million potential consumers of our products and the survival of its revolution presents a major danger, ideologically, to world commercial oligarchy based on US hegemony. Those of us who desire real democracy should not be encouraged by the lack of specifics in our president’s May 20 comments. Indeed, the future of the Cuban revolution looks more ominous than ever now in view of the intensity of the present US propaganda campaign, which seems eerily similar to what started last August regarding Iraq. So long as the Cuban revolution survives there will remain hope for democracy here and around the world. In this sense, Jose Marti’s saying over a century ago seems prescient: “Cuba, al salvarse, salva.”

TOM CRUMPACKER is with the Miami Coalition to End the US Embargo of Cuba. He can be reached at: