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When a report in Newsweek revealed that one of Donald Trump’s companies had engaged in (extremely trivial) violations of the U.S. embargo on Cuba during Bill’s Presidency, Hillary was to tell reporters on her campaign plane that Trump had put “his personal and business interests ahead of the laws and the values and the policies of the United States of America.” Later she took to Twitter:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 29, 2016
The embargo is evil. It should be violated.
That Trump’s violation was motivated by profit rather than politics is beside the point. A grocery store owner in the Jim Crow South who illegally served black customers at his lunch counter because he wanted their business would be less praiseworthy than one who did the same thing because he wanted to take a principled stand against segregation laws, but both are better than a store owner who dutifully carried out those laws.
The embargo wasn’t put in place to promote democracy. It was instituted to punish Cuba for replacing a dictatorship that kept most of the population illiterate and impoverished—but which, as Hyman Roth says in Godfather II, “respects free enterprise”—with one that seized the wealth of the ruling class and used it to make massive strides in healthcare and education and social equality. Cuban society is very far from the pluralistic, democratic model favored by most socialists in this country, but anyone who believes that Cuba would be a ‘democracy’ if the CIA and the Miami exiles got their way should take a good long look at neighboring Haiti. Democratically elected left-wing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from office by U.S. Marines in 2004. The Cuban community in Miami cheered.
“In the American imagination,” Joy Gordon observes, “the embargo serves mostly to deny us access to Cohibas and Havana Club rum…” The reality experienced by ordinary Cubans is grimmer.
[I]ts damage to the Cuban people has been, and continues to be, pervasive and profound. It affects their access to everything from electricity to videogames to shoes. It has prevented Cubans from buying medical supplies from American companies, from buying pesticides and fertilizer, from purchasing Microsoft Word or downloading Adobe Acrobat. It has restricted how much money Cuban Americans can send to their families on the island. Americans have been prosecuted for selling water-treatment supplies to Cuba and threatened with prosecution for donating musical instruments.
Donald Trump has scored points with the Cuban-American community and the right wing of his own party by opposing President Obama’s efforts to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. No one could blame Clinton if all she’d done was slam the Donald for inconsistency. The problem is that she didn’t stop at calling him a hypocrite. Nor did she simply fault him for breaking the law. She went out of her way to affirm that the embargo represents “our nation’s interests.” Nor, according to Clinton, is the embargo simply a matter of self-interest. No, the laws stopping Americans from providing Cuba with water-purification equipment represent American “values” that Donald Trump should have held sacrosanct.
Many opponents of the embargo may quietly reassure themselves that Clinton is simply lying about her position to pander for votes. She’s flip-flopped on this very subject before, and she could do it again. Of course, the same line of thought should give pause to progressives who took seriously her concessions to Bernie Sanders on matters such as college tuition and the minimum wage.
Either way, Secretary Clinton’s current message to Cubans who need water purification equipment is clear enough: