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In Part 1, I noted that the Cuban embargo, now in its 51st year, serves no real purpose in terms of limiting Cuban access to American products.  Furthermore, the continuing embargo is detrimental to the best economic and political interests of the US and American businesses. In responding to the false Republican claims that Obama is bad for business, the Obama Administration could simply declare an end to the embargo and take away all restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba.  In response to the ensuing loud uproar, the Administration's response would be very simple: "Ending the embargo is a business decision, made to improve the balance of trade, to open up markets to American companies, to respond to competition from China, and to reduce the deficit.  Yes, there are some political issues to address, but the time is long past to work toward normalizing relationships with Cuba."

In Part 1, I noted that the Cuban embargo, now in its 51st year, serves no real purpose in terms of limiting Cuban access to American products.  Back in the Soviet era, which ended more than 20 years ago, it was somewhat easier to limit access to products, but globalization makes many products available to anyone anywhere as long as you have the money.  Also, wealthy Cubans can obtain such products from other countries, if not directly, then by having visiting friends buy them and bring them in. Wearing a pair of Nike shoes in Havana is a not-so-subtle indicator that you are part of the Cuban 1%.

My key point, though, is that the continuing embargo is detrimental to the best economic and political interests of the US and American businesses.  If I were the CEO of a global company, I would want the opportunity to sell my products everywhere. I don't understand why the chief executives of Pepsi, GM, GE, Boeing, HP, Levi Strauss, Apple, Procter and Gamble, Hilton, and other large companies are not pressing the Secretaries of State, Commerce, and Treasury to remove these outdated restrictions.

Just to push on one example, Cubans had a longstanding love affair with American cars, and the streets of their cities are filled with classic American cars,  mysteriously held together.  During the Soviet era, the Ladas (Russian-built Fiats) and Moskviches uglified the scene.  Now the new cars are Korean, Japanese, French, and even Chinese, including the deadly Zhongxing SUV.  But I'm willing to bet that there's a good potential market for GM and Ford products there. The Ford Focus, for example, would match up very well against the other cars there.

In any event, the Chinese are now filling a big part of the role formerly played by the Soviet Union, establishing a strong economic base in Cuba, and investing heavily. I rode around the country in the new Yutong buses, which are used by the Viazul bus system and by tour operators.  The Chinese have also built the biggest theme park in Cuba, along with a Coney Island-style amusement park.  Just as the US was [justifiably] concerned about the Soviet presence just 90 miles away, it's time for the US to think about the strong and growing Chinese presence in Cuba, and for us to compete economically with them.  That means ending the embargo and starting to talk about trade issues, even if nothing happens until the Castros are gone.

Yes, the Miami Cubans will complain loudly, since some of them still think that they will be able to move back into their nationalized or abandoned mansions in Havana's Miramar district. But they aren't going to vote for Obama or any other Democrat anyway, so their votes are not important politically. Any sums of money that they might contribute to Republicans are dwarfed by the huge sums from the right wing SuperPACs, so there is no reason to continue appeasing them.  (I say this as someone who was in school in Coral Gables, Florida, at the time of the Cuban revolution.)

Yes, people will argue that we shouldn't be doing business with the Castro brothers and their anti-American rhetoric.  But we do business with characters and countries who are no better (and perhaps worse).  Where would you put Cuba on a scale that includes Saudi Arabia, China, Khadafi's Libya, and Mubarak's Egypt? Following the example of Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy, maybe we could start with a home-and-home baseball series between Havana's Industriales team and an American MLB team.  It could easily be arranged when both countries in London for the Olympics.

Of course, there is a political element to this suggestion. The Republicans, their candidates, and their loudest mouthpieces (Faux News, WSJ, Rush, Rove, etc.) have been saying that the Obama Administration doesn't understand business and that he is to blame for the growing deficit. While none of this is true, their hyperbole provides a great opportunity.  The Obama Administration could simply declare an end to the embargo and take away all restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba.  In response to the ensuing loud uproar, the Administration's response would be very simple: ending the embargo is a business decision, made to improve the balance of trade, to open up markets to American companies, to respond to competition from China, and to reduce the deficit.  That statement would take away a big part of the Republican counterargument, and the Dems could just keep saying, "It's just good business, not a political issue."

My biggest misgiving about ending the embargo is the risk to Cuba's ability to preserve its identity and culture in the onslaught of American business interests.  I don't want to see McDonald's in Habana Vieja, nor to see American entertainment diminish the local culture.  It would be a big challenge to control the business interests once they are unleashed, but the embargo has lasted much too long already, and its continuation is no longer in the best interests of the US.

Originally posted to twasserman on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 10:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by LatinoKos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  6 of one, half dozen of the other (0+ / 0-)

    Cuba may not have McDonalds, but it has Iberostar, Riu and other big European conglomerates running hotels.

    So what happens if Americans can go to Varadero?

    A bunch of Mexican workers in the more expensive Cancun would lose their jobs.

    •  Iberostar etc. (0+ / 0-)

      Exactly my point.  The Cubans are doing business with the Spanish Iberostar and Melia chains.  If the embargo were gone, then US chains such as Hilton, Kimpton, Marriott, and Starwood (Sheraton, etc.) could compete for business with the others.  As things stand, continuing the embargo is bad for these American companies, and increases the risk that the other companies will establish a dominant position.

      Yes, you can go to Varadero, but it's really aimed at people who want to take a packaged well-long vacation in an all-inclusive beach resort.  Waves of tourists from all over Canada take their winter vacations there, where they are well isolated from the rest of Cuba and, in many cases, from the beach resort next to theirs.  Varadero vs. Havana is sort of like Cancun's Zona Hotelera vs. Mexico City.  The former is a beach vacation with no sense of the destination country, while the latter is the real deal.  Varadero may be cheaper than Cancun or Fort Myers, but that's about it.

  •  I can fly to China but not Cuba, both are (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bob B, stunvegas, historys mysteries

    Communist countries. Forgot Vietnam is communist too. I can fly to all but Cuba for no particular reason.

    USA, home of the "mostly" free and the brave.

    "We are a Plutocracy, we ought to face it. We need, desperately, to find new ways to hear independent voices & points of view" Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General.

    by Mr SeeMore on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 10:34:48 AM PDT

    •  arbitrary laws (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      historys mysteries

      Absolutely.  

      I went to Vietnam 2 years ago.  Hanoi and Hoi An are charming, and Halong Bay is spectacular. In Ho Chi Minh City, I visited the site of the final American departure from Saigon, which now houses a museum highlighting what the Vietnamese call the War of American Aggression.  I passed on the opportunity to crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels, though. I felt welcomed throughout the country.  Pix at http://bit.ly/...

      I went to Beijing in 1986, but haven't been back to China.

      Finally, you can fly to Cuba, just not directly from the US.  Panama and Cancun are the easiest, and you have to work with a travel agency such as Cuba Linda in Cancun to buy your ticket.  Send me a message if you want more info.

  •  As we all know (0+ / 0-)

    Trade with developing countries is just a bad idea.  Cubans should be buying locally made products and not importing, which is bad for the environment and only helps evil corporations.  Imports just hurt local suppliers and destroys native cultures.

    And Americans shouldn't be buying products from countries like Cuba that pay slave labor wages.  Those Cubans will just be taking American union jobs away from us and putting hard working Americans out of work.  Cuba doesn't sell anything that we can't make ourselves right here in the U.S.

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