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Really, it's inertia. Why do we maintain sanctions on Cuba? Because we maintain sanctions on Cuba.

That might sound trite on first reading, but we're not maintaining sanctions because the American public demands it. The public favors normalization. A majority of all Americans support normalization, an even bigger majority of Floridians, and a majority of each party support normalizing. The Floridians were more heavily polled because one assumption about Cuba policy is you don't back off sanctions because the Florida Cubans are one-issue voters who can swing a big swing state.  It used to be that conservative Cubans seemed to run our Cuba policy, but the results in Florida suggest that "conservative Cubans" isn't a redundancy anymore. Younger Cubans might be voting like other Hispanics, and there are increasing numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida, in case anyone wondered why Florida Republicans now aim their voter suppression at Hispanics as well as blacks. So that's not what's sustaining sanctions on Cuba.

Is it the recalcitrant support of the leftover cold warriors? You might assume so, given that surely they would scream if Obama moved to normalize relations with Cuba, but anyone thinking Obama is upholding sanctions just because he's in the grip of the people stuck in 1970 needs to notice the cold warriors' complaint that Obama never listens to them and does everything wrong. Obama's base hasn't agreed with everything Obama has done, but the cold warriors are partly right, Obama doesn't follow their advice. That he does everything wrong, well, that's coming from people who backed Bush Jr., so they lost the credibility to speak on foreign policy ever again.

With no constituency for sanctions that anyone needs to listen to, what maintains  the sanctions? Inertia. We're maintaining sanctions because they're there and we're busy with other things. Really, if you list the most important issues, where does Cuba rank? I'm guessing all readers can get to double digits on that list easily without Cuba being there. Just narrow the list to foreign policy, and Cuba probably still doesn't reach the top ten. Ukraine is currently a crisis, I've seen press reports suggesting Syria is still holding much of the administration's time, we still have a lot of troops in Afghanistan, and do I need to go on? Congress might be ignoring Cuba because the House Republicans are working on nothing but their eighth investigation of Benghazi, 15th investigation of Solyndra, and 863rd repeal of Obamacare, but the administration is just plain busy. Obama inherited crises and it's been one thing after another.

So why give Cuba attention? Partly because public opinion has shifted, though that doesn't make it smart, just politically acceptable. Republicans will go nuts, but that's true no matter what Obama does. There are really two reasons, one practical, and one crisis-management.

The practical is that the sanctions haven't worked. They may even have blown back by allowing the Castros to easily convince the Cuban public the US is out to get them, and given the pre-revolution relations between our countries, that's an easy sell. Meanwhile, we have normal relations with lots of dictatorships. We recognize how the dictators run things, with repression of dissidents and sham elections,  but we exchange ambassadors, have normal trade relations, and allow travel. Since what we're doing with Cuba isn't working, do something else. And yes, trade. That's part of what motivates support for normalization. I doubt Cuba is big enough to have noticeable effect on the US economy, but if that's what it takes to overturn a pointless policy, OK.

By crisis-management, I actually mean avoiding crises rather than resolving them. Cuba isn't a crisis, and it should be a relatively simple problem. We've normalized relations with other dictatorships we thoroughly disliked. Some cold warriors didn't want to normalize relations with Vietnam either, but now it's just another country, not one where we have ongoing hostility and the possibility of shooting. Cuba should be easier to resolve since we haven't actually fought a long war there. Normalize before we have a problem with the Cuban government deploying troops where we much prefer they not, or before they approach another major power about having a base nice and close to the US. Both of those, bear in mind, have happened before.

Just so we're clear, I'm not suggesting the president can just wave his hand and it's done. Part of our sanctions on Cuba is legislative, which means congressional action, which younger folks understandably suspect to be a myth. But what Obama can do to normalize relations, he should.

So now that the public is looking at the situation more realistically, and we're momentarily between Cuba-crises, normalize to get this problem off our plates.  Even if it makes Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio rant. Actually, that would be a nice bonus.

cross-posted at MN Progressive Project

Originally posted to ericf on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Cold War in the Caribbean (9+ / 0-)

    needs to come to an end. It serves no purpose.

    If we can have normal trade and diplomatic relations with brutal regimes like China and Vietnam, there's no reason we can't do the same with Cuba.

    Election Day is Nov 4th, 2014 It's time for the Undo button on the 2010 Election.

    by bear83 on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 12:39:29 PM PST

    •  Gee, it sure is a good thing that (0+ / 0-)

      the US hasn't followed the Russian example and held on to bases on Cuban soil under the justification of treaties that are long obsolete!

    •  Yeah, I get your point (0+ / 0-)

      Because the US is never brutal and could set a good example.

      War games with Vietnam in the South China Sea set the model for war games with Cuba in the Caribbean.

      Sooner the better, before China gets any clever ideas.

      No one is coming to save us, the future is in our hands.

      by koNko on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 02:20:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The problem may be that Cuba is so close to our (0+ / 0-)

    borders. I thought I read that recently a Russian warship was docked in Cuba.

  •  People who lobby for lifting the embargo (7+ / 0-)

    report that it isn't just inertia. It is a very powerful (though likely unrepresentative) lobby that still reflects the old-guard Cuban exile community, and controls enough votes (including the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) to keep it from coming to the floor.

    I had one lobbyist tell me some years ago that of all the issues she worked on -- which included Israel/Palestine -- the Cuba one was the least susceptible to logical argument. It was just the iron grip of powerful forces that she couldn't get past. Maybe it's changing, as the old guard is dying off and as more US citizens have visited Cuba (thanks to Clinton and Obama loosening up on how the laws were interpreted). I hope so.

    Some of the pro-embargo people are just ideologues who hate Fidel with a passion. Many more have fantasies of turning Cuba back into a playground for the rich, well-connected, and Mafia, or at least for free reign for exploitation by US companies and return of all expropriated properties to whoever owned them in 1959.

    That's about as likely as the US returning all of Connecticut to the Pequot.

    •  They need a Communist to be anti- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody

      I think that a lot of embargo supporters feel that if they didn't have a Communist for them to be anti-, they would lose a lot of their political clout. Even if only a few hard cases actually feel that way, the majority of supporters should be made to deal with the accusation; to show them that there can be anti-Communists on both sides of the question.

      I remember reading one op-ed from Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), where she "proved" that the embargo wasn't an alibi simply by saying that Fidel Castro asked to have it lifted. But what good is a gold mine if you won't lift a shovel? A real anti-Communist would have no trouble saying that Castro's request was just for propaganda value; he'd be quaking in his boots if he thought it would actually happen.

      Freedom's just another word for not enough to eat. --Paul Krugman's characterization of conservative attitudes.

      by Judge Moonbox on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:07:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Isnt the old guard dead YET? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fabucat

      I mean, its been more than a half century. Are they texting their congressmen from the intensive care ward?

    •  Reply to rubymom (0+ / 0-)

      I think... Cuba represents failed strategic and tactical military moves as well as utter diplomatic catastrophe.

      Until all that were involved, their families have also passed, the idea of Cuba will always be a sore spot.

      At some point, someone will change it all.

      The United States gets a black eye whenever Cuba is mentioned in world affairs. It would do us well to simply turn the page and move forward.

      Suddenly, it dawns on me, Earnest T. Bass is the intellectual and philosophical inspiration of the TeaParty.

      by Nebraska68847Dem on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 07:17:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks (4+ / 0-)

    for posting.  I have been furious with the position of our government on this issue for years.  But you're right. Nobody wants to talk about it.  I did hear once that the farmers in the Midwest were lobbying at one time to be allowed to sell their crops to Cuba. That might be a good place to start.

    I will be visiting Cuba this month for the first time. Going with a group as required.  I hope I live to see a happier destiny for Cuba.  Until then, I'll take it as it is.

  •  US-Cuba ties framing; Dr.migration; 3rd countries (5+ / 0-)

    US-Cuba normalization (moving Cuba away from Russia, and perhaps ending Russia's warship-docking privileges) is now framable as

    "hit to Putin by Obama"
    and thus a
    "show of strength by Obama" rather than a "show of weakness"

    ...as sanctions supporters have long framed it.

    One complicating factor:

    Cuba would need assurances that not all of its doctors can move to the US to meet the ACA-expanded demand, at least until Cuba has time to train more of them.
    It is unfortunate that so many Cuban doctors would relocate to the US from other Latin American and third world countries, but we've never let those countries' vulnerabilities influence our realpolitik before, so this consequence does not need to derail or delay US-Cuba normalization.

    These vulnerabilities could be mitigated by a program of

    US funding of (better-salaried) Cuban-staffed training hospitals around Latin America and the third world,
    but this would have too many winners, which would conflict with
    our need for "losers" to whom we can compare ourselves.
  •  It is the greedy corporations (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, Woody, RUNDOWN

    My take is that until the greedy corps like mining and oil and gas, sugar, oil and gas can get their hands on it no one gets it.

  •  Wait! Wait! The purpose of the sanctions (5+ / 0-)

    is to force the Castros from power.  If we just give them a few more years, it's sure to work!  I predict that in another 15 years, neither of the Castro brothers will hold an important position in the Cuban government or political structure.  

  •  Those "great Americans" the Fanjul brothers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrTerwilliker, Woody

    and the rest of corporate U.S. and DR sugar interests would have to give Pres. Obama permission, because they want the embargo and sugar quotas; Florida corporate tourism industry also doesn't want the competition. I hope Pres. Obama does the right thing anyway. The blockade literally kills people in Cuba, including people who can't access U.S. patented medicines. The U.S. government's legal-financial attacks against third countries violate international law and are a worldwide embarrassment.

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 06:30:39 AM PST

    •  Normalize by boat (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie

      Normalization doesn't have to be in one fell swoop.

      Start by allowing cruise ships from Florida to stop in Havana and any other Cuban port with the needed facilities.

      Adding a stop or two in Cuba would greatly help the cruise industry. Right now the ships have to sail AROUND the island to get to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, or Cancun. A stop in Havana could cut out that long boring day "at sea." Three- or four-day "short break" cruises from Key West, like those to the Bahamas, would create a new market.

      When the cruise industry decides it wants to add Havana to their itineraries, that should counter the

      Florida corporate tourism industry also doesn't want the competition
      I see powerful companies creating jobs at Florida port cities.

      Not sure Cuba is ready for immediate full normalization. Suddenly one day a zillion Americans land in Havana. Too many of them will be asking, "Where the hoes at?"

      Meanwhile the usual tourism infrastructure of hotels, beachfront resorts, restaurants bars nightclubs, buses vans taxies is geared to Canadian and European visitors. They'd be swamped by a zillion of us. Of course, cruise ships bring their own hotel and breakfast spots.

      Cuba could charge fees for using the docks, and provide one-day or two-day visas on board at a price, to try to gain spendable dollars. That would ease the transition to normal on their side.

      Similarly, ending the embargo doesn't have to apply to all products all at once. I wonder what Cuba has to sell us besides sugar (and tourism, of course). But if sugar is a third rail, start Cuba with a very low quota. Let the next Administration and Congress raise the quota, or not. Meanwhile mangoes or other specialty crops wouldn't have the same powerful opposition.

      Obama has made tiny steps toward normal status, but basically his puny reforms only took us back to where we were under Clinton, before George W Bush did damage. It's time to take more steps, before Obama's policy gives incrementalism a bad name.

  •  Coca Cola tastes better in Cuba (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody

    A Mexican corporation manufactures and distributes Coca Cola- Yes the Real Thing - and it uses sugar cane as a sweetener instead of Archer Daniel Midland's corn syrup.
    ADM sure loves the embargo and that may explain some of the delay in ending one of the most unsuccessful foreign policy initiatives in US history.

    Cities are good for the environment

    by citydem on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:16:25 AM PST

  •  Long standing resentments (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody

    By a lot of wealthy and powerful people who lost a lot of property and money stashed away in Cuba.

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” ... Voltaire

    by RUNDOWN on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:29:47 AM PST

  •  Cuba sanctions sustained by insanity/cowardice.n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Fiat justitia ruat caelum "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."

    by bobdevo on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:42:08 PM PST

  •  Cuba only threatens the 1%ers (0+ / 0-)

    We "hate" Cuba because that's where we used to let the Mafia force local women into sexual slavery for the 1%ers to enjoy on 'Beach Holidays' and then they took that away and kicked our mob out...

    So we've been angry at them ever since.

    But really, they threaten nobody outside their borders, and are better to those in their borders than we or many others are to our own.
    - For every Political prisoner they have, I can find you a 100 dead black males, and a 1000 men of color who have lost their rights from trumped up reasons for being classified as felons.

    Meanwhile we ignore real genocidal conduct on the Congo and North Korea because... no oil and no kicked out corps.

    And we LOVE Red China because it gives us slave wages...

    Yeah - we need to get over this thing about Cuba...

    For everyone but the 1%, they're harmless. Unless you have an issue with Latino beards and good music...

    OMG, like, gag them with a multi-colored spoon. Like, ya know.

    by Jyotai on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:48:58 PM PST

  •  Any business would love to have (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody

    a market in Cuba.

    West-world economics liberated many eastern European former "states" into the free world.

    The policies toward Cuba are petty, adolescent, and serve little purpose.
    Raul and Fidel will not be around much longer; appeal to them before they go.

    It's time to move forward on Cuba.

    Suddenly, it dawns on me, Earnest T. Bass is the intellectual and philosophical inspiration of the TeaParty.

    by Nebraska68847Dem on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 04:39:01 PM PST

  •  dammit, I want to vacation there! (0+ / 0-)

    seriously good food and music ..

    "Electronic media creates reality" - Meatball Fulton

    by zeke7237 on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 04:45:58 AM PST

  •  A lot more positive press about Cuba (0+ / 0-)

    Lots of stories about Cuban Americans going back for visits and helping small businesses and artists.  

    Definitely time for a change.

  •  Sugar (Beets) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ericf

    There is one group that I know of that are keenly interested in maintaining the sanctions against Cuba.  Sugar beet farmers in various parts of the country are likely to lose big time if Cuban sugar is allowed into this country.  There is little reason to raise our own sugar from beets given how cheaply it can be raised and produced from sugarcane.

    The Cuban sanctions have allowed the entire sugar beet industry to develop and thrive in ND/MN and elsewhere in the country.  

    Ted Cruz: The second coming of Christ, but not Reagan (yet).

    by nuketeacher on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 10:50:52 AM PST

  •  It's because sanctions have been so effective (0+ / 0-)

    To hasten the demise of Fidel Castro.

    Obviously without them he might live 10,000 years.

    Besides, it helps to maintain the stock of golden era American cars.

    No one is coming to save us, the future is in our hands.

    by koNko on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 02:15:29 PM PST

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