Mares: Time to revisit Cuba policy

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(HOST) A trip to Cuba inspired commentator Bill Mares to learn all he could about that country – and its relationship to the U.S. Today he reflects on the trade embargo and offers a modest suggestion to President Obama.

(MARES) Back in the eighties, Pillsbury’s Haagen-Daz ice cream employed some hardball distribution tactics against Ben and Jerry’s, who fought back with a clever series of ads asking, "What’s the Dough Boy afraid of?"

One might ask a similar question about the 50-year old United States embargo on trade with Cuba.  With the Cold War long over, and Fidel Castro fading, what IS Uncle Sam afraid of?
Through ten Presidents, we’ve been hoping to achieve regime change through economic strangulation. This has been U.S. policy since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
Ironically, it was maintained by the influence of Cuban-American refugees who became a powerful force in Florida and American politics; thus, its continuation has been driven more by  politics than common sense.

Thanks to the embargo, the Cuban people are economically more miserable – though their sparse diets and health care system may have protected them from the epidemic of obesity that plagues other cultures – including ours.  But politically they are no freer; and we have given the Castros a convenient scapegoat for all their political oppression and economic mismanagement.  

We have also continued to trade with regimes just as repressive as Cuba.  China comes to mind. The embargo was supposed to isolate Cuba from the rest of the world.

But to a great extent, it has backfired.
In the latest of 17 successive U.N. General Assembly resolutions to lift the embargo, Washington could find only two allies to oppose it: Israel and Palau, a Pacific island with a population of 21,000.            

Finally, however, some attitudes are changing.  For example, Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, has  recently written that  "…U.S. policy towards Cuba is at best static and at worst counter-productive, a source of increasing frustration to many Cuban Americans."
A Zogby poll last fall found that 60 percent of Americans believe that at Washington should revise its policies towards Cuba.
And some sharp criticism of the embargo now comes from conservative businesspeople.
In the words of Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "All you have to do is go over to Cuba and watch how the Spanish, the French, the Latin Americans and everybody else on the globe are building resorts or trying to invest, and we are sitting here with a 50-year-old policy that doesn’t work."

One of our sons, who works in Argentina, has suggested that another good reason for Obama and Congress to lift the embargo would be its effect on our relations with the rest of Latin America.

Obama wouldn’t even need to tour the region. He could simply announce the economic version of troop withdrawal. It would be a cheap and brilliant way to sow goodwill among friends and confusion among enemies. This reminded me of something Mark Twain once wrote:  "Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

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