A reader recently wrote, “Did you really blame the US embargo for Cuba’s state? The world has traded with Cuba for many years, why then is Cuba impoverished”. She posits the root cause for Cuba’s problems is that “Fidel Castro is a vicious dictator”. Americans who know little about US-Cuba Relations commonly share the reader’s view. However, it is clear U.S. policy and politics have for years served to prevent world trade with the Republic of Cuba. Those policies make it uncomfortable and difficult for countries, international corporations and individuals to do business with Cuba.
In 1982, President Ronald Wilson Reagan leveraged the conflict for political gain. In a recent presentation in Washington D.C., Professor Antonio Zamora, the former Corporation Counsel to the Cuban American National Foundation disclosed that CANF was formed at the request of the former president, whose interest was to secure the Cuban American vote and the financial support of its wealthy and thriving business community. In return for its formation and support, according to Zamora, CANF asked that the President place Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Following Reagan’s game plan, in 2004, again at the behest of CANF, used a combination of laws to impose a travel restriction on Cuban’s living in the U.S. and limited their travel to Cuba to once every 3 years. This policy served to leverage the Cuban American vote in Florida 14 months before Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.
The 55-year-old embargo is administered through at least 6 laws that authorize legal action when world governments, corporations or individuals violate said laws. There is the Foreign Assistance Act; enacted in 1961 it formed the United States Agency for International Development. It is the vehicle used to fund subversive and covert activity on Cuban soil. The Cuban Assets Control Act of 1963 restricts, among other things, the exchange and transfer of assets to and from Cuba, and the processing of transactions with Cuban banking institutions. It also prevents Cuban Americans from investing in their homeland. The Helms Burton Act of 1996 penalizes foreign companies and individuals who do business with Cuba and calls for conditions in the normalizing of relations that are very difficult to meet.
In 1982 as a growing number of nations ignored the tenants of the embargo, and to appease CANF, President Reagan designated Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The designation allowed the U.S. to intensify the unpopular embargo. What nation would want to be viewed as doing business with Iran, Syria, Sudan or Cuba? The designation is one of Cuba’s greatest inhibitors toward self-sufficiency, limiting its ability to borrow money and makes it costly when it does so.
Consider recent U.S. sanctions on institutions for doing business with Cuba. In 2014, the French bank BNP Paribas was fined nearly $9 million; in 2013 Royal Bank of Scotland fined $33,000; also in 2013 Weatherford International Ltd. was fined nearly $1 million; on the home front, in 2011, JP Morgan chase was fined $88 million for doing business with embargoed countries, including Cuba.
Cuba has survived many obstacles, including a Great Depression from 1990 through 2000. The “special period”, as it is known, caused Cubans to band together in solidarity and defiance against a predicted collapse of the nation. The island has also suffered natural disasters that have crippled its electrical infrastructure and housing stock. Still Cuba has managed to continue to continue.
The U.S. Department of State has consistently reported that there is no evidence to support that Cuba engages or supports terrorists or paramilitary organizations. It recognizes that Cuba has been instrumental in working toward a peaceful resolution between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Army. For its part, the Cuban Government has been making concessions for years, including movement toward a market driven economy with a private business community and workforce. It has also relaxed its fixation with its dissident community.
International politics and diplomacy can change on a whim. The slightest domestic or international event could adversely impact the normalizing of relations. For this and the reasons stated above, President Barrack Obama would do well to act quickly to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Felix Sharpe Caballero is a Cuban born American. He has nearly 30 years of experience in public policy and executive government administration. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org