Due to the Obama Administration’s renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, Cuba is back in the news.
As usual, there is an alarming amount of misinformation — and stupidity — circulating that has me looking like this at my desk:
and wanting to do this:
Let’s address some of the most common arguments heard in favor of relations — vs the truth.
“The embargo hasn’t worked in five decades — don’t you think it’s time to try something new???”
A fair enough point. But let’s look at this with the right information. The fact is saying the embargo “hasn’t worked” is inaccurate, since its sole goal was never to topple the regime: the embargo has been successful in (1) helping to stop Cuba from spreading its ideology and its terror elsewhere in the world, and (2) preventing the Cuban regime from using Americans’ cash to fund repression (unless, of course, you’re cool with funding repression).
At the very least, it has served a punitive goal and sends a moral statement that Americans won’t do business with, well, monsters.
Remember, embargoes’ aims can be:
2) to make a moral statement;
3) containment of the nation;
4) coercive (i.e., used as leverage to gain certain concessions and perhaps even regime change).
Sure, the embargo hasn’t accomplished the last but it’s accomplished the first three (worth noting: containment — not toppling the regime — was the original aim).
And, with the USSR gone, and its Cuban-sugar-daddy replacement, Venezuela, barely hanging on… Cuba is in dire straits. Now is the time when the 4th potential outcome (toppling the regime) could work — and thus precisely NOT the time to yank the embargo. Shouldn’t we at least try to gain some concessions (in the form of fundamental human rights) before lifting it? Why lift it and get nothing in return? Why give away the milk for free when you’ve held out for five decades?
At its very core, the anti-embargo argument boils down to a common error: “Because of A ‘failing’ to have its intended effect (A = embargo) and B existing (B = a totalitarian regime), that must mean B is caused or helped up by A. So if we eliminate A, then B would disappear.” It is a textbook example of a logical fallacy.
“But we do business with other repressive regimes.”
Hm, I’m aware.
a) The “America might as well trade with Cuba because we do with X, Y, Z” is simply hogwash. Do eight wrongs make a right? Also:
– Is a single ONE of those nations in the Western Hemisphere? No. (Hard truth: we do care more about what happens in, say, England, than in Tibet. Sorry.)
– Do we have strong cultural and historical ties with any of those nations, dating back over 200 years? No.
– Did any of those nations confiscate over $1 billion dollars in US property at the time, done by the very same regime/family in power now? No.
b) More importantly, though, we’re bound by reality. Are some of our oil-supplier partners not exactly good guys? Sure. But our economic realities prevent us from ignoring that market. Ditto with China. Cuba, however, we can realistically shun.
c) Speaking of China (which anti-embargo proponents love to bring up, thinking it’s their pièce de résistance), China is not a fully Communist model in its economic approach. Unlike Cuba, a surprising amount of private enterprise and ownership is allowed. And, a surprising amount of the wages paid to factory workers, for instance, end up in the workers’ pockets. Meanwhile, Cuba has been busy passing legislation this year (no doubt in anticipation of the Obama-deal) dictating the government will keep over 90% of a worker’s wages derived from a foreign company. In any event, thanks to this business, the Chinese government is now the most well-funded tyrannical regime in history. Is that something we want to do again? Just askin’…
“The embargo is the reason Cubans are suffering.”
Allow me a minute to pick my jaw up off the floor.
One need only consider that Cuba trades with countless other nations. Why has that not made a difference? Why is Cuba, once a nation whose own currency was stronger, at one point, than even the US dollar, still in abject poverty ever since the Revolution?
Gosh, if only there were a socialist, similar nation in Latin America with whom we traded but whose people cannot even find toilet paper…. to illustrate my point? Ah, there is! Venezuela! You see, kids, the problem isn’t an embargo — the problem is the economic system of socialist/Communist nations. If it weren’t, then Venezuela should be thriving – but it isn’t. Riddle me that.
“Let’s flood Cuba with iPhones! Democracy will flourish!”
This plan doesn’t exactly sound foolproof…. and seems to rely on warm-and-fuzzy notions of positive thinking.
The idea goes something like this: “If Cubans get a whiff of capitalism, and a whiff of American fabulousness, bonding over cigars and mojitos, they will overthrow those cranky Commie leaders and capitalism/democracy will flourish!”
Sounds sweet, albeit corny. If it had a snowball’s chance in hell of working, I’d dig it. Only problem is: hmm, that already happens and there hasn’t been a change. Western tourists from Democratic nations (e.g., Canadians, Italians, Brits) already flood Cuba every year. Their presence has made no difference. In fact, Americans themselves already flood Cuba every year (Cuban exiles visiting family). Our products? Yeah, they’ve seen those, too (check the figures on Cuban remittances of products — everything from TV’s to clothes).
So, if proponents are going to tout the “lift the embargo because the existing policy hasn’t changed things” line, the same could be said of this. The existing reality of interaction with democratic tourists and capitalistic products has done nothing to change the status quo in Cuba. Next time someone says: “But the embargo hasn’t worked in 50 years, time for a change!”, ask them: “Well, Western tourists’ influence in the past 50 years hasn’t worked either… but that you haven’t given up on?”
Now, you might ask, why hasn’t interaction with tourists and capitalism-believers/products worked? Simple: It’s pretty hard to change things when there are government spies on every neighborhood block and when the regime rules, and stomps dissent, with an iron fist. How would Billy and Bobby visiting from Arkansas change things? How would Cubans seeing the latest shiny products change things? It wouldn’t.
“If only we had free trade….”
Please stop right there. You can’t have free trade with people who aren’t free! We’d be trading with the regime – NOT with the Cuban people. Why is this so hard for others to grasp?
“I’ve visited Cuba and, OMG, it was ah-mah-zing.”
Your experience at a government-approved Varadero Beach hotel — or a government approved hostel in Havana run by a government-approved family — isn’t an insight into real life in Cuba … but I’ll sit here and hear all about your “ah-mah-zing” trip to Cuba, biting my lip and marveling at your cluelessness.
The person will then go on to imply that their visit to Cuba makes him/her more of an expert than you.
And, every now and then, you’ll get that one shady guy who’s been to Cuba “a few times,” and whose eyes light up about how “awesome” it was, making you wonder about that underaged-sex-trade-tourism thang…
“Why don’t you WANT to go?”
As director Phil Lord noted last year, in an amazing Open Letter to Jay-Z, for one, “I cringe when Americans visit Cuba for a fun island vacation. For one thing it’s illegal (which nobody seems to care about)….”
And, as Lord adds, “more importantly, it’s either ignorant of or calloused to the struggles of Cubans on the island.” Indeed. Why would I want to go, to see Cuban suffering and know my money is going towards their repression? Not much of an ethical vaca, is it? And what kind of person can frolick in the sand, knowing the waiter who served them earlier can’t eat tonight, will go to prison if he says the wrong thing to you, and can’t step foot on the very same beach you’re enjoying?
“I just don’t believe embargoes or boycotting something is the way to address a problem.”
Hey, sure — OK. Except then you point out that person recently was tweeting criticism of Wal-Mart’s ‘labor practices’, has a list of companies he boycotts for a myriad of different reasons, and brags about his socially-responsible coffee brand.
And there is a sudden silence.
“Look, I don’t just care about sexy trips and cigars…. I really am interested in seeing, like, the real Cuba.”
“The Cuban people are so incredible. What do you have against them?”
Another huge misconception. Cuban exiles/Cuban-Americans adore the Cubans on the island. We see them as our brothers and sisters who are being held hostage. The problem is not with them, never has been, and never will be — the problem is with the regime that holds them prisoner and deprives them of nearly every fundamental human right.
“Cuban exiles are just bitter and upset about property they lost.”
My initial response to this stupidity, astounding in its tone-deaf cruelty but also remarkable in its historical ignorance is:
Then I compose myself and point out that the vast majority of current Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans (especially those who came over post 1960’s) did not lose property in the Cuban Revolution. Did the kids who came over in Pedro Pan lose property? Did the Marielitos, who were already living in a Communist system for 20 years, lose property? I could go on and on with examples. And, even for those who did, or whose parents or grandparents did, might it have less to do with a house lost than with, perhaps, seeing your family and friends carted off to a concentration camp or an execution fortress, or 30-year prison sentences simply for speaking up, and helplessly watching as a tyrant yanks all basic freedoms away?
Just a thought.
At some point, the person will bring up a positive aspect about Cuba. “OK, but you have to admit, Cuba’s healthcare is better than ours.”
Taylor, take it away:
No, just NO. I’m trying to understand how you go to this level of misinformation (too much Michael Moore?) but….
The person will then mention anything positive they can think of about the Cuban system, anything at all:
And it’s one misinformed angle/statement/argument after another…. making you almost pity the arrogant fool.
So this is a good spot to hit PAUSE. This is Part 1. I’ll update with more info, likely by the new year. Hopefully, by now you’ve learned some new points and considered some ideas, from a “crazy Cuban American”:
Because, while reasonable people can certainly have a difference of opinion…
… let’s be sure you make an informed decision and… most of all, don’t forget:
best come correct if you’re going to argue with a Cuban-American about Cuba!