Opening to Cuba. (Comment)

By Kornbluh, Peter | The Nation, October 21, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Opening to Cuba. (Comment)


Kornbluh, Peter, The Nation


"I am here in the hope that we can do business," Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura told a Cuban audience after cutting the ceremonial ribbon with Fidel Castro to open the recent US Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana. Ventura was perhaps the most recognizable personality among some 700 US civic leaders, farmers and businessmen who brought everything from California wine to Michigan corn flakes to a three-day food fair in September. He symbolizes the new and growing middle-American political effort to, as he put it, "bring the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba to a more civilized level of cooperation and communication."

After forty years of efforts by Washington to isolate the Castro government and strangle Cuba economically, opponents of the embargo have finally gained the upper hand. The pro-engagement lobby has been empowered by several factors: mobilization of moderate Cuban-Americans in Florida after the embarrassing Elian Gonzalez saga; changes in travel regulations at the end of the Clinton Administration, which have allowed more people, particularly from the Cuban-American community, to visit the island; and Castro's decision to spend $120 million in cash over the past year to purchase food and agricultural products from key farm states [see Kornbluh, "Cuban Embargo-Buster?" December 31, 2001].

The allure of Cuban markets, as the food fair demonstrated, has brought hundreds of companies and business representatives to the island--as well as to Washington. In mid-September many of those who later attended the Food Exhibition gathered in the nation's capital for a National Summit on Cuba Policy. "The tide has changed," Arizona Republican Congressman Jeff Flake told the audience. "The momentum is with us."

The summit, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the World Policy Institute and Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba, and supported by USA Engage (a business coalition), reflects the new face of Cuba politics. Once the domain of solidarity groups and progressive NGOs, the campaign to change Cuba policy is now led by Republican-dominated business groups, farm and travel associations, port authorities, trade councils and an ever-growing number of moderate Cuban-Americans from Florida--interests that carry significant political clout in local, state and national political circles.

That clout is being exercised effectively and forcefully. In July, the House passed three amendments to the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill that would, at least temporarily, block the Bush Administration from enforcing limits on travel, commerce and remittances to Cuba.

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