Must-Read: Responding to The New York Times' Cuba Editorial

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
By Clive Rudd Fernandez in The Havana Times:

Responding to The NYT editorial “End the US Embargo on Cuba”

I was surprised to read the editorial from the New York Times on October 11, 2014, not because of the subject but because of the unconvincing and poor arguments presented. As a Cuban who’s lived in exile in Europe for more than 20 years, this subject is in my thoughts very often.

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which was imposed on October 19, 1960, should be relaxed by Barack Obama by doing “a major policy shift [that] could yield a significant foreign policy success”.

This argument appears on the first paragraph of the op-ed with an implicit message to Barack Obama urging him to do a major policy shift regarding the relations with the Cuban government and as a result he’ll improve his ratings.

This is where I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval. But there is much more the White House could do on its own.” So the op-ed is not asking the United States to modify the law; the intention here is to go the less democratic way: the President with his executives powers should do some policy changes to undermine the embargo so much that could render it irrelevant and the objective: to score a political goal for the president!

Few paragraphs down in the text, it reads: “The generation that adamantly supports the embargo is dying off. Younger Cuban-Americans hold starkly different views”. So, I wonder, why the need to bypass the democratic route?

The editorial goes on and states that “a devastated economy has forced [the government in] Cuba to make reforms” and “over the decades, it became clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure”. Both statements are clearly contradictory arguments.

The trade embargo affects the Cuban economy to the point that it’s a “devastated economy” so it “has forced Cuba to make reforms”, and on the same text it says that the embargo is not working? As a popular English proverb says: “You can’t have your cake and eat it (too)”.

Another clear contradiction is that the editor is stating that “for the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo”. So the fact that Alan Gross has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba for nearly five years and that “the authoritarian government still harasses and detains dissidents” is not a deal breaker?

After arguing poorly against the trade embargo the op-ed goes to the implementation plan. This is a manual for the President on how to go about executing the policy changes:

“As a first step, the Obama administration should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations” and “Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does.”

“Which it no longer does?” How on Earth can the editorial board of the NYT make a statement like this? Most human rights organizations in Europe and the U.S. are at least skeptical on this. Cuba is a closed society where the government persecutes and imprisons investigative journalism; therefore we could assume a statement like this is at least unfounded. On top of that, the Cuban government has gone on record supporting Bashar al Assad in Syria, Hamas in Gaza and various people in power in Iran over the years.

The article also argues “It could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks”.

This statement completely ignores what Bloomberg BusinessWeek published in April of 2009 the “[U.S.] Administration would let U.S. telecom network providers set up—and Americans pay for—fiber-optic cable and satellite communications facilities linking the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. government will also license those companies to provide cell-phone services in Cuba, and allow satellite-radio and satellite-TV service providers to do business in that country”. This was more than 5 years ago, but the Cuban government doesn’t seem to be interested in losing its monopoly on telecommunications on the Island, so the answer by the Cuban government was: “thanks, but no thanks”.

After all failed arguments the op-ed ends with the same driver that it started. “Given the many crises around the world, the White House may want to avoid a major shift in Cuban policy.” So, Mr. President, don’t miss this opportunity for a political win, go ahead a put your ratings back up.

Leaving completely aside the argument of how beneficial or not the embargo is for the United States and its taxpayers is already a big miss from this editorial- it also shows a dangerous historic amnesia. Don’t believe me? Ask President Clinton or Carter what happened when they tried to score on this particular front and you will see how quickly what seemed an easy score became mayhem.