Summary In the article, “Why Do We Still Have an Embargo of Cuba? ” Patrick Haney explores the history of the embargo and the different factors which have maintained and tightened its restrictions over the past fifty years. The embargo consists of a ban on trade and commercial activity, a ban on travel, a policy on how Cuban exiles can enter the U. S. , and media broadcasting to the island. These once-executive orders now codified into law by the Helms-Burton Act, have become a politically charged topic which wins and loses elections, spawned influential interest groups, and powerful political action committees.
One year and a half after Castro’s forces took power in Cuba, President Eisenhower first imposed an embargo on Cuba, with the exception of food and medicine. In 1962, President Kennedy tightened the embargo and U. S. products to Cuba from third party countries via the Trading with the Enemy Act. One year later, Kennedy bans travel, a restriction that has existed ever since. President Ford’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is the first to mention that the isolation of Cuba is actually isolating the United States. Up until the Carter Administration, policy on Cuba was driven by presidential advisors.
Starting with Carter, the growing Cuban-American political clout forces the issues to be discussed by the politicians and candidates. Most of these Cuban-Americans are Republicans, as they blame Kennedy for the failed Bay of Pigs operation in 1961, which intended to overthrow the Castro regime. With the end of the Cold War, the original reasons for the embargo have all gone away. However, with the influence of interest groups like the Cuban American National Foundation and PACs like the U. S. -Cuba Democracy PAC, the subject has become an important one when elections are approaching. Analysis
The package of policies that has made up the United States’ embargo of Cuba has been in place for over fifty years and spanned eleven of our forty-four presidents. While the original reasons for creating the embargo have deteriorated over the years, the restrictions on Cuba have remained, and the justification for this has been altered over the years. The influence of interest groups, political action committees, and election-driven politics has stemmed American foreign policy innovation on loosening sanctions. Interest groups have been a decisive factor in maintaining an embargo on trade and travel to Cuba.
In 1980, the first powerful lobby group with Cuban interest was formed, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF). The group was founded by the charismatic leader, Jorge Mas Canosa, and was made up of mostly Cuban-Americans who left their homeland after the 1959 revolution when Fidel Castro took power (Borer, 2007). President Reagan utilized CANF’s influence to appeal to Congress to ask them for tighter restrictions on Cuba. The interest group’s motives were to put pressure on the Castro regime, but Reagan’s was to take a harsher stance against the Soviet Union and against communist revolutions in South America.
Ronald Reagan and CANF began Radio Marti, as a way of sending information and propaganda to the masses in Cuba. Mas Canosa and CANF also partnered with Reagan on the National Endowment for Democracy, which was a way to help spread democratic revolutions around the world (Haney, 2010). Throughout the 1990s, CANF lost a notable amount of its influence, but was still the preeminent interest group on Cuban policy. CANF put significant effort into the campaigns for several House of Representative-hopefuls. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American won a special election in 1989.
Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Democrat Robert Menendez are two Cuban-American Congressmen who also won with CANF support. With Mas Canosa’s untimely death in 1997, the group was shaken and lost organization. In 2001, twenty-four members of CANF’s board of directors resigned, and formed the Cuban Liberty Council. This group believes in even stricter sanctions against Cuba and the Castro regime (Haney, 2010). Since the early 2000s, Cuba-related political action committees have made huge of campaign contributions in order to retain and strengthen the trade embargo.
In 2003, the future of the embargo was in question, and both parties began to discuss the end of the travel ban. However, in the 2004 election, the U. S. -Cuba Democracy PAC provided over $200,000 to congressional campaigns. In the 2006 and 2007 elections, the U. S. -Cuba Democracy PAC contributed $500,000 and $750,000, respectively. This demonstrates the group’s growing support and growing influence over Congress. Thus, the bipartisan movement to weaken the embargo by ending the travel ban was crushed mostly by this PAC (Haney, 2010).
In addition to the most prominent pro-embargo PAC, several other PACs exist with exceptional donations and influence. The National Coalition for a Free Cuba, donated almost a $150,000 in the 1994 election, but has decreased and only donated about $25,000 in 2004. New Cuban-American Majority PAC has only existed since the 2010 election, but still managed to donate about $40,000. The U. S. -Cuba Democracy PAC has surely influenced Obama and the Democrats in Congress to refrain from making changes to the embargo. In the 2008 and 2010 elections, the PAC contributed over $750,000 and $450,000, respectively.
In both elections, Democratic candidates received the vast majority of funds (Congress, 2010). The embargo has been sustained by candidates and officeholders who must please the politically active Cuban-Americans, which has maintained the embargo the United States for over fifty years. In the 1992 election, President George H. W. Bush opposed the Cuban Democracy Act, which would tighten restriction on state. Candidate Clinton wins the support of the Cuban-Americans and the election by receiving twenty percent of the Cuban-American vote, up from Dukakis’s previous five percent in 1988 (Haney, 2010).
Tapping into this typically right-wing group, Clinton forced Bush to additional time and money in Florida, which restricted his ability to campaign in other parts of the country. To please Cuban-Americans, Clinton signed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton law), which codified years of executive orders into law and further tightened restrictions. Primarily in the volatile South Florida and New York City areas, candidates will take particular care in pleasing Cuban-Americans, as they are a powerful voting bloc that has continually altered elections (Haney, 2010).
In the 2000 presidential election, Governor Bush promised to enforce the Helms-Burton law, and won over 80% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida (Congress, 2010). This state officially cast 537 more votes for Bush than for Gore, which means that the Cuban-Americans essentially secured Bush’s victory. Upon assuming office, Bush appointed Cuban-American hard-liner Otto Reich, to a top position in the State Department. The appointment was blocked by the Senate, but Reich eventually a recess appointment.
As another act of appreciation, Bush appointed a Cuban-American to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (Haney, 2010). Candidates know that this bloc wins elections, and because of that support policies that will please this group, despite its overall benefit for the United States. While growing numbers of young Cuban-Americans are more likely to be in support of a reduction of the sanctions against Cuba, it is their parents’ generation that maintains the embargo, as they are substantially more politically active (Borer, 2007).
Today, sixty-seven percent of Cuban-American’s would like to see all travel restrictions lifted, but with the Helms-Burton Act, this would require an act of Congress, something that could be detrimental to a supporter’s future. Over the fifty-plus years that the embargo has been in place, the reasons for its justification have changed. Cuba is no longer a Soviet client state and the Cold War is long over (Haney, 2010). Supporters of a firm hand with American foreign policy on Cuba state that the embargo now exists for the purpose of promoting democracy, free elections, and human rights.
The lifting of the imposed sanctions on Cuba will encourage the Cuban government to liberalize and move towards democracy, not to mention untold economic benefits to the United States. Fidel Castro’s excuse for the lack of success of his communist government is the embargo imposed on his state by the United States (Smith, 1998). For over fifty years Castro has told his people that their economy has failed because of the American embargo.
If the United States lifts sanctions and conditions in Cuba do not improve, the people will be outraged and force the government to liberalize. The Castro regime prevents the free flow of information to the citizens by not allowing free speech, freedom of the press, the reception of world television, and even limits the use of the internet (Smith, 1992). Nonetheless, the proliferation of the internet is taking place despite the government attempts to curtail it, and as we have recently seen in the Middle-East, technology can have a grand effect on revolutionizing government.
This, coupled with the anticipated death of the Castros, makes the time ripe for Cuba to begin a course toward democracy if the American trade sanctions are lifted. Notwithstanding, the U. S. -Cuban trade embargo has remained due to the influence of interest groups, political action committees, and election-driven politics which has caused politicians to make decisions for their careers, rather than the good of the United States. Works Cited Borer, Douglas A. , and James D. Bowen. “Rethinking the Cuban Embargo: An Inductive Analysis. Foreign Policy Analysis (2007): 127-43. Print. CIA World Factbook 2009. New York: Skyhorse, 2009. Print. “Congress OpenSecrets. ” OpenSecrets. org: Money in Politics. 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. Haney, Patrick J. “Why Do We Still Have an Embargo of Cuba” Contemporary Cases in U. S. Foreign Policy. 4th ed. Washington, D. C. : CQ, 2011. Print. Helms, Jesse. “What Sanctions Epidemic? ” Foreign Affairs 78. 1 (1999): 2-8. Print. Smith, Wayne S. “Carrots for Castro. ” New York Times 7 Aug. 1992. Print. Smith, Wayne S. “Our Dysfunctional Cuban Embargo. ” Orbis 42. 4 (1998). Print.