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Issue #1628      February 26, 2014

Powerful interests mobilise to end anti-Cuban blockade

The US economic blockade of Cuba, cruel and reviled across the globe, has persisted for as long as the period between the US Civil War and World War I. But it may not last forever. Just recently, stirrings of disenchantment among powerful forces have cropped up nationally and in Florida, epicentre of Cuban émigré opposition to Cuba’s revolutionary government.

(Photo: Lady Mery)

On February 11 the Atlantic Council released its poll on attitudes toward the blockade expressed during January. The Council surveyed 1,000 people nationwide plus 617 Florida residents and 525 Latinos, all by telephone. The report became a main focus of news stories on blockade dissent appearing simultaneously.

Of those surveyed nationally, 56 percent – Latinos, 62 percent – want normalisation of relations, 61 percent oppose travel restrictions, 62 percent okayed US business dealings with Cuba, and 61 percent oppose Cuba being designated a terrorist nation. Among Floridians offering opinions, 63 percent call for normal relations and 67 percent oppose both travel restrictions and the terrorist label. And 52 percent of Republicans want normalisation, as do 64 percent of Miami-Dade County residents in Florida.

“The majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle are ready for a policy shift,” concludes the Atlantic Council. “Most surprisingly, Floridians are even more supportive ...This is a key change from the past.” And “Economic arguments prove to be most convincing for normalisation.”

The splash from this survey report coincided with other ripples. The Washington Post interviewed Cuban exile Alfonso Fanjul, “one of the principal funders of the US anti-Castro movement” and someone, who with his brother, “amass[ed] one of North America’s great fortunes.” Fanjul discussed trips to Cuba in 2012 and 2013.

“I’d like to see our family back in Cuba,” he said, and “if there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility.” Cuban American businessman Paul Cejas travelled with Fanjul: “The embargo is really an embargo against America ourselves, because Americans cannot do business with Cuba, where there are incredible opportunities for growth.”

Ex-Florida governor and former blockade apologist Charlie Crist, Democratic candidate to be Florida’s next governor, announced a change of heart. Lifting the blockade, he said, “could help the Florida economy, creating more jobs in the state and allowing Florida businesses to sell goods and services to an island that has been largely closed to most commerce with the United States for more than 50 years.

On February 10 the Miami Herald published Senators Patrick Leahy’s (Democrat) and Jeff Flake’s (Republican) op-ed piece “Time for a new Policy on Cuba.” Citing survey results a day before their release, they note that, “A majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, wants to change course,” and “so do we.”

While dismissing Cuba as repressive and failing economically, the Senators argue that “Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce... Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves ... Current policy boxes US entrepreneurs and companies out of taking part in any of this burgeoning Cuban private sector.”

Remarkably, news in November, 2013 that President Obama was questioning US Cuban policies quickly became old news. At a Miami political fundraiser he had suggested that “in the age of the Internet, Google and world travel,” old policies “don’t make sense.”

This time, news of the survey triggered real discussion even though, significantly, its findings were not new. In fact, annual Gallup polling on Cuba since 1999 has consistently demonstrated nationwide majorities in favour of “re-establishing US diplomatic relations” and ending the blockade. Other surveys yielded similar results. A Florida International University opinion poll in 2008 showed that “a majority of Cuban-Americans now favour ending the ... economic embargo and restoring diplomatic relations” with Cuba, 55 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

In releasing its report, the Atlantic Council attached a remarkably forthright advocacy statement to its recitation of data. The report may be useful for having updated long established trends, but why did it command so much attention?

The Council is no bit player in establishment circles. Former Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Christian Herter founded it in 1961 as a support mechanism for NATO. It maintains close ties with prominent US and European NGOs involved with diplomatic and security issues. Weapons manufacturers are corporate members. Directors, some honorary, include diplomatic, defence, and intelligence honchos like Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Wesley Clark, Michael Hayden, and Robert Gates.

Perhaps now, with movers and shakers taking things in hand, change really is on the way. But a thorny detail may need attending to: Cuban leaders are unlikely to discuss big changes with US leaders without, first, the Cuban Five political prisoners having been sent home. That’s the opinion of Stephen Kimber, author of the only English language book (What Lies across the Water) on the case of the Five.

Some of the recent stories on changed attitudes allude to Cuban imprisonment of US contractor Alan Gross – he violated Cuban laws – as accounting for US intransigence on the blockade. Thus the scenario comes into view, maybe, of an exchange of prisoners ushering in talks on re-establishing relations.

People’s World

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