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Good Luck Reversing Obama’s Cuba Policies – Big Business Won’t Allow It

Good Luck Reversing Obama’s Cuba Policies – Big Business Won’t Allow It
[17-04-2015 14:36:50]
James Bruno

( Following is my latest article in POLITICO
Magazine on U.S. domestic politics surrounding President Obama’s
initiative to normalize relations with Cuba:
On Tuesday, the White House announced its intention to remove Cuba from
the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. This news
is in keeping with the Obama administration’s normalization of relations
with Cuba—an effort strongly supported by the U.S. business community
and a growing number of Cuban-Americans but vigorously opposed by
Republicans on the campaign trail.

For the first time perhaps in 50 years, Cuba, after Iran, portends to be
a dominant and contentious foreign policy issue in the 2016 presidential
campaign. But, unlike the 1960s, two Republican politicians of Cuban
ancestry hold center stage in the race. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the son
of a Cuban exile father. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who threw his hat in
the ring earlier this week, has Cuban parents who settled in the U.S.
before Fidel Castro seized power. Both candidates adamantly oppose
normalization on Obama’s terms.

Rubio has condemned President Obama’s Cuba initiative as a “concession
to a tyranny.” In taking a hardline stance, Rubio, 43, is out of sync
with his generation of Cuban-Americans. A 2014 poll by Florida
International University of Cuban-Americans in Miami showed that 78
percent of those aged 33 to 44 favor restoring diplomatic relations and
45 percent are for lifting the embargo. In response to such numbers,
Rubio remarked, “I don’t care if the polls say that 99 percent of people
believe we should normalize relations in Cuba…This is my position, and I
feel passionately about it.”

Ted Cruz echoed Rubio’s denunciation of Obama’s move, saying, “America
is, in effect, writing the check that will allow the Castro’s to follow
Vladimir Putin’s playbook of repression.”

Rubio has said he would seek to block the appointment of a U.S.
ambassador to Cuba and funding for a new embassy. Beyond that, neither
he nor Cruz have laid out a plan of action to deal with the White
House’s rapprochement with Havana.

Entertaining for a moment a President Cruz or a President Rubio in the
Oval Office, what could either realistically do once the genie is out of
the bottle, assuming Obama succeeds in restoring full relations,
abolishing travel restrictions and ending the embargo? Once relations
have normalized, the business community, eager to enter an emerging
market close to their shores and long denied them, will fight the return
to the former status quo. Big bucks are being mobilized by Big Business
in a concerted effort to change politicians’ minds on Cuba policy. And
political shifts within Congress are resulting in the removal of old

Sen. Robert Menendez’s decision to step down as ranking member on the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the face of corruption charges
sidelines a major obstacle to moving ahead with normalization. The
61-year-old Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey is adamantly opposed
to granting concessions to the Castro regime in return for full
diplomatic and trade relations. His replacement as ranking member is
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a moderate centrist. His spokesman told me,
“Senator Cardin believes we should continue to push Cuba on their human
rights record but the recent diplomatic changes are positive.”

Cardin has signed on as a co-sponsor to Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.)
travel bill, which would end all travel restrictions for Americans who
wish to visit Cuba. Committee chairman, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker,
has promised to hold “robust hearings” on the president’s Cuba
initiative, but has also gone on record declaring the embargo ineffective.

Outside of the political realm, key players in the U.S. business
community with an interest in Cuba are coming into alignment toward
normalization. The April 1st Cuba Opportunity Summit sold out early,
with 100 waitlisted, a clear indication of corporate enthusiasm. At the
event, some 250 CEOs and other senior business leaders convened at
NASDAQ’s Times Square headquarters to “formulate a strategic roadmap for
entry into the [Cuban] market,” according to the conference’s sponsor,
the University of Pennsylvania. The Cuban-American CEO of Norwegian
Cruise Lines, Frank del Rio, told CNBC, “We’ve got to get past this
acrimony about Cuba. It’s time to move on.” He added that a healing
process is needed to “bring relations between our two countries back to
where they should be.” A follow-up business summit will be held in
Havana later this year.

The big roadblock to normal economic relations is the U.S. embargo, in
place since the Eisenhower administration. Lifting it requires
congressional legislation, which Republicans, who currently control both
houses, have so far opposed. But there is movement within corporate
circles to change that. A Cuba Opportunity Summit organizer told me that
“a lot of those discussions—lobbying Congress—are going on. They [CEOs]
are discussing strategies.”

U.S. agribusiness is already pressing for greater access to Cuban
markets. In January of this year, over 30 companies and farm trade
associations, ranging from the multinational conglomerate Cargill to the
Dairy Farmers of America, formed the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for
Cuba, dedicated to the immediate end of the trade embargo. Cuba, which
imports 80 percent of its food, is a $1.7 billion market for
agricultural products. U.S. farm exports to Cuba in 2014 amounted to
over $290 million under no-credit, cash-only trade rules allowed by U.S.
law. Missouri’s Republican governor Jay Nixon called the opening up of
Cuba “a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our farms and our economy.”
Other Republican politicians can be expected to echo this call as
heartland farm interests press their case.

Opposition to normalization, however, remains strong among many
Cuban-Americans. The three Cuban-American U.S. Senators and four
Cuban-American House members are on record opposing President Obama’s
normalization initiative. This opposition reaches into the ranks of
Cuban-Americans holding elective office at the state level as well. The
New Jersey and Florida state legislatures recently passed symbolic
resolutions against normalization. Mauricio Claver-Carone, a 39-year old
Cuban-American activist who serves on the board of the U.S.-Cuba
Democracy PAC, which purports to be the largest Hispanic political
action committee, asserted to me that “there is no light between
Cuban-American politicians at any level of government” regarding U.S.
Cuba policy, irrespective of party affiliation. He criticized those
business interests pressing for opening with Havana as driven by “money
first, democracy later.”

Claver-Carone cited a Republican-affiliated poll taken in March which
showed 54 percent of Cuban-Americans opposing normalization versus 41
percent in support; and 71 percent against lifting sanctions in contrast
to 20 percent in favor. But two recent surveys conducted by independent
pollster Bendixen & Amandi International painted a different picture.
Those surveys found Cuban-American support for normalization surging
from 44 percent last December to 51 percent this March. Furthermore,
according to Bendixen & Amandi, Cuban-Americans in favor of continuing
the U.S. trade embargo dropped from 40 percent to 36 percent and support
for easing travel restrictions rose from 47 percent to 56 percent.

The Cuban American National Foundation was a powerful force on Cuba
policy in years past, holding great sway on the Hill as well as with
mainly Republican presidents. Its founder, the late Jorge Mas Canosa,
was considered the principal architect behind a U.S. policy of
incrementally tightening the screws on Fidel Castro, culminating in the
1996 Helms-Burton Act, which expanded the embargo’s reach to include
foreign-owned companies that traded with Cuba. But the foundation’s
hardline position has softened. Its current president, Bay of Pigs
invasion veteran and POW Francisco José Hernández, told me, “We welcome
opening talks with the Cuban government.” The 600,000 Cubans who have
arrived in the United States since 1995, he said, “want to build
bridges.” He cited a generational change as underlying the shift toward
normalization. CANF, however, supports lifting the embargo only after
firm concessions are secured from Havana in the area of human rights.

If the Obama administration were able to end the embargo with Cuba,
Republicans like Cruz and Rubio would undoubtedly denounce it. But they
might not be able to do much about it. Would a Republican president
close our new embassy in Havana and Cuba’s in Washington? Re-impose
travel limitations and the trade embargo? Such a scenario is highly
unrealistic. The U.S. has backtracked on no similar policy in the past.
Add to that the changing views within the Cuban-American community, as
well as among other Americans, and the picture that is emerging is one
of inevitability.

Source: Good Luck Reversing Obama’s Cuba Policies – Big Business Won’t
Allow It – Misceláneas de Cuba –

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