Pressuring Castro by Prosecuting Americans


George Bush on Friday announced the 137th-ever tightening of the embargo against Cuba (OK, that number was made up). From the Miami Herald story:

While Congress has made moves to ease a ban on tourism travel to Cuba, Bush said he would tighten it by cracking down on Americans who evade the law—usually by going on "educational trips." He directed the Homeland Security department to increase inspections of visitors and shipments to Cuba. [?]

Bush also said the administration would do more to "break the information embargo" imposed on the Cuban people by improving broadcasting and the distribution of printed materials to the island.

As I argued in the magazine previously, the travel ban is a significant contributor to the information embargo.

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  1. The Glass Half Empty (GHE) view of this is that it is exactly what it looks like: a valentine to Florida’s Cubans to ensure their enthusiasm for the Bush campaign next year (and their campaign contributions now).

    The Glass Half Full (GHF) view takes comfort from this line in the MIami Herald story: “Martinez said he plans to put together a panel of officials from such departments as homeland security, agriculture and housing to prepare a ”transition plan” in about six months on how to help a post-Castro Cuba.”

    This is something we badly need to do. The one thing we know about Cuba is that Fidel Castro will die sometime in the next few years. What will succeed him? What will be the implications of a post-Castro government for immigration? Drug policy? Security? Trade? They will be major in all these areas and possibly some others, and the State Department has neither the resources nor the clout to prepare our policy responses on its own. By putting his imprimateur on Martinez’s panel, Bush could be giving exactly the signal to the rest of the government needed to ensure cooperation in a vital task.

    If that is his intention, my guess is that he will need to send that signal again, to prevent footdragging by bureaucracies unwilling to change long established ways of thinking. And it may be (once again, the GHE view) that the above only represents what I would do, not what Bush has in mind. The business about the travel embargo notwithstanding — and it is by itself a trivial concern — the GHF view of Friday’s announcement is at least not ruled out by anything Bush is reported to have said.

  2. What they need is a muslim extremist suicide bomber who hates Castro.

  3. Matt is right.

    The way to change Cuba is to embrace it. When we take trips we also take our ideas and our wallets.

    Both can contribute to positive change.

    We trade with China, but why not Cuba?

  4. Cuba confiscated American property and never paid for it. Chima only fought a war with us [me].

    My solution? Give Puerto Rico independence whether she wants it or not, and also give her Gitmo and a quit-claim deed to Cuba.

  5. We trade with China, but why not Cuba?

    Cuba is a dictatorship; China, like the Soviet Union, is a totalitarian oligarchy.

    We can hope for a short-term solution to Cuba’s problems: the death or removal of Castro, and his replacement with a friendlier ruler, perhaps even one who will implement democratic reforms.

    Oligarchies don’t have the single-point-of-failure weakness that dictatorships do. China’s going to be around for a long time, so we might as well try the “work with them” approach.

    And from an “enlightened self-interest” point of view, Cuba could vanish from the face of the Earth tomorrow without noticable impact on much of anything. China has a billion workers — that’s a lot of labor, and a lot of potential buyers. We can more easily afford to take the high road with regard to Cuba. 🙂

  6. “The business about the travel…is by itself a trivial concern.”

    Trivial?? There has been, and continues to be, a great missed opportunity to subvert that dictatorship by limiting the Cuban peoples contact with Americans. This is far more important then any planning by our government’s officials for the event of Castro’s demise. And, whats more is that the government has no right to ban private individuals from travel to Cuba. The founders of our republic considered the right to travel so basic that they did not even think it necessary to include it in the constituition.

  7. No one has mentioned the distribution of Americans making these trips. The two (maybe three) Americans and the one Argentine I know who have visited Cuba, have done so with communist-related organizations. I hardly expect this to be unusual; I’m sure you can get your perfectly acceptable mojito in Miami, but you can’t get your propaganda-tour-slash-totalitarian-
    bonding-experience there.

  8. left and right. Ha!

  9. While I’m sympathetic to the idea that our very presence in Cuba could topple that hairy-faced freak, I’m not sure travel and tourism did a damn to spread freedom in the USSR or Eastern Europe, and perhaps did nothing but line the pockets of thugs with western currency.

  10. Ahh, glad to see the Department of Homeland Security is hard at work on its mandate of protecting us from International Terrorism by harassing soft-left sun-worshippers. Almost as vital to our Freedom as chasing down AWOL Texas legislators.

  11. Hmmm, the Communist Chinese also confiscated property from Americans and others, as did the USSR for matter. And I don’t see anyone clamoring for those assets back as a condition for doing trade with either.

    The reason why the embargo remains is simple – domestic political interests – namely a voting bloc in Cuba – run America’s foreign policy on this matter.

  12. “Cuba confiscated American property and never paid for it.”

    American Revolutionaries confiscated a great deal of private property and never paid for it. Perhaps you’d like to start tracking down Tory heirs?

  13. Joe Baby,

    Eastern Europse had an imperial superpower behind it.

  14. Evan,

    Perhaps you’d prefer that Homeland and its component agencies – Customs, various fragments of INS, Border Patrol – just gave people returning from Cuba a free pass?

    Why, my goodness, inspecting the baggage of Castroites returning from Cuba is nearly as barbaric as inspecting the baggage of Bin Ladenites returning from Saudi…

  15. Although on liberty (for Americans) grounds I feel that the travel ban should be lifted, I would wish that Americans would show consideration and just not travel there.

    Leisure travel there is, after all, taking a vacation in a veritable prison.

    I find the image of North American tourists lounging in the sand being served an iced drink by an engineer-turned-busboy at a high-class resort while over the fence a country of desperately poor people lack most basic human and political rights- well forgive the run-on sentence, but I find that image rather offensive. [1]

    Additionally the trade embargo should be lifted but I?d hope that American companies would use discretion when trading or investing in Cuba. I may very well be mistaken but I believe that all international investment in Cuba must be done through a joint-venture. The Cuban companies that service the joint ventures are all owned by the Cuban state, are they not? [2] Thus at least half of the profits of the venture go to support the Cuban State. ?Come see our Fabulous International-Class Cabaret at the Mambo Beach Hotel & Resort ?. And The People can send another Homosexual to Prison?

    [1] Ah, but do I feel the same about all first world to third world vacation travel? Well that would be a debating point but Umm, well no I don?t feel that way about every underdeveloped country. Cuba?s denial of civil rights to its citizenry is a magnitude greater than any vacation spot I can think of. Though, for instance, I?d feel queasy about anyone going to Myanmar.

    [2] On this point I very easily could be mistaken

  16. “Cuba?s denial of civil rights to its citizenry is a magnitude greater than any vacation spot I can think of.”

    Egypt. Haiti in the 1980s. Israel (though only for residents of the WB and Gaza – but then, heavy handed oppression isn’t universal for all Cubans, either). China. Vietnam. Indonesia?

    I wouldn’t stay at a government-approved tourist compound in Cuba. Then again, I wouldn’t stay at a Jamaican Club Med where guys with submachine guns beat up locals for walking too far down the beach.

  17. That engineer-turned-busboy is making 10x as much money catering to tourists, and if western tourists stopped coming he’d be broke. When free enterprise eventually resumes in Cuba he’ll have a little nest egg to start from while the people who couldn’t/wouldn’t work as busboys for westerners will be starting from scratch.

  18. I’m sure Cuba would be a huge tourist destination if travel restrictions and the embargo were removed. I don’t think it would just be a playground for leftists. There would be dozens of cruise ships going there every day, and resorts openning left and right.

  19. Jane, South Africa? Of course, it was only our close economic relationship that gave the “embargo” any teeth at all.

  20. 137th time the embargo’s been tightened? Is this one of the 37.4 percent of statistics that are just made up on the spot?

    Has anyone ever considered that after 40 years, that just maybe an embargo isn’t the quickest and most efficient way to get rid of Castro? Has an embargo ever gotten rid of a dictator? (Really, does anyone know of an instance where it’s ever worked?)

    I think the best way to get rid of Castro is to drop the embargo, and build a McDonalds next to the presedential palace. Make sure they run a lot of specials on supersized fries and double cheeseburgers. Castro will be dead of a heart attack in a month.

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