Liberals and conservatives have begun a new debate on policy toward Cuba, but both sides are missing a third alternative.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week about the liberalization: ?U.S. exports to Cuba hit $1 million a day in January and American businessmen are flocking to Havana to sign deals for huge shipments of poultry and grain. Food sales, allowed under a law President Clinton signed in late 200, have skyrocketed in the past three years and could top $320 million this year. And an estimated 210,000 Americans traveled to Cuba legally last year, about half of them people of Cuban descent and the others a mix of students, academics and entrepreneurs.?
The Journal also noted a prospective conservative response: ?Mr. Bush is almost certain to announce new steps (in mid-May) in his annual Cuban independence day speech. The options, according to U.S. officials, range from cutting back on permitted charter flights to reducing the remittances exiled Cubans can send home.? The Bush administration already has been ?bulking up enforcement of existing restrictions, including steps to collar and fine Americans who travel to Cuba illegally through third countries. ? In February, President Bush accused yachters who sail illegally to Havana of ?putting hard currency in the pocket of the regime.??
Let?s step back for a minute. We?ve had a four-decade-long embargo to avoid propping up the Castro regime with U.S. dollars. For many of those years, the Soviet Union was the designated enabler, but after that union disintegrated, the Clinton administration began encouraging ?cultural exchanges? (mostly leftist pilgrimages and ?Study Spanish in Cuba? programs) and, in 2000, food sales (by Archer Daniels Midland and other U.S. corporations).
Those sales are growing: During the second week of April, Cuban officials announced the signing of at least $80 million in new U.S. food contracts, and Fidel Castro himself met with visiting U.S. businessmen to thank them for being willing to deal. Shipments of food will allow the Castro regime to maintain its goal of having everyone dependent on government allocations. Besides, the best food goes either to government tyrants or to tourist hotels and restaurants frequented by Europeans, some of whom now recommend Cuba because desperate prostitutes offer relatively inexpensive services.