On Cuba Policy, Jeff Bingaman was Right 12 Years Ago

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bingaman the washington note.jpg33 days from now will be the 12th anniversary of a short speech on US-Cuba policy that Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) gave on the floor of the United States Senate.
He charged then President Bill Clinton with keeping US-Cuba policy a “captive of Cold war mentality.” Bingaman, then, said times had changed and America needed a new policy course — particularly in travel and humanitarian measures designed to promote intra-family contact between Cuban and Cuban-American families. That was more than a decade ago. Times have changed even more now.
Senator Bingaman’s speech is worth reading in full, just to get a quick snap-shot of how little US-Cuban policy realities have changed:

SENATOR JEFF BINGAMAN — 8 MAY 1995
Mr. President, I first want to say a few words about our policy toward a neighboring country, Cuba .
The United States objectives in Cuba are not in dispute. Our primary objective is to move Cuba to a more democratic form of government and to a government with a greater respect for human rights. Also, of course, we want to see the lives of the Cuban people improve economically, and we want to see our historically close ties with this island neighbor restored.
First, let us review some of the facts that led us to the present circumstances we find ourselves in. Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba some 34 years ago, when I was still in high school and before several Members of this Congress were even born. He quickly established an authoritarian and anti-United States regime. He declared himself a Marxist-Leninist in December 1961. Early in 1961, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba .
A year later, in February 1962, we imposed a comprehensive trade embargo. The reasons cited for that were three.
First, Castro’s expropriation without compensation, much property owned by U.S. citizens, in excess of $1 billion.
Second, the Castro regime’s obvious efforts to export revolution to other parts of the world.
And , third, the increasingly close ties that existed then between Castro’s Government and the Soviet Union.
That was 33 years ago. During the past 33 years, we have maintained the trade embargo in place. In April 1961, we tried unsuccessfully in the Bay of Pigs to have Castro overthrown militarily. We began in 1985 to use Radio Marti to undermine Cuban support for Fidel Castro, and in the Bush administration just a few years ago we added TV Marti to the mix, as well.
In 1992, we passed the Cuban Democracy Act in an effort to tighten our trade sanctions. This year, we are being urged by some in this body to pass a new and tough measure entitled ‘The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act’ in order to give Castro what the supporters of that legislation refer to as the ‘final push.’
With all due respect to President Clinton and to many here in Congress, our policy toward Cuba today is still captive of the cold war mentality that created it in the first place. Simply put, the world has changed, and we continue to pretend otherwise.
Mr. President, this is 1995. Our 34-year-old policy of trying to remove or alter the behavior of Fidel Castro by isolating him diplomatically, politically, and economically has failed. History has passed that policy by. And the cold war, which provided much of the rationale for our policy, is now over.
We have normalized relations with China — Communist China, I point out. We have normalized relations with the countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, and with all the former States of the Soviet Union.
This morning, President Clinton goes to Moscow to meet with Boris Yeltsin, not to find ways to isolate Moscow or to impose sanctions on Moscow for their human rights abuses in Chechnya or elsewhere; our President travels to Moscow to strengthen our relations with that important country.
Mr. President, U.S. policy toward Cuba needs to adjust to this new reality, just as our policy toward those other nations has adjusted. For over three decades, we have tried to exclude Cuba from acceptance by other nations. But our policy of trying to isolate Cuba diplomatically has made the United States the odd man out in the world community rather than Cuba . Of the 35-member nations of the Organization of American States, all but 5 recognize the Cuban Government and have normal diplomatic relations with it.
The Senator from North Carolina, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues that the way out of this absurd situation is to turn up the pressure on Castro. As he says, ‘It is time to give Castro the final push.’
Mr. President, the sanctions and the embargoes and the pressure that we put on Castro in the past 34 years have not undermined the support of the Cuban people for his Government as we have wished. In fact, a strong case can be made that the constant menacing by Uncle Sam has been used very effectively by Castro to divert the attention of the Cuban people from the shortcomings of his own Government and his own policies.
Mr. President, this administration has been slow to face the need to change in our policy toward Cuba . But last week, we hopefully saw the beginning of a more rational policy toward that nation. Last week, the administration announced that in the future, illegal immigrants from Cuba will be treated as other illegal immigrants into this country, and I for one hope that more steps will follow.
For example, as I stated here in the Senate several weeks ago, I believe the President should act to end the travel ban on Americans who wish to travel to Cuba . The President should also restore the right of Cuban-Americans to make small remittances to their families and to their relatives in Cuba . In my view, the time has also come when we should begin to normalize trade relations with that country.
Mr. President, I realize that it is politically difficult to change a long-established policy. It is especially difficult given the political posturing that is preceding our upcoming Presidential election. But the time has come to acknowledge that our current policy toward Cuba has failed miserably. Newt Gingrich referred yesterday to Cuba as ‘a relic of an age that is gone.’ I agree that Castro’s Government is an anachronism. But it is no more so than our own misguided policy for dealing with that country.
Most agree that President Nixon’s greatest achievement was his decision to change United States foreign policy and move toward normal relations with Communist China. That was many years ago, when the cold war was still very much with us. Now the cold war is over, and a new and a reasonable policy for our relations with Cuba is long overdue.
I for one believe that the responsible course for us to proceed with is to establish a new policy now.

After reading this passage again, there is one enormously glaring difference between today’s Cuba and the concerns about Cuba then — and in the decades preceding Senator Bingaman’s comment.
Cuba used to export soldiers, weapons, and the ideology if not entirely the reality of Fidel and Che style revolution.
Today, Cuba exports doctors. More on that another time — but just as a quick aside, Cuba has exported tens of thousands of doctors to some of the poorest and most remote parts of Latin America as well as other parts of the world. Cuba actually maintains a highly successful bartering arrangement of doctors for oil with Venezuela. This is clearly a page out of the ‘spirit’ of the John F. Kennedy initiated Peace Corps. (For other dimensions of Cuba’s international medical “public diplomacy”, a great resource is MEDICC.)
comfort.jpgPresident Bush, in contrast, offered during his recent trip through Latin America to those in medical need some treatment on the USNS Comfort, an American warship outfitted to provide medical support at “ports” that the ill would need to travel to.
Specifically, the USNS Comfort will make port calls in Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. President Bush’s offer is a somewhat commendable, first step — but in contrast, Cuban doctors are deployed in small villages and remote mountain regions. They are embedded in countries much like Peace Corps staff are. But American style relief comes on a war ship with the needy making their way to us, not us doing more to reach them.
While too much of American foreign policy has become over-militarized, Cuba’s, quite remarkably, has become more humanized and more reflective of the hard gains that can come from Joe Nye’s notion of “soft power.”
— Steve Clemons

Comments

37 comments on “On Cuba Policy, Jeff Bingaman was Right 12 Years Ago

  1. Arialmis Myers says:

    It interests and scares me to see the reaction both Senator Jeff Bingaman’s speech and Steve Clemons’ comments generate among some of our fellow educated men. I’m a young Cuban student who now resides in this great nation; a nation (I must say) that still has a great deal to learn from its neighboring countries and own history.
    This nation’s inexperience (not to say in most cases egotism, and ignorance) is proven in the aggravating comments generated by their even more distressed writers on this site.
    I do greatly appreciate the senator’s speech and only regret that many of us are so selfish to not paying attention and really analyze what has been happening for the past 57 years en mi Cuba. Not only have the Embargo been a failure to its intended purpose, but it has deprived for more than 50 year the Cuban people (not Fidel). Are we so blinded by our own predispositions and prejudices that we can see the obvious? It truly saddens me that anyone specially Cubans could afflict this misery on their own people!

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  2. Funny says:

    Cuba WAS a poor country before the revolution. The only thing the right wing has to point to is macro economic numbers that hide many truths. You’ll here about per capita income numbers or something, not taking into account the distribution of wealth within the country and access to things like education and healthcare. Cuba has the 37th largest GDP in Latin America yet, according to the GINI index (which takes into account access to education, healthcare, income distribution, etc) Cuba is ranked 5th in Latin America. Their agricultural system runs circles around the rest of Latin America (Cuba’s starvation rate is about 2%, daily calorie intake is at 2600 and the majority of their farming is organic and based around small farming cooperatives). I also find it ironic that the right wingers care oh so much about “democracy” and “freedom” and say nothing of the right wing, death squad government of Colombia. Colombia has the worst human rights record in the western hemisphere, has more union leaders killed in Colombia than the rest of the world combined (for years now), the government has extensive ties to right wing death squads (with six legislators being arrested in the last year), the president Uribe has extensive ties to drug money (his former campaign manager, for instance, was busted in the US, at LAX I believe, with many pounds of drug making materials) and has put a clause in the constitution himself (unlike Venezuela where the idea will be put up for public referendum, which makes the right wingers cry about dictatorship) making it possible to run for president indefinitely. Colombia also receives the most aid from the US in Latin America and is a long standing ally of the right wing in the US. I won’t get into our support for horrendous regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti (along with France, Canada and the UN), amongst others as well as the US’s undermining, through the NED, of Venezuela’s and Bolivia’s (again amongst others) democratic systems. In the end, the only thing you can say about Cuba that you disagree with, without being a hypocrite, is the ideological make up of their government. On that, provide a country in Latin America who’s followed capitalist development who has any better a human rights record or has a better distribution of wealth and more access to education and healthcare. I realize that Castro’s human rights record isn’t good, and you could certainly make a case that some of that is a result of his Marxist-Leninism. You could also argue that any country in which the head of state has had his life threatened over 500 times since 1959, who’s government has had something in the order of 50-60 coup attempts in that time and the government committing this is about 90 miles off of its coast is bound to go overboard in respond to dissent within the country, especially the dissent with connections to the offending country. It doesn’t explain everything Castro has done (like attacking homosexuals in the 1970’s) but it certainly explains some of it. If the same exact thing happened to the US from, say, Canada, I doubt our government would be much different and I doubt many right wingers wouldn’t be calling for the persecution of leftists and liberals, as many of them do now anyway.

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  3. DS Dover NJ says:

    This puts an end to any Presidential ambitions Jeff Bingaman may have. Being correct on foreign policy is the kiss of death.

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  4. serial catowner says:

    I for one have no desire to restore our “historic relationship” with Cuba. From the beginning it was trouble, with Southern slave owners envisioning Cuba as a sort of extraterritorial but American port for importing slaves. Eventually we got a United Fruit era, a haven for rumrunners, and finally a plush nest for the American Mob.
    Like Puerto Rico, Cuba is envisioned as a quasi-American state, that enjoys some trade privileges, and the subsidy and protection of the American government, but has no representation in Congress. It was never the intent of the Founders to simply add conquered lands and peoples who would never be allowed to petition for Statehood, and far from certain that our form of government can endure when subjected to these tremendous abuses.
    As witness whereof, I simply offer George Bush and the stolen election in Florida in 2000.

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  5. Steve Clemons says:

    Henry — thanks for providing the email messages which I deleted. Please see my earlier comments regarding any “misreading” of your intent. I admitted twice that I deleted your messages — and remember the notes you sent and the thought that you were talking about your parents and what they lost. I apologized in case I misread these.
    You have never apologized for your defamatory attack. You went from sending me a private email message which I should have deleted without responding — to posting this on a blog and engaging in worse defamatory insults. You escalated this to a level of hystericsim and immaturity that undermines your own views and position.
    But — you have a great Easter weekend, OK?
    You have taken this beyond the silliest point I can imagine. Do you ever pause, de-escalate? Had you thought of approaching me after I admitted and said I had deleted your posts and might have misremembered them of having a discussion with me.
    I wrote to you privately and nicely today suggesting such an approach — but nothing from you but wild escalation.
    This kind of behavior is unacceptable in my view.
    Best regards to you despite our obvious tiff,
    Steve

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  6. Patrick Mendis says:

    Hi Steve,
    With a different pespective, I wrote an op-ed on Cuba’s silent transformation as “Castroika” in the Minnesota Daily during my book-signing tour (book is on: “Glocalization: The Human Side of Globalization as If the Washington Consensus Mattered” which is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and lulu.com: http://stores.lulu.com/patrickmendis). Hope you may find the Minnesota op-ed article interesting to your on-going conversation:
    http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2007/04/02/71361
    Best… Patrick Mendis

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  7. Steve Clemons says:

    Jackson — Thanks for the defense, but I want to be fair to Henry Gomez if what he writes is true. The fact is that his note triggered that view, and it is one I had not been thinking about.
    But I deleted his emails because of their very offensive and derogatory tone. I don’t have them. If he does, and he hasn’t doctored them, I’m happy to review them.
    He seemingly has blocked my posts on his own blog — but he’s posting up a storm here.
    I just want to be clear that I understand the strong passions of someone like Gomez and a substantial portion of his readers. They are a key part of this debate; in fact, they’ve had the upper hand in US-Cuba policy for a long time.
    But times are changing and a review is called for.
    The ease with which so many of his readers (not unlike some of the readers and posters here on occasion, to be truthful) slip into ad hominem attacks and name-calling just seems to be an incredibly odd contrast to the kind of liberalism that they allegedly pine for in Cuba.
    I think that many who have tried to enter this debate are drowned in the hassle of dealing with intimidation tactics like some of what has happened in this blog jousting match the last few days. I’m not dropping this issue — and I’m sure Henry Gomez is not either.
    It would be so much better to have a mature discussion — but so far, he’s not with us on that. He would rather scream and taunt. It’s too bad — his blog has some great recipes and other vignettes that are interesting.
    But bottom line is that I deleted his emails because there were over the line. Just search his blog for use of the word “idiot” and you’ll see what I mean. He seems to engage in a lot of defamation — which is unfortunate, because he has something to say, has readers, and hopefully is trying to get people to think rather than to be his own cult following.
    Until I decide to block him — lol — as he has embargoed my comments on his blog apparently, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Henry, who has dubbed me, fondly, “the lying idiot.”
    😉
    More later,
    Steve Clemons

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  8. Jack Ballard says:

    Mr Gomez,
    Steve Clemons has proved his reliability and earned the trust of many of us who regularly read his blog. A far as I’m concerned: if he said it , it is true.
    I don’t think anything else needs to be said about your post.
    Jackson A Ballard

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  9. Steven Clemons says:

    Henry — Thanks for the clicks on the blog. Listen, if I misquoted you about the property issues — apologies. Certainly more than you have offered for your misbehavior.
    But I’m not certain that I did misquote you. If you have clear copies of the emails that you sent to me through the private email system of TPMCafe.com, send them to me — and I will review. I deleted your messages immediately on TPM because I found them offensive and berating.
    Your manner is so incredibly strident that whatever important message — based in your own experiences, that of your family and friends, and so on — is undermined by your inability to engage in civil discussion.
    I was not thinking about the property realities of Cuban-Americans who had property expropriated by the Cuban government until your note came to me — but I don’t have copies.
    If you would like me to reconsider what I wrote, feel free to send them my way.
    But you engage in tantrums — despite having a fascinating blog on some levels — though we are clearly going to do battle on the political front. Your tolerance of others on your blog calling me vile names, calling me antisemitic, etc. is outrageous.
    So, when you calm down, stop hyperventilating, and think rationally and calmly — something you should have done with someone like me to begin with — then perhaps you will see that you can have a vigorous debate about issues that is educational and useful about the future course of US policy towards Cuba rather than the immature, name-calling exercise of intellectual fascism that I think you tilt towards now.
    Or do I get the pleasure of another hyperbolic escalation? I hope not.
    When you can be reasonable — drop me a line. Your blog seems to be blocking my comments now. Did you put the block in?
    Best,
    Steve Clemons

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  10. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    Marc,
    Your error is in thinking we have a gripe with viewing the regimne in terms of blacck and white.
    As I said before: the 26th of July Movement promised press freedom, restoration of democracy, restoration of the 1940 constitution and a Fidel Castro who would only be head of state for a transition period to that government.
    – A new and ETIRELY different constitution was drafted. That is in print. Literally in black and white.
    – In Cuba (even according to the constitution, so the government is not hiding this) the press is entirely controlled by the regime. That is in print. Literally in black and white.
    – Fidel Castro is still Cuba’s head of state. He will not have to run against a member of another political party. That is in print. Literally in black and white.
    While the exile community denounces the system for keeping the people in poverty, for not affording the people thier human rights, for stealing incalculable amounts of property and land illegally, etc. that is not the main complaint.
    The idea you are skimming over is that the people never showed support for the revolution that Castro was actually fighting. Not with votes, not in spirit, not in any way. His rule on the island is 110% illigitimate. That is not debatable. There are no shades of gray.
    While I disagree with your ideas about “development” (facts which, admittedly, CAN have the meaning that the observer gives them… although that doesn’t make the meaning correct), I recognize (but again, disgree with) the logic of looking for shades of gray.
    But the big picture is this: Fidel Castro is in power illigitimately and thanks to his silencing his opponents (who are his own people. The very people he rules) with torture, threats, jail time, and firing squads when they dared to object to his changing coure on the CONSTITUTIONAL level after so many had died and lost so much supporting his movement.
    In this, there is no gray area here.
    There is fact, and there is myth. Unfortunately for the regime’s apologists, the facts are supported by plenty of documents, letters, and video (all of which, incidentally, are literally in black and white).

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  11. Marc says:

    OK Val, I’ll just wait for you to offer your evidence of how “developed” Cuba was in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and how “under developed” Cuba has become over the last 40 years, as opposed to your repeated comments that I don’t know what I am talking about.
    I read Mizzoubanzo’s comments and I can actually agree with him that there were other anti-Bautista forces in Cuba in addition to the July 26th movement. I also know that some elements of the elites did support the revolution. If my “generalizations” along class lines gave the impression that I see things in black and white, then that is my error. I know people in Cuba who supported the July 26th movement in the past, but have strong disagreements with the government today. I have some disagreements as well.
    Look, there are tons of shades of grey when looking at Cuba or for that matter any society. However, those who speak so much against Cuba and their love for the good old days of yesterday in Cuba, just reinforce the idea that Cuba was only great for some before the revolution. Not to mix apples and oranges, but white south Africans today still talk about how much better south Africa was in the good old days. I’m sure for them it was, but for the majority of South Africans the good old days were a nightmare and they are over forever. Not that things are a perfect now.
    Trust me, your sense of superiority about your knowledge of Cuba is what makes your arguments just as weak as you seem to think mine are.
    Remember my first point, at the end of the day unless you are living in Cuba, your 2 cents just like my 2 cents, are worth just that, in terms of who will determine Cuba’s future as a product of her past. Please continue to bring your gun to this gun fight, thus far it sounds like you are shooting blanks.

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  12. Val Prieto says:

    Marc,
    You last comment speaks volumes about your absolute lack of knowledge about Cuba, post and pre castro. Again, simply because the basis of your argument, is flawed.
    I suggest you read Mizzoubanzo’s comment over and over and over again in the hopes that its reality penetrates your myopia.
    Seriously, if your going to argue on bahalf of something, make sure you are learned enough to do so. Else, its like bringing a pea shooter to a gun fight.

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  13. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    “But I would welcome you challanging the World Bank which noted in their 2001 World Development Indicators Report that Cuba beat virtually all other poor countries in health and education statistics.”
    Cuba may be “beating” virtually all other poor countries now, but your point means nothing when you consider that Cuba was not a “poor country” at all pre-Castro. If I lose a leg right now, but can still walk better than many other aputees because I have one left to hop around on, that doesn’t mean that I have made progress. It means there just still happen to be people worse off than I am, even after my amputation.
    “Val, if Cuba was “so developed” prior to the revolution, why did so many Cuban’s fight for regime change?”
    Because Fulgencio Batista (who previously had been elected and was in power legitimately) had taken power illigitimately after it became clear he would not be reelected.
    The “development” of Cuba and the people’s fight for regime change have nothing to do with each other here, as you seem to be implying. Cuba’s wealthy and middle classes not only had a hand in fighting, but also funded the revolution.
    The revolution only became about “development” and the working class after the fact. Case in point: During the revolution, Castro promised to restre the 1940 Constitution and restore democracy. Castro come to power and an entirely different constitution is drafted.
    In other words, Castro fought a revolution that was entirely different from the one the people believed they were supporting.
    If you want to know what the revolution was really supposed to be about, you ought to explore the anti-Batista groups that didn’t affiliate themselves with Castro’s 26th of July Movement because they saw through his facade of lies. Start with el Direcorio Revolucionario Democrático Cubano, which actually had been related, but severed ties with Castro’s group when it noticed Castro’s lies and self-interest.

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  14. Marc says:

    Thank you Val for your reaction to my perceptions and experiences.
    However, I would also challenge you to offer evidence of Cuba being a “developed” nation prior to the regime change of Bautista government. I assume you also feel that today, Cuba is less developed?
    As an economist, I can play with statistics with the best of them. But I would welcome you challanging the World Bank which noted in their 2001 World Development Indicators Report that Cuba beat virtually all other poor countries in health and education statistics.
    When you toss in the fact that some of the leading multinational technology companies in the world would like to invest in Cuba(as opposed to other developing nations in the region) in order to take advantage of some of the competitive factor advantages that have been developed in Cuba over the past 40 years, it will be hard to convince development experts and CEO’s that Cuba has become less developed today from her glorious past.
    Perhaps we have two different definitions of what it means to be a “developed” society in terms of politics, economics and social conditions? Perhaps in the minds and conditions of some Cuba, their reality was one of living in a developed nation with a middle class, high quality of life, and a self sustained nation. Some how I sense that the reality for them, was not shared by the majority of the Cuban citizens.
    Val, if Cuba was “so developed” prior to the revolution, why did so many Cuban’s fight for regime change? Why after 40 years of under development in Cuba under the Castro led government, are Cuba’s development indicators better then every other developing nation?

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  15. Val Prieto says:

    Marc,
    See, this is exactly the peripheral knowledge I was talking about.
    You state”
    it is hard for me not to be impressed by what has been achieved in Cuba(in terms of the conditions of life for the majority of Cubans) in comparison to conditions of life in other developing nations and urban centers in develoed nations in the region and around the world.
    From the onset your argument is flawed as well. Cuba was not a “developing” nation pre-castro. It was already a “developed” nation. the present cuban regime is what has brought said nation to its economic, social, and moral knees.
    You state youve been to Cuba various times, but without the empirical evidence of having visited and experiencing a pre-castro Cuba, your whole point is moot as the basis of your argument is incomplete. While Cuba did have issues, it was a slef sutatined country, with a vibrant economy, a middle class, political dicourse and parties and a quality of life comparable to “first world” nations.
    As for your arguments vis-a-vis venezuela and hugo chavez, let’s wait ten years and see how far down the scale he and his government take venezuela to.

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  16. Marc says:

    Steve, I’d like to thank you for bringing the issues of Cuba and US policy torwards Cuba to the discourse at the WN. There are not many places where those who suggest engagement versus those believing in isolation, actually talk to each other as opposed to at each other.
    As someone who has visited Cuba and met many Cubans in 3rd countries, I can honestly say that whatever lies ahead for the Cuban people and society will be determined by those Cubans living in Cuba today.
    While all of us in America can offer our 2 cents on the positive and negative aspects of the political, economic and social realities in Cuba, I try to remember two things:
    1) For all that is wrong in Cuba and motivates some Cubans to want to come to the land of opportunity and freedom that is “America”, it is hard for me not to be impressed by what has been achieved in Cuba(in terms of the conditions of life for the majority of Cubans) in comparison to conditions of life in other developing nations and urban centers in develoed nations in the region and around the world. Sure some Cubans leave, but how many other developing nations actually have foreigners from around the world(including Americans) coming to their country to get an education?
    2). No disrespect to those Cubans who are critical of the Cuban revolution, but so many of the statements about what is wrong about Cuba since 1961 sound very familiar to the statements I hear from my Venezuelan friends(both in Miami and Caracas) when they talk about life in Venezuela under the Chavez led government. I often wonder, did you (or your parents back in the 1950s) voice your outrage about the political, economic and social realities and conditions of life for the majority of Cubans(particularly those of African or Native American heritage) who did not own property? Perhaps more to the point, do you ever look back at what Cuba was like in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and take your personal share of responsibility for the political , economic and social conditions which gave birth to July26th movement and the Revolution?
    Whenever I ask the same question to my Venezuelan friends, including business and political leaders, they can’t seem to accept the fact that Chavez is their child, a “product” of the Venezuelan reality which they helped to create and benefitted from. One honest friend admitted that if previous Venezuelan governments, business leaders and elites had done a better job at using Venezuela’s oil wealth to develop the entire society,(particularly those of mixed and non-European heritage), Hugo Chavez would have been in the dust bin of history as just another ex-military failed coup leader. Perhaps Castro could have been the same if those Cuban elites and others who “lost everything without compensation” would have been just as outraged about the lack of freedom, opportunity, and hope for so many Cuban citizens under the Bautista government.

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  17. Val Prieto says:

    Perhaps Henry and other such as myself tend to be aggresive on this issue because we have been hearing the same tired old rhetoric for what seems like forever.
    If you begin with the premise of “the embargo has not worked” as the basis of your argument, then your argument is flawed from the onset. The embargo was nothing more than a diplomatic manuever until the Soviet bloc collapsed in the late eighties/early nineties and Soviet subsidies to Cuba vanished. It was at this juncture that the embargo truly became an embargo and at this time the fidel castro’s regime reluctantly sought an economic replacement through tourism ventures – the very same “tourism” said regime had so vociferously criticized and denigrated from the onset of its usurption of power – with Spain, Canada and other nations. The embargo, however, has kept fidel castro’s regime from access to the World Bank, and thus access to billions of dollars in credit for a small million or so deposit. History has proven, time and again, that said regime concentrates moreso on maintaining its power and expoorting its ideology than the welfare of its own people. if castro has managed to export his ideology – read: Venezuela among others – with little or no money, imagine what he could have done with billions and billions at his disposal. Billions and billions, I might add, of money that basically belongs to other countries.
    But that’s neither here nor there, really, for the purposes of this conversation.
    The issue, Mr. Clemons, is that you purport a certain expertise about a subject from what can only be called the periphery. Let me give you an example.
    There’s an old man, about 70 years old, that works as the parking attendant of my office building. He exiled here from Cuba in 1998 after having served 14 years and one day in one of castro’s prisons. His crime? Publicly denouncing his government. He isnt a murderer, a terrorist or a criminal. He is simply a fellow human being that voiced his opinion. Do you, Mr. Clemons, think that you know more about Cuba than he? And what about the other three million or so Cubans that have exiled around the world all these years? Do you think your knowledge of the subject at hand is greater than theirs?
    You could do much good for the people of Cuba – even with your limited knowledge – if you simply wrote about the realities and spoke the truth. But, when you meet with the likes of a Ricardo Alarcon, and in turn forward – as gospel – what he’s told you, you are nothing more and nothing less than yet another megaphone for the castro regime’s propaganda machinations.
    The facts speak for themselves:
    castro’s government has been criticized ad infinitum over its human rights abuses.
    Cuba is currently the country with the most encarcerated journalists in the world per capita.
    Cuba has a system of apartheid in place where the general population is not allowed to intermingle with foreigners. They are not allowed to stay at hotels in their own country, not allowed the use of certain areas of their country, not allowed access to the internet as tourists are, not allowed access to foreign media, not allowed cellphones or satelite dishes, not allowed to choose wher they live, where they work, etc…
    The Cuban people are basically indentured servants, where those lucky enough to work for foreign firms make less tha 4% of what said firms pay the cuban government for their labor.
    Those doctors that you mention Cuba exporting? Well, those that arent also part and parcel of the Cuban government, sent to forward an ideology as has been proven, are not part of a “barter” system as you claim. They are nothing more and nothing less than slaves sent to do work – under false auspices – while their owners, the cuban government, reap the rewards of their work.
    I suppose I could go on and on, but quite frankly, I have stated the above ad nauseum over the years. It tends to get rather tiresome, having to make such elementary statements over and over and over again.
    Yet that is the reality that Cuba faces today. 11 million people enslaved, living in fear, living in shambles and having every aspect of their lives controlled by their government, with no voice to tell their story save for that of the very same entity that maintains control over them.
    You want to write about Cuba? Fine. But tell the truth. Make it about Cuba and not US policy. US policy does not control the Cuban people.
    And please, be honest about what knowledge you have about Cuba. My father, a blue collar, never owning a damned thing in Cuba, exile, has forgotten much more about Cuba and her issues and politics, than you can ever imagine knowing. he’d be glad to talk to you, Im sure, as would any Cuban living in exile, just so you could get your story straight.

    Reply

  18. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    It’s a staircase. When’s the last time ou saw a diagonal ladder?

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  19. Safi says:

    I’m pretty sure thats a big effin ladder on the side of the USNS Comfort.
    Can anyone tell me if thats a big effin ladder or not? Like the kind the natives can paddle their cholera-laden asses to get medical assistance from the sole-superpower-imperialism that has economically/militarily/politically sucked the lifeblood out of their community?
    Alms for the poor anyone?

    Reply

  20. Steve Clemons says:

    ElM..thanks for your views. I’ll be posting a lot more on this subject as time moves on. I look forward to further engagement with you as I think that you have points of view that are clearly part of the equation. We clearly disagree on the path to take — but I think that all angles need to be scrutinized. Thanks for taking the time.
    Time to sleep,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  21. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    Personally, I think it is sad that you see nothing wrong with talking about “producing and exporting” doctors as if that sort of thing is commendable. Any time you “produce and export” people (You are right to use those two words. That IS what Cuba is doing). You are dealing with something that is grossly similar to a slave trade.
    “Yes, I believe we should engage the Castro regime. We have models where engagement and people to people exchange had enormously positive political and economic impacts.”
    I have a feeling that perhaps the examples you have in mind would make for pretty bad analogies. Take for instance, the former Soviet states. There is no evidence that trade or tourism had anything to do with those countries’ transitions (Otpor, not US tourism, freed Serbia, for istance).
    The policy in place now does not work because it has not been allowed to work. Like I said, how CAN an embargo work when it allows for us to be Cuba’s 8th leading trade partner and number one supplier of food?
    On land taken from Cubans: My family had property nationalized. I bring that up. It is significant not because my family wants it back (none of us are about to kick family’s out of what have become their homes), but because it illustrates the very thuggishness I’m saying the regime exercises. Nationalization is theft. It may be legal theft, but it is theft nonetheless.
    Castro’s regime also robbed Americans of tons of money and ther assets. While other countries that have done similar things have eithe apologized or recompensated the affected (albeit for pennies on the dollar), the Cuban government has done no such thing.
    I don’t speak for him, but I have a feeling Henry, like so many other exiles, was bringing that up as just one more example of the illegal and illigitimate nature of the regime. THAT is what drives most exiles, not a hope that we might someday reclaim the deeds to old buildings (which are now falling apart anyway).

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  22. Steve Clemons says:

    ElM…Thanks for the clarification. I suppose I took offense at this:
    (even though you deserve whatever verbal thuggishness comes your way for implying that Cuban exiles’ struggle for freedom in Cuba – you know… the same exile community that was massacred at the Bay of Pigs – is significantly motivated by money and reclaiming property).
    I did not imply that all Cuban exiles are motivated by property issues. I mentioned that only because Henry wrote that to me in his first attack email referencing his parents and what they lost in Cuba. My point is that the belief that many had been deprived of property by Fidel’s revolution is a motivating factor for some — and was self-confessed by Henry. Am I wrong here?
    I am not someone who frequently overstates matters. I know that there are many reasons why Cuban exiles resist a new direction in US-Cuba policy, and many are clearly, passionately, and ideologically directed at regime change in order to try and plant democracy. I don’t believe that strategy is working.
    But Henry mentioned property — I only re-emphasized the point he made in his first, outrageous and over the line note to me. I’m a reasonable guy willing to debate and discuss policy on many fronts. I’m trying to learn and make sense of US-Cuba policy, but like many neocons engaged in Middle East policy, Henry went after me personally — rather than on the merits of his position. I assume you think that was wrong of him?
    On your other points…
    I think that Cuba producing, training, and exporting doctors is far better than producing and exporting military arms and revolutions — yes.
    Henry was thuggish — outrageously so. If you folks believe in serious debate in a healty, democratic civil society — then desist in the intimidation tactics and screeching, vile attacks. The notion that anyone who has a point of view different than yourselves automatically qualifies that person as an idiot, putz, or jackass is not reflective of lovers of liberalism. Seriously.
    Yes, I believe we should engage the Castro regime. We have models where engagement and people to people exchange had enormously positive political and economic impacts. I think that I’m open to discussing alternative steps, slow steps, but it seems to me that US-Cuba policy today is stuck in a Cold War groove. Fidel Castro is moving on — and we need to figure out what if any course we pivot to. I think that there will be change on both sides, though i don’t know if it will be enough to achieve a new and different political equilibrium. But I do think change needs to be discussed. I think that the failure to engage has been a failed policy that has produced little in political variation in Cuba. Do you see this differently? Where does confidence in the embargo come from among supporters of it — other than moral, ideological, or some personal victimization frame? There may be merit to these reasons for opposing engagement, but I don’t get why we are clinging to a policy that clearly has not worked.
    I have answered no. 4 already. If any of my comments seemed to disparage some who care deeply about Cuban democracy, my apologies — but my point was really just transmitting a point Henry Gomez made to me in his post. Had he not mentioned his parents and what they had taken — I would not have referenced that point. The combination of the issue of lost property combined with the strident, intolerant, and defamatory nature of his notes today did not make me easily see that he was such an advocate of democracy in Cuba.
    If he wants to restate his views — something that happens frequently in Washington — he’s welcome to another try. But I don’t have much patience for innuendo and the kind of attacks he and some of his readers sent my way today.
    But thanks for your serious note. I hope you believe I have replied as seriously.
    best,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  23. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    On evidence of the success of the embargo:
    It began to work after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With no major power to subsidize the regime, Cuba fell into its special period. It is known that during that period, unrest and dissatisfaction with the regime’s mismanagement and denial of available resources led to increases in protests and dissident activity.
    It’s no coincidence that Fidel Castro declared the special period was over not too far away on the timetable from the rise of Hugo Chavez and the embargo policy exceptions made during the Clinton administration.
    So now what we have is an embargo that barely exists (the US is Cuba’s number one supplier of foor and eight leading trade partner overall) in place while Cuba is being propped up in large part by Chavez, who is giving trading oil that is supposed to belong to his people in exchange for the forced labor of Cuban doctors.
    As you can see, the window during which an embargo would have had the most important effect was short-lived. Admittedly, there is very little tangible evidence other than that period of time to show that a true embargo (not this charade we have in place now) would be effective.
    Now a question for you: What evidence is there that dropping the embargo would work in favor of Cuba’s freedom? Where else has it worked that way? Why don’t other democracies who interact with Cuba have this effect via the exchange of ideas? And why would the US be so different.
    In other words, what is it about American democracy that makes it more contagious than every other nation’s?

    Reply

  24. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    Steve,
    I haven’t made any assertions about what you said that required me to “read into” your comments. I’ll list the points I say you made:
    1. The Cuban doctors-for-oil program is in the same spirit as the Peace Corps.
    2. You find Henry Gomez and his communication to you be “thuggish”.
    3. You believe we should open dilogue with the Castro regime.
    4. You believe that reclaiming property has a significant amount to do with the Cuban exile community’s work for democracy in Cuba (by “significant”, here I mean “significant enough to bring up in a discussion such as this one” – which you did, so you do.
    The rest is my opinion and/or response to your assertions.
    Where on earth do you think I read more into your comments than you have written?
    Adjust my tone? Please. The closes I came to insulting you is telling you you are no logician. I sincerely think your arguments lack logic. If you’re insulted by that, then you are looking for niceties, not debate.
    As for my writing from a different perspective on the Cuban doctors: This is not a matter of perspective. Whether or not literally thousands of doctors have defected is not up for debate. It stands to reason that of people in countless other professions would be willing to make the dangerous 90-mile journey across the Florida straits, these doctors would jump at the chance to free themselves when they can do it on dry land.

    Reply

  25. TrueAmericanAndPatriot says:

    Steve,
    I am surprised to see people like Henry on your blog. Usually participants are motivated to engage in beneficial, positive communication, not high-school semantics.
    While I often disagree with you, you have always treated my disagreements with the upmost respect, same as how I have treated you and I want to thank you for that!
    Seeing pithy comments like those of Henry makes me sad. While ill-guided in their delivery, these people obviously have a LOT to learn from you in delivery of dissenting opinions!
    Please keep the QUALITY, RESPECTFUL and VALUE added comments coming.
    Henry, please, grow up. You seem to have knowledge and debate points to contribute, you need to work on delivery, BIG TIME.

    Reply

  26. Steve Clemons says:

    ElMizzoubanazo — thanks for joining the comments section. You read a lot into my comments — more than I have written for sure. The tone of your note is not civil discourse. Do you think it is? Really?
    I have posted enough on Henry’s blog to make my point — and he has as well. We disagree. There are lots of folks who scatter a broad spectrum on our Cuba policy.
    I think that those of you who think you are fighting for liberty against the thuggishness of Castro’s Cuba would do better to ratchet down your vile insinuations and attacks on those who even try to enter this debate.
    I disagree with you on the doctors — though you are clearly writing an alternative perspective. There may be some who defect with their foreign assignments — but many who do not. I met a good number of them while in Cuba and was convinced of their interest in service. I attended a hospital and school. So, perhaps we disagree.
    But when I disagree with folks — I don’t treat them in a vile way or degrade them personally. That is what Mr. Gomez did with me. I assume you agree. I have never spoken to him or had written communication with them — but this self-apppointed champion of liberalism and liberty engaged in a vicious attack against me. When he apologizes, stands down, and gets serious — maybe we can discuss further.
    But the tone and insinuations in your note still verge on personal attacks. I have done none of the same with any of you who support Henry’s blog and work. So, your choice — cut it out and join the debate…or hyperventilate in your own ghetto of Cuba embargo groupies.
    I have no patience or tolerance, frankly, for intellectual cartels or intellectual fascism. If you folks believe in what you are allegedly struggling for — then you would take some time to respect inquiry, heterodoxy, and an interest in rational, civil discussion.
    But to your point — I believe strongly that we should engage the Cuban government and I believe in the transformative influences of people to people exchange — as we have seen in Russia, China and elsewhere. I think I can marshall pretty good empirical evidence to make my point.
    What is the evidence of success about the success of the embargo?
    Please don’t answer unless you can adjust your tone and approach.
    best,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  27. karenk says:

    My girl Nancy went and talked to the Syrians-soft power-beautiful concept-works for me. And I liked Zathras question-we certainly should be contemplating post Castro Cuba, but are we? Can’t help but think no-this Admin is not that on the ball. And the Gomez ancestors had the same experience as the Palestinians-we didn’t do anything about that so…give it up. Stand your ground Steve-there will, unfortunately, always be jerks-a test, it’s only a test. Strengthens the character.

    Reply

  28. ElMizzoubanazo says:

    “This is clearly a page out of the ‘spirit’ of the John F. Kennedy initiated Peace Corps.”
    Refresh my memory here, Mr. Clemons. How many people in the Peace Corps defect, abandoning country, family, culture, etc. for freedom and risking getting caught by a government that would make their lives hell for daring to flee?
    Workers are sent overseas to do work for a country that isn’t their own, then escape their transporters while secretly recieving help from their compatriots who have already escape the system to the north.
    Sounds much more like an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT program to me, sir.
    I find it interesting that you are refusing to dialgue with Henry Gomez because you don’t think change and productive exchanges can arise from discussion and engaging those who (your words):
    “stink of the kind of intimdation/scare tactics deployed by thugs.”
    But we should engage the Cuban regime? The contradicion defies logic. You advocate engaging a regime that jails more journalists per capita than any other country in the world based on the premise that it will bring about change, but refuse to “engage” Henry Gomez because he was so “thuggish” as to call you a putz.
    Well, Mr. Clemons, I am here. I am calm. I am refraining from thuggishness (even though you deserve whatever verbal thuggishness comes your way for implying that Cuban exiles’ struggle for freedom in Cuba – you know… the same exile community that was massacred at the Bay of Pigs – is significantly motivated by money and reclaiming property).
    You’re eloquent, to be sure, Mr. Clemons. However, you are either knowingly ignoring a plethora of facts for the sake of making your fallacious arguments or you have allowed yourself to be blinded by your own rhetoric.
    Either way, you’re no logician.

    Reply

  29. Brigitte N. says:

    We must never give up on talking to each other, however much we differ in our ideological views. This is true at home and with respect to other countries and, yes, their governments. It is absurd that the U.S. and other western governments talked to the rulers in the Soviel Union during the Cold War but not to the ruler of a tiny island–Fidel Castro. It was and is foolish not to communicate with the Cuban government–especially at a time when at least a change at the top may not be far away.
    And, as an aside, it would be prudent to talk to other governments that have been shunned by Washington as well, namely, Iran and Syria.

    Reply

  30. Steve Clemons says:

    I was attacked by Henry Gomez today in a private email from my post at TPMCafe.com. He has a blog and his posters proceeded to call me an idiot, a jackass, and a putz.
    I had planned to take part of his email seriously until he devolved into personal, ad hominem attacks that stink of the kind of intimdation/scare tactics deployed by thugs.
    When he calms down and is willing to engage in the kind of civil discussion and debate that should be the anchor of the sort of democracy he allegedly yearns for in Cuba — I’ll engage him. But he told me that he is upset with Fidel & Co. for how his parents were shafted when property was expropriated. I get that — but then let’s be honest. . .for some, this is about getting their property back — not about instituting liberal democracy.
    best regards, even to Henry,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  31. JohnH says:

    “Well, yes. There is that small problem with the migration of Cubans to Florida that would happen if the Cuban government didn’t prevent it.”
    Like the migration of people from Latin countries that don’t prevent it? Funny how the governments of those countries don’t get criticized. Only the illegal immigrants get criticized.
    So can anyone establish with any certainty that Cubans’ desire to emigrate is due to an authoritarian government (not unknown in US supported countries of Latin America) or to economic conditions, caused in part by US sanctions? Econmic conditions are usually cited as the primary reason for emigration elsewhere. Why should Cuba be different?
    Henry Gomez clearly established himself as one of those people you just can’t negotiate with, like those he listed at the beginning of his comment.

    Reply

  32. Zathras says:

    Well, yes. There is that small problem with the migration of Cubans to Florida that would happen if the Cuban government didn’t prevent it. Defectors, refugees and other people who dislike a police state enough to want to leave it don’t add to a nation’s “soft power,” if I understand the theory correctly.
    On the other hand, the status quo isn’t going to last forever. It might last for a while, but eventually Cuba will have a post-Fidel government. Unless a way can be found to move Cuba farther than 90 miles away from the United States, that is bound to bring a lot of changes with it. Inevitably it will bring more changes to Cuba than to the United States, just by virtue of the two countries’ relative size and wealth.
    But the American government certainly ought to be preparing for Cuba after Fidel now, while we have time. I’m not opposed in principle to reopening remittance, travel restrictions and other issues related to the trade embargo, but having some contingency plan for a post-Castro Cuba is really more important.
    Perhaps Steve is well-connected enough to let us know if there is (are) any such plan(s) under construction in various government agencies. With the senior officials in the Bush administration so completely preoccupied with the Iraq war I doubt that Cuba has quite gotten onto the White House radar screen, but whether it has or not the government will have no excuse if a change in Cuba’s government takes it finds it unprepared.

    Reply

  33. Henry Gomez says:

    Dialogue?
    Let’s dialogue with Josef Stalin? Let’s dialogue with Charles Manson? Let’s dialogue with Adolph Hitler?
    What you dialoguers can’t get into your skulls is that you can’t have an honest negotiation with someone who is neither honest nor is interested in a negotiation. Sure they say they are interested in one, but what they want is the unilateral removal of sanctions without them taking ONE CONSTRUCTIVE STEP toward becoming an open and normal country. Anybody that say that they are concerned about freedoms in the US more than in Cuba is the worst kind of America hater. We have radio programs in Miami that espouse the same ridiculous line of argument and if there was such an intimidating atmosphere they wouldn’t be able to say what they say.
    Talk to Guillermo Fariñas and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet about freedoms. Talk to Marta Beatriz Roque about freedoms. They’ll laugh in your face. Why if the US is such an oppressive and evil country is it the major goal of ALL young Cubans to leave Cuba and come to the US?
    I wonder what makes people like you think the way you do. Is it that you really want communism to be the operating system around the world? Is it that anything that opposes America no matter how wrong is right?
    Luckily the Cuban tragedy is coming to an end and not because of weak-keed appeasers like you or betrayers like JFK, arguably the worst president in the history of this great republic.

    Reply

  34. JR says:

    Times have indeed changed! Recently back from Cuba after an 10-day tour, I can tell you that I participated in much dialogue while there. While I know that public freedom of expression is quite limited there, animated private discussion was never ending! In the end, coming back here I arrived feeling much more concerned about freedoms in the USA than the freedoms in Cuba.
    Further more, I hope that the Cubans in Miami realize that the transition from Fidel to Raul is complete. For all intent, all Cubans acknowledge this fact. In the factories, bank and post offices, there generally two framed photos: Che and Raul. I got no sense that anyone in Cuba was expecting any major shift or change. The Bush administration’s recent contribution of $14 million to promoting a shift to democracy in Cuba will simply go into someone’s pocket in Miami.
    With that in the open, I too advocate that we abandon our old ways of thinking, put our arrogance aside, pursue dialog, and learn from our neighbor, just 90 miles to the South. Sen. Jeff Bingaman was right then, and it is still the right thing to do now.

    Reply

  35. JohnH says:

    Steve–
    From what I hear, the regime is mellowing. I met a Cuban journalist at an internet cafe in Caracas, and he observed that it’s curious that Cuba has become a lot freer in the last few years, while freedoms in the US are under attack.
    Hopefully you can get to Venezuela at some point, too. They made good use of Cuban doctors embedded in poor communities to treat poor people who never had access to health care. After an initial period of treating illnesses, the Cubans have moved on to preventive care. People with serious eye diseases are sent to Cuba and cured. It’s part of what makes Chavez enormously popular in much of the population.
    Other reasons to get to know Venezuela: They represent an alternative way of using oil wealth. GDP growth has been the fastest of any country in Latin America. But their growth is due to more than just oil–Venezuela has by far the fastest growth rate of any major oil exporter, reflecting wise investments in public infrastructure, health and education. As a result, real incomes of the poorest 60% of the population have more than doubled in the past four years.
    Scott talked about people in the Middle East wanting “freedom – and economic opportunity, and peace, and rights, and dignity – and the United States should work with them as a partner to help them achieve these goals.” For starters, Americans could look at the path Venezuela has taken, learn some lessons, and apply them to the Middle East.
    Promoting widespread development and prosperity offers a much better prospect for assuring a reliable supply of energy than trying to bomb a country into submission or by creating a powder keg as a result of appointing a strong man to beat the population into submission.

    Reply

  36. Larry Martin says:

    Sen. Jeff Bingaman, one of the smartest members of the U.S. Senate, has my vote for also being among the most credible, thoughtful and trustworthy.
    Thanks, Steve, for reminding us of this speech.

    Reply

  37. Richard W. Crews says:

    The way I see it, our policy towards Cuba is ” we won’t work with you until you give the whorehouses back to our mafia.”
    When will we face up to the fact that thousands of people here in the USA think they own something in Cuba. Almost everyone of them votes hard-line Republican, expecting to go back and claim ownership. How likely is that to happen?

    Reply

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