For once in Agora, TNH Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros and author/poet/historian/activist Dan Georgakas agree on something: normalized US-Cuba relations.
GEORGAKAS SOUNDS OFF:
Dino, I wonder how you feel about President Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba. His foreign policy initiatives often seem inept, but this time he has made a decision that appeals to the progressives who elected him and business interests that are not usually in his cheering section.
Normalizing relations with Cuba is going to create new jobs in America, lower our trade deficit, and improve our global image.
An immediate benefactor will be American agribusiness. Cuba has long wanted to buy our agricultural products and our farmers have wanted to sell.
This trade has not developed significantly due to the complex banking restrictions that have been in place. These restrictions are now being greatly eased and soon there will be in influx of American foods in Cuba.
A related agriculture challenge has been Cuba’s need for new tractors, bulldozers, and other equipment made by companies like John Deere and Caterpillar. Filling this need means creation of more manufacturing jobs in America.
Other big winners will be American computer hardware, software, and Internet services. Only 5% of Cubans currently have access to the Internet, one of the lowest rates in the world. This is a potential market of millions of new customers.
Another historic change is that restrictions on American credit cards have been lifted. This assures more Americans will be using plastic rather than cash for sightseeing, shopping, and accommodations. Approximately 100,000 Americans already travel to Cuba each year.
Currently, tourists have to fly out of Canada or Mexico. American airlines will now be able to take over much of that business, which promise to grow dramatically. In the first few years of open travel, a million Americans are expected to visit Cuba. Most will fly.
Another set of winners are American hotel chains. They will now be able to compete for American and other travelers to Cuba, something their Swiss, French, Canadian, and British competitors have done for decades.
Complementing the hotel trade will be day visitors arriving on cruise lines. The Caribbean cruise business is already booming and this new traffic will add to the viability of already busy ports from Florida to New York. Eventually, we also will see ferry shuttles operating out of Miami and Key West.
Cuban-Americans are generally supportive of Obama’s plans. Many older Cubans have been vexed by their inability to visiting aging parents. This will no longer be a problem.
In like manner, American-born Cubans will be able to make a pilgrimages to their ancestral homeland just as Greek Americans often do, not to relocate, but to unite with relatives and see the places where their parent s were born and raised.
This is not an occasion to examine just how wise our Cuba policies have been or how they developed. But objections to normalization on the grounds that such an act signals approval of a government are invalid.
Diplomatic recognition of a country has never meant approval of that country’s government. It does mean having an Embassy which allows more eyes and ears on the ground.
Canada and Mexico have never supported the boycott, and all of Latin America turned against it long ago. European allies such as British, Germany, and France immediately started doing business in Cuba when Castro relaxed his policy regarding foreign investments. All have been baffled by our inability to adapt to changing conditions.
Perhaps Obama’s actions indicate that finally we have begun to realize our foreign policy tool box is not limited to boycotts, direct attempts at regime change, and military interventions.
Dan, from a selfish perspective, I’m looking forward to being able to purchase the best rum and cigars in the world. But all kidding aside, I had mixed feelings about Obama’s lifting the embargo – until recently.
You see, in the grand scheme of “What’s wrong with America and what needs fixing,” I see four major issues: 1) national security; 2) the wealth gap; 3) the national debt; and 4) the poison that passes for food and medication that the FDA legitimizes and approves.
My first reaction to Obama’s overture to our neighbor to the South, then, was one of comparative indifference. I didn’t see it making a dent in any of those four major issues one way or another, so my thoughts were: “great…whatever…next topic.”
Part of me remains frustrated with Obama as a negotiator – because it appears that he simply waits out an impasse long enough and then finally gives in. “Ok, ok, we’ll remove our nukes from Europe…ok, ok, we’ll work out a nuclear deal with Iran…ok, ok, we’ll lift the Cuban embargo.”
On the other hand, what good has the embargo really done? The Cuban people suffer, the Castro Brothers are oblivious to it, and the rest of the world – as usual – doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to follow our lead.
For instance, why should I be able to buy Cuban cigars in Greece, or in London, right off the shelf? Much as I enjoy them, those countries, too, should have joined what should have been an international embargo against Cuba. (You may disagree with that last point, but that’s another matter for another discussion I’m looking forward to having with you.)
Upon further reflection, I now agree with you, that it is probably best for us to lift the embargo and normalize relations.
And though I agree with your logic in the reasons you state, those factors thereby strengthening my conviction, my primary reason for being in favor of lifting the embargo has to do with the first of my four main concerns about where our country is headed: national security.
Unless Barack Obama is playing a highly-sophisticated sleight of hand – the type of political gamesmanship we haven’t seen in a president since the days of Dwight Eisenhower – then the face value of his leadership has seemed meek on the world stage, particularly vis-à-vis Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sure he dismisses Russia as a “regional power,” but then again, he once called ISIS the “JV team.” Maybe so, but deadly aggression is deadly aggression.
For this reason, I worry that Putin might decide to “pull a Khrushchev” and try to bring nuclear missiles to Cuba again, effectively saying to Obama: “you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
I couldn’t see Obama (or perhaps his successor, whoever that may be) forming a naval blockade a la Kennedy to fend off the Soviet ships.
Therefore, it is in the United States’ best interests to play nice-nice with the Cubans and keep them happy, at least until we get ourselves a president who understands that although the United States should not by birthright be the world’s policeman, somebody’s gotta do it – and right now, there doesn’t seem to be any viable alternative.
With that in mind, then, I’m ok with rolling the dice and, as Ricky Ricardo would say: “Why don’t you plan a wonderful trip – to Havana, hop on a ship – and I’ll see you, in C-U-B-A!”
WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?