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Richard Walden: U.S. Embargoes Compassion for Cuba

Posted on Dec 26, 2006
Bush and Martinez
AP Photo / Alan Diaz

U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, R-Fla., right, talks to reporters as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., left background, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., look on after attending a U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC annual lunch in Coral Gables, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006. Federal and state officials reaffirmed their support of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba in hopes it will lead to the communist government’s downfall upon his death.

By Richard Walden

In the 12 years since Operation USA began directly providing humanitarian aid to Cuba’s main pediatric hospitals and its much-lauded international medical school, licenses have had to be obtained from both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The shorthand name for this licensure is the “Trading With the Enemy Act” (aka the Export Administration Act).

Aid groups working in Cuba are hardly alone in facing U.S. requirements for a license to donate agricultural products or medical supplies to Cuba’s main institutions. Think North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, immediate postwar (1975-1991) Vietnam and Cambodia, Reagan-era Nicaragua, etc. But the U.S. government, through the past 10 presidencies, has been particularly vicious toward Cuba; it has sharply limited donating or selling even spare parts for Cuba’s pre-1959 U.S.-made infrastructure and has not allowed Cuban-Americans to send home adequate amounts of cash remittances to family members.

So it is hardly surprising that George W. Bush, with brother Jeb serving as Florida’s governor, would take a particularly hard-line position on travel, trade and aid to Cuba. This despite the fact that a majority in Congress—recently led by increasing numbers of farm-state Republicans—has been pushing for a vastly more open relationship with Cuba.

With Fidel Castro at or near retirement, now would be the ideal time to change course even if it involved standing up to the ever-generous political donors among the hard-line Cuban exile community. Unlike the rejectionists from the Cuban diaspora who left Cuba between 1959 and 1980, most Cuban migrants now leave principally for economic reasons and are interested in reaching back to those left behind. This group tends to be in favor of a more open and freer relationship with the island, and it is fast becoming the majority voice, even in Miami.

Does Bush see or hear any of this? It is doubtful that he cares what anyone else thinks is good politics or even good national security policy.

Recently, the influx of hard-line (and, in many cases, Cuban-American) hires at the Departments of State and Defense—which review Cuba export and travel licenses while they are being processed by the Departments of Commerce and Treasury—has made itself manifest in the rejection of a number of humanitarian licenses up for renewal. Last year’s license renewals banned most training of Cuban doctors and nurses by U.S. aid groups on the pretext that these medical professionals would be made to work as forced labor in the hospitals and clinics of Venezuela to earn hard currency and oil for the Cuban government. This year has seen sharp cutbacks or outright refusals of licenses (and visas to the U.S. in the case of prominent Cubans). Very few cultural or educational exchanges are being licensed, and nearly no visas allowing Cubans to attend professional meetings in the U.S. are being approved.

Operation USA’s recently expired licenses contained provisions limiting the donation and shipment of many kinds of medical product—computers have to be of the pre-Pentium 486 variety; laboratory and radiology equipment is mostly prohibited; equipment must be used and at least five years old; medicines’ end use—not just “for children” but for which specific diseases they will be applied—has to be characterized in advance of licensing approvals. All of the above materials are directed toward pediatric hospitals, but Commerce Department officials are telling relief groups that they have “evidence that such items are being diverted to military or other inappropriate uses.” No precise source is ever provided to back up these charges, and not one U.S. relief group active in Cuba has experienced a diversion of its aid by the Cuban government.

Currently, the Government Accountability Office of Congress (the GAO) and the inspector general of the U.S. State Department are investigating the misappropriation of $73 million in official funds from the State Department given willy-nilly to anti-Castro groups in Miami to purchase supplies to take to dissident groups in Cuba. The groups involved were provided Treasury and Commerce licenses on an expedited basis.

This would not amount to chopped liver if children were not dying as a result of the embargoes imposed by the U.S against Cuba and other nations over many years. In Iraq, one noteworthy study by Harvard University’s School of Public Health of the pre-2003, pre-U.S. invasion period found that up to 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of the U.S. trade and aid embargo (and the U.S.-led United Nations sanctions) in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.

Washington’s Cuba policy in the coming year will be a measure of whether or not our political leaders have learned anything at all from their previous failings.

Richard M. Walden is founder and president of Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based international relief and development agency (


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By Manuel A. Tellechea, January 26, 2007 at 3:13 am Link to this comment
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The American people, who are in the main decent and honorable though badly served by their government and media, have always desired the end of Castro’s dictatorship and freedom for the Cuban people. That much, I hope, we are agreed on. The question, then, must be what is the best way to achieve this objective. One means that I have never favored is the invasion and military occupation of Cuba. That, of course, has happened before with disastrous consequences for the Cuban people. No less odious, in my opinion, is to be the guarantor of Castro’s dictatorship, which is what Kennedy pledged that the U.S. would be in the Kennedy-Khruschev Pact.

Is there, then, anything at all that Americans can constructively do to effect change in Cuba? In the early 1960s it was thought by both Democrats and Republicans that a trade embargo was the best means to cripple and eventually topple the regime. Clearly, it has not done so.

What it did accomplish, ironically, was to help cripple and topple the Soviet Union. Soviet expenditures in Cuba, including subsidies and military assistance, amounted to more than $260 billion (60+ Iraq wars). This, in effect, was more than the anemic Soviet economy could tolerate. The great “asset” which the Soviets thought they had in Cuba, which had to be maintained at any cost, was their own undoing.

In the last 48 years, the only constant in U.S.-Cuban relations has been Fidel Castro. American presidents have come and gone but he alone has remained in his island fiefdom. For most of those 48 years Castro actually scoffed at the embargo while American presidents tried their best to seek a rapprochment with Communist Cuba. President Ford actually agreed to lift the embargo and recognize the Castro regime and was a week away from announcing his decision when Cuba invaded Angola. Carter tried as hard any man could to accommodate Castro, but Mariel was his reward. Even Reagan sent General Vernon Walters on a secret mission to Cuba to negotiate with Castro, but Walters was also rebuffed.

It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that Castro suddenly joined the anti-embargo camp. No one can be so disingenuous as to believe that this change was triggered by any other motive but his own survival. He believed that lifting the embargo was essential to the perpetuation of his regime in a post-Soviet world.

The U.S. first tried to tighten the embargo in the hope of capitalizing on Castro’s vulnerability. But Castro’s capacity for inflicting pain on the Cuban people is limitless as is, apparently, their capacity to take the pain.

The U.S. then tried the opposite approach. The embargo hasn’t been formally lifted, but it has been essentially gutted. Now Cuba can buy anything it wants from the U.S. on a cash on the barrel basis, and it has. The U.S. is now Cuba’s second-largest trading partner after China. Has life improved for the Cuban people as a consequence of this? No. Whether with or without the embargo, Cuba is an economic basketcase. This is what Castro has done to a nation that once had the third-highest GNP in the Western Hemisphere while at the same time practicing personal capitalism and enriching himself to the tune of $900 million.

All that Castro ever cared about was to be the first Cuban dictator to die in his own bed. This he has practically accomplished.

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By Peter RV, January 1, 2007 at 4:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think Cuba is doing fine even with the U.S. blokade. As a matter of fact,they are better off with it.All the hostility of the U.S. has just brought the glory to Fidel Castro. Just look at the Latin America, he has become the guiding light for almost everybody there.
The U.S. has isolated Cuba only from itself, from nobody else, thus protecting this island from our capitalist corruption. The moment it establishes a normal relation with us, they are going to experience riots and subversion accompanied by our intervention.
Old habits die hard in the U.S.

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By HeadlessHessian, December 30, 2006 at 10:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For the record, I was born there and fled to the US in 1961. 
If we cubans did not vote, we would not be courted as much.  The only reason for all this republican attention is the vote, the 27 electorals is what matters here, period!

“Washington’s Cuba policy in the coming year will be a measure of whether or not our political leaders have learned anything at all from their previous failings.”

Lastly, Lefty…man you have your facts so screwed up.  Before you spew your BS…at least research it and try to get it right. 
There were many of us that came to the US in 1961 with nothing.  Like me and in the same group of 14,000+ Mel Marinez came here without a penny. Our parents have enough balls to send us here alone in the hopes of a better life.  We had no relatives, no friends. No one!  We wound up in reform schools, wards of the state, orphanges etc.  But in a tribute to our parents sacrifice, our own strength and the generosity and openness of the great country, we made it.  Some of us big, like Mel Martinez, others like me, made the ‘American dream’.  I will for ever be greatful to my parents for their incredible sacrifice, and to this country for its incredible ability to open its arms. 
NOTE:  Arms that are closing under this Nazi administration we now find ourselves in.

Our political leaders have not learned a thing Mr. Walden.  They don’t even admit mistakes that are obvious to the rest of the planet.


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By Thomas Green, December 30, 2006 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m neither Republican or Democrat but, as an American, I find it hard to feel any care for a Cuba under Castro that called upon the Russians to drop nuclear bombs on my country. Let the Cubans clean their own house of the rats that infest it.

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By Edwin, December 29, 2006 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment
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Brothers & sisters,

            I urge you to search for the sins of the US in Latin America.  Start in Nicaragua w/ William Walker in the 1800s, then move to the heroic efforts of Cesar Augusto Sandino in the 1920s & 30s against the US & the illegal puppet govt of Nicaragua.  Then proceed to Jacobo Arbenz’s coup in Guatemala in 1954 (courtesy of the CIA & inspired by the United Fruit Company).  Then go to Salvador Allende’s coup in Chile in 1973.  And finally, examine the US involvement in El Salvador in the 1970s & 80s, & you will find an era in which military oligarchies, masquerated as “legit” governments, worked as an extension of a Reagan administration that could care less about peasant issues.  There is more of course, but these examples are a good start for analyzing US policy in Latin America.  Cuba is the one country that symbolizes hope for most Latin America nations in their fight towards US Imperialism in the region; & that is precisely why the US punishes the island through its economic embargo to Hispaniola.  In simple terms, the US can not forgive the lefties for driving them, & the Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, off the island.

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By felicity, December 29, 2006 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The soon to be hung by the neck until dead Saddam made the terrible mistake of ordering a particular group of people assassinated, which resulted in his murder conviction punishable by death. Had he simply ordered an embargo on the region where the people in question lived, thereby causing them pain, suffering and death, he might have gotten off scot free!!!

Obviously, ordering a NATION’S people (think Iraq) though guilty of nothing, bombed or embargoed is the way to go -  particularly if you want to save your ass. (The criminal sitting in the Oval Office knows all about saving one’s ass.) (Embargo is particularly effective because children die which causes parents to suffer - and suffering is what it’s all about.)

If there’s a lawyer at this site, will you please explain the rationale behind what seems to me to be very strange reasoning. (Don’t give me the “war” thing because the US was not and isn’t at “war” with Castro’s Cuba.)

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By Mark Robert Gates, December 27, 2006 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If, I want a Cuban cigar, I expect to be able to walk to a cigar store, and buy one. And, in a capitalist economy, and, I do not see any way to encourage in Cuban citizens, free economic values, if I cannot go to that cigar store, and purchase that Cuban cigar.

Same, with North Koreans. We, need to impute to them, their leader has an atomic bomb, we have so much more than just grain and rice, we have modern technology, and freedom of expression. So, why follow the leader with only a bomb, when you can shop, online for the stuff of which completes the good life.

Copyright 2006, Mark Robert Gates

please my blogs:

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By Rinaldo, December 27, 2006 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is it human nature to repress and destroy your neighbor? Apparantly so.
If the U.S. government was interested in “a free” Cuba, why is it creating conditions that are opposed to foster the development of a free state.
The CIA destabilizes freely elected governments in order to foster their own agenda of control and conquest then the U.S. pretends to care for democracy in Iraq.
Does the American public see the hypocrisy?
Or are we busy watching “Desperate Housewives” and ” Everybody Loves Raymond”?

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By jkoch, December 27, 2006 at 10:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Cuba embargo functions mainly to keep Americans from sales or investment opportunities that exiles, because of their oath against Castro, from undertaking themselves.  Senator Menéndez and Florida politicians will suddenly change their posture the instand Fidel’s death becomes official.  The Cuba America Foundation will set up a CSG (Cuba Study Group) to unveil a scheme to normalize trade.  Exiles and descendents will waive expropriation claims in exchange for “first right of refusal” on all investment opportunities to follow.  Once they can be assured bargain prices to “hijos de la isla,” and not suffer peer criticism for dealing with “el tirano,” other political concerns will wither.  Witness US trade with China or the authoritarian oil exporting countries.

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By Quy Tran, December 27, 2006 at 10:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

America’s inhumane policy isn’t only outdated in Cuba but throughout the world where we put our feet on its soil.

We have to correct competely from upper stratum down to under structure with new young blood and non-selfishness.

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By charlie kasnick, December 27, 2006 at 10:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The fastest way to change Cuba is to open the border all the way.But,too many radical right leaning Cuban exiles are making a very good living without any oversite on our tax dollars!
A free exchange of ideas is always the quickest and most efficient way to change.

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By Spinoza, December 27, 2006 at 8:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In a recent interview Castro was asked if he had any regrets.  He said that getting involved with the Soviet Union was probably a mistake but at the time he couldn’t see what else he could do.

Ameriscum right wingers (fascists) are so hateful of the left that they will cut off their nose to spite their face.

It is clear that the USA (government)is the enemy of mankind and should be treated as such.

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By Ken Mitchell, December 27, 2006 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t like China’s government either yet we trade with them, as well as other shrines of democracy like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

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By Lefty, December 27, 2006 at 12:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Since there are no longer any nuclear missles on Cuba, the U.S. Government doesn’t really give a damn about Cuba. The U.S. embargo policy toward Cuba is the work and policy of the very rich and powerful right-wing, fascist Republican Cuban refugees who fled Cuba for the U.S. in the 50’s and 60’s with as much of their fascist wealth as they could steal.  The now dying and dwindling numbers of these would be fascist dictators [the Mel Martinez’s, Iliana Ros-Lehtinen’s, Lincoln Diaz Balart’s and their corporate whores] still dictate American policy toward Cuba, such as the grossly unfair Cuban Adjustment Act, with their undue economic influence (corruption was their way of life in Cuba and it continued in America), in particular, on the Republican party.  This bunch’s psychopathic, fanatical hatred of Castro (imagine, they hate Castro, but, they love his American counterpart, Bush), has led to a miserably failed embargo policy that has left Cuba to crumble while they wait for Castro to die when these self proclaimed “migrants” (not immigrants) claim that they will triumphantly return to Cuba to take over.  Yeah, right!  In the mean time, Castro may outlive them all.  And even if he doesn’t, what will they return to, Raul Castro?  Or worse?  In any event, if any of them try to return as they claim, I’m pretty sure they will be greeted with the business end of a Cuban gun.

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By Alex, December 26, 2006 at 11:41 pm Link to this comment
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