12/17/13 - CBS News - Posthandshake, Cuba embargo debate heats up again
The handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro at a
memorial service for Nelson Mandela last week re-exposed the controversial
and longtime frosty relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Up To The Minute
Pres. Obama greets Cuban leader at Mandela memorial
Pamela Falk, CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst, joins UTTM to discuss the
handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Plenty of anti-Cuba voices blasted Mr. Obama for his public display of
courtesy. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose parents emigrated from Cuba in
1956, sharply responded to the Obama-Castro handshake saying, "If the
president was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those
basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who was born in Havana, Cuba, echoed
Rubio's ire, this time aimed at Secretary of State John Kerry: "And Mr.
Secretary, sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. But when the leader
of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul
Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed, telling CNN on Sunday, that he believes
the handshake has "great propaganda value for the Cuban government, which
is oppressive, repressive."
"I don't think you should shake hands with someone who continues to violate
his own country's human rights," McCain added.
There's worry among pro-embargo lawmakers that the president will move to
loosen the strict policies put in place during the height of the Cold War,
as hinted by Mr. Obama as recently as November.
"The notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would
somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet,
Google and world travel doesn't make sense," Mr. Obama said at a Miami
fundraiser last month hosted by the chairman of the Cuban American National
Foundation, Jorge Mas Santos.
While it remains to be seen if or how exactly the administration will
update policies, there are strong feelings from both sides towards lifting
the 51-year-old economic, commercial, and financial embargo.
Critics of the embargo believe that the likes of Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen are
exploiting its symbolic nature for political reasons.
"The embargo ends up being a symbol more than something practical that has
an effect of promoting the state purpose of the embargo, which is promoting
democracy and human rights on the island," Carl Meacham, the director of
the Center for Strategic and International Studies Americas Program, told
At the U.N. General Assembly this past October, the United States and
Israel stood alone in a vote of 188 to 2 against a resolution calling for
an end to the blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba. This vote
also marked the 22nd consecutive year that the General Assembly has urged
for the U.S. to end the embargo.
"Barbaric" is a term frequently used by those who decry the blockade to
describe a policy that has amounted to a whopping $1.26 trillion worth of
economic damages to Cuba, as revealed by Cuban foreign minister Bruno
Rodriguez before the General Assembly in October. With the introduction of
political liberalization and economic reform by Castro in his first term,
many believe that now is an especially crucial time for the United States
to re-establish a relationship with Cuba in order to help usher along
reform in a transitory period.
"This is simply a matter of doing something that is right in terms of
policy effectiveness," José Raúl Perales, a director of the international
division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told CBS News.
Broadening economic engagement and allowing for increased travel in to Cuba
in the midst of Castro's economic reform may allow for a more streamlined
path away from a communist regime towards a democracy.
Although Perales admits that the process of reform is not necessarily a
"linear relationship" but that at the moment, the United States'
relationship with Cuba is so poisonous that it precludes the two countries
from even having a conversation about how to undertake reform.
"It is well proven that economic liberalization creates space for political
liberalization," Arturo Lopez Levy, a lecturer and doctoral candidate at
the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of
Denver, told CBS News. There are other slight but telling reforms under
Castro, signifiers that the country is headed in the right direction:
Cubans now have the right to travel and the right to free exercise of
religious beliefs, two rights that Lopez Levy refers to as "multipliers" of
Can Cuba keep equality and gain a free market?
Many Cubans are eager to see President Raul Castro's economic reforms take
root fast, but not everyone in Cuba is benefiting equally as the gover...
Of other significance is the emerging private sector and budding
entrepreneurship that has developed in Cuba due to a series of
unprecedented economic reforms under Castro. The Communist Party has
allowed for an increase in self-employment and privately run businesses, in
addition to the legalization of the buying and selling of property.
Cuba may not be headed for a purely capitalist market but the country is
moving towards a mixed economy, a change that is visible just by walking
through Havana streets filled with private vendors selling items to
Entrepreneurs in Cuba, however, face extraordinary hardships due to the
limited supply of items within the country. Many small business owners
travel to the U.S. in order to stock their businesses because it is too
expensive to buy from an individual distributor in the country. Some
advocate that with greater availability of items, there is more direct
engagement, therefore empowering the consumer.
According to Lopez Levy, the number of individuals working in small
businesses has tripled from 160,000 to 390,000 between 2010 and 2013, "By
binding U.S. producers, U.S. business closer to Cuba, with the elimination
of some of the restrictions, we can really start building up a business
class in Cuba. As we see in all parts of the world entrepreneurs are the
backbone of economies, but they are also global citizens."
Opponents, however, argue that these reforms are simply a modernization of
Mauricio Claver-Carone, who sits on the board of directors of the U.S.-Cuba
Democracy PAC, believes that if we increase supply to Cuba, it is not the
consumer who will prosper but the Castro regime.
"Their interest is in lining their pockets," Claver-Carone told CBS News.
"We need to maintain the pressure."
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