We shall, no doubt, be hearing details about the economics of the Cuba embargo in the weeks or months to come, as Congress takes up the matter. To lift or not to lift, that is the crux of the thing.
My position is that you should not jump to conclusions on a policy issue until you know the facts. However, I have it on good authority, which does not mean it is so, since economic policy never is so, that the embargo always had more to do with politics than economics.
The embargo’s impact on Cuba was not exactly minor. After all, if there is a Cuban market for American investment and an American market for Cuban trade, there ought logically be benefits on both sides, including improved Cuban sugar production by moving beyond slave labor in the cane fields.
But the embargo is not the bullying Castro apologists make it out to be, either, because Cuba-Europe trade, Cuba-South America trade, indeed practically all Cuba trade in both directions with the exception of the U.S., has been normal for decades.
It is, therefore, not accurate that we were depriving them of critical medicines, necessary alimentary products, automobile parts, and baseballs. They could get. That is, they could have got. But when you have an economy under the control of political gangsters, you cannot get what you want. They get what they want, and you get what they think you need.
It was a political issue. We wanted them to pay politically for being nuisances in our back yard. But were we, are we still, punishing the people of Cuba for the faults of their tyrants? Again, let us wait until all the facts are in.
The Soviets benefited from U.S.-Soviet trade, and did the Soviets, I mean the Russian people, benefit? Good question. Anyone who went east of the Berlin Wall back then can tell you that no matter the trade concessions we and the free Europeans (distinguished from the oppressed Europeans) made to the red regimes, life was miserable. A lot of basics that we take for granted in the modern world, they did not even dream of — including Head tennis racquets (favored by Maria Sharapova, but I digress and anyway she is a Floridian now, although I will mention she uses the “Instinct” model — I use the Radical — but this is not a placement ad, though I wish it were), Marlboro cigarettes, high-sugar soft drinks, Filson outer wear, Levi Strauss 501 dungarees, and Chevrolet automobiles, as well as Bayer aspirin.
However, what I want to know is what is “outdated” about the embargo policy? The President said that was what it was, but he did not elaborate. Not that I am in a hurry, there will be ample time for discussing this and it is better to take one’s time with these heavy questions. Still, that is the argument he gave us, the American people, for sharply reversing a traditional American policy. Our policy was clear: embargo, sí; diplomatic relations, no. Would that our policies toward other nations were so clear.
In passing, I favor diplomatic relations. Having an embassy means we have more opportunities for spying. We had diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany as well as Communist China (and Red Russia), so what is the big deal? We spied on them, just as they spied on us. I would not be surprised to learn that pals of the fearsome President Putin, who belonged to the dreaded services of the Soviet state, remain in their posts in Havana’s Russia house. What a gas it will be to turn Havana into a spy vs. spy tropical playground. It will be an excellent place to practice our black arts, our dark skills, our unspoken wicked deeds in the service of the higher good. Just make sure Dianne Feinstein never hears about any of it!
And did not our Talleyrands and our Metternichs shrewdly set the Chicoms against their erstwhile Soviet allies and thereby split international communism? Which, as our diplomatists well knew, would result in the Chinese Road to Prosperity, rendering unnecessary such American industries as textiles, steel, and microchips — rendering unnecessary, indeed, the American working class! And to think some on the right side of our political world once thought the State Department harbors traitors!
Not at all. Our diplomatic shrewdness, including the cover our missions provided the cloak-and-dagger set, convinced our historic enemies (cf. the closing paragraphs of Democracy in America) that we are the Top Country and it is better to either collapse or do things our way.
And yet. Times change. Generations disappear, give way to pale reflections of themselves, and far more shabby in dress, speech and table manners. I am not sure our current crew can hold a candle to the striped pants of yesteryear.
That is why I am for opening an embassy in Havana, with the caveat that we not staff it with ordinary State Department personnel. Back in Cold War days they were not bad, seeing as how we won the Cold War, but lately? Filling our Baghdad and Kabul and Damascus embassies with State Department types did what? Their orders were to bring democracy and law to the heathen. I rest my case.
In Havana, let us try something that is not so outdated, something not exactly like the quarrel that caused the rift between us and the Cuban leaders in the first place, and that the President says goes back to days of yore, before most us were even born.
I agree with the president. It is high time we got up to date. What better place than Havana to try out a few contemporary models? I suggest the ambassador and his staff be recruited from sports organizations: MLB, NFL, NBA, PGA, USTA, and such. The guys (and dolls) who work in these shops are tough cookies. They run tight ships, and they know how to make everything in their respective games commercially valuable.
Other interested observers will have contrary notions, and I think they should be aired. They should be discussed, debated. The sports ruling body model and its genius for marketing is not the only one. We should also let the Little Brothers of the Poor give it a shot. They have a different model, based on charity and love. That one deserves a hearing too.
However, the idea of letting John Kerry plan how to manage the Havana mission makes me cringe. Okay, we are a free country and the heir to the Heinz fortune deserves to have his say. But we should listen with skeptical ears. He may be of a mind to name as ambassador that fat guy from Michigan who makes awful, really awful, documentary movies. Not to mention some dolt from Foggy Bottom. A dedicated patriot and public servant named Pedro Sanjuan once pointed out to me that it would be well to have an American interests section at the State Department: a well-taken point, and if we had a State Department-run mission in Havana, we would need an American interests section inside a place that was itself dependent on a place without an American interests section.
One idea is to name Andy Garcia ambassador and give him, as they say in diplomatic circles, carte blanche to help Cuba, I mean the Cuban people, make up all the lost time under Castro Bros., Inc., within the parameters of what’s good for the U.S., of course. The great actor and director of one of the finest movies of recent years — The Lost City, which happens to be about Cuba — would take the lead in restoring the saxophone to its rightful place in Cuban musical culture. (This is not an inside joke; but as we learn in The Lost City, the Cubacommies banned the sax as “imperialist” and “capitalistic,” and believe me, this had nothing to do with embargos.)
One very effective way to follow the President’s advice to outgrow outdated ideas about the rest of the world and our relations with it would be to salute the re-opening of our embassy in Havana with a three-gun salute. The guns should be artillery pieces on vessels submerged somewhere in the Indian Ocean, and the targets would be Damascus, Baghdad, and Kabul. Sure, Kabul too. That should do it. It really should.
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