Cuban Embargo Blues
March 9, 2003 12:21 AM   Subscribe

An American Tragedy: No habanos; no Havana Club; not even a dram of that lovely new rummy Glenfiddich malt whisky! Although the embargo is still popular with the Jesse Helms crowd and certain Cuban immigrés, resistence is higher than ever. Why does it go on? From the outside, it just looks like obstinate stupidity. What is it with the Democrats, especially? Are they still covering up for JFK's mistakes? He, at least, had a good stock of Cuban cigars [well, Petit Uppmanns...] with which to sit the crisis out... What gives? What could possibly justify Americans missing out on such a massive scale? If for the pleasure of a decent smoke or even proper mojito or daiquiri alone?
posted by MiguelCardoso (22 comments total)
It's a long post, so I really don't deserve a "more inside", but I should say my stupefaction is strictly hedonistic, rather than political. In the U.S., free-trade capital of the world, not only can you can buy Iraqi oil; but you can get legitimate Iranian caviar and, er, Libyan dates. If other Axis of Evil countries had luxury products; no doubt they would be widely available too.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:46 AM on March 9, 2003

Inertia? A constitutional system that, for all its benefits, encourages (through its many checks and balances) minority interest hijacking of little corners of American public policy? Maybe the cohesion of certain interests in favor of the embargo? Maybe some combination thereof?
posted by raysmj at 12:47 AM on March 9, 2003

Yes, the embargo of Cuba makes the current Iraq/U.N. debacle look like brilliant foreign policy in contrast. It's a classic case of a small minority of highly committed pro-embargo activists vs. a huge, totally uninformed and apathetic majority who would probably be anti-embargo if they bothered to inform themselves about it. But they don't so politicians know they have nothing to gain by getting rid of it and everything to lose.
posted by boltman at 12:54 AM on March 9, 2003

A timely topic, considering Cuba is a pointed reminder of American hubris in overthrowing governments. (cf. Iran, Chile, etc.). The old man was in Japan last week, looking pretty fit and energetic. I know Americans who go to Cuba routinely and love it. You can go via Mexico, the Cubans don't stamp your passport, bless their hearts. There is even organized volunteer work in Cuba by Americans, even though they aren't officially there. As for the cigars, look at ebay for the people selling "souvenir Cuban cigar boxes" (nudge-nudge-wink), they may have the contents "lying around somewhere."
Note to State Department: I have never been to Cuba, and I don't support the violent overthrow of the government, yet.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:19 AM on March 9, 2003

my stupefaction is political. on the hedonistic front, i had some fresh bread yesterday that was very nice (sorry, no brand name for your moleskines).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:28 AM on March 9, 2003

The embargo may just be the dumbest thing in American foreign policy. America can't just wait around for Castro to die, they should lift the embargo right now. That's the only way a regime change could happen in Cuba.

I was in Cuba 4 years ago with an American friend. What surprised me is that most Cubans I met loved Americans (they seemed to like Americans more than most Europeans do right now).

Cuba really is a wonderful place and, in a really selfish way, I wish it wouldn't change. Everyone should try to visit the island before Castro goes away.
posted by einarorn at 3:35 AM on March 9, 2003

Hitler was painted as the embodiment of evil during and after WW2. While it's hard to say that this is completely wrong given the total picture of the man's life, our perspective makes it too easy to forget that the man did many, many great things for Germany in terms of rebuilding before launching his military campaign.

In a similar fashion was anything originally born of Marxist philosophy - no matter how far it strayed - branded 'evil' in the decades to follow WW2. Regardless of the actual good or evil of socialism, and the false protectionist aristocracies posing as 'communism' that infected Asia during the time, the entire concept has been ideologically blacklisted as the sort of thing only evil Hitler-worshipping freedom-haters would even consider.

This meme still permeates both the intellectually disenfranchised and religious in our country (yes you snarky bastards there is a great deal of seperation between these two groupings), and until the memory of the Cold War fades with the tail end of the Baby Boomers I doubt we'll be seeing the embargo lifted from that wicked, wicked hellhole!
posted by Ryvar at 5:32 AM on March 9, 2003

An aside: the ones who most benefitted from anti-Cuban policy was Mexico. Used to be a flourishing tourist crowd going to nearby Cuba from US (lots of whores, gambling, night life) and since embargo Mexico has opened some three or more big resort towns (ie, Cancun) that get the tourist crowd. God works in mysterious ways.
posted by Postroad at 7:15 AM on March 9, 2003

Cuba is a real test of whether US foreign policy wears the white or the black cowboy hat. Remember that a six year old Cuban practically decided the last US election! I get very envious every time a European friend tells me about his Cuban vacation, but nevertheless, I feel cut out because of my US passport. One can travel there, but a friend of mine, a non-cuban follower of Santeria religion, got slapped with a $40,000 fine after a slip up on his reentry into the US from Mexico.
posted by zaelic at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2003

Hear hear, Miguel. I really really want to go to Cuba, but I'm scared to because I hear stories like zaelic's friend's $40K fine. Plus I don't want to jeopardize future travel opportunities.

A couple friends have been there with Treasury Department permission (working journalists) and said it was great. (though apparently the Customs inspector gave them quite the evil eye when they'd told him where they'd been.)

The Cuban "exiles" in South Florida are such a powerful (and vocal) voting bloc, though, that I doubt the embargo will be lifted until Castro dies.
posted by Vidiot at 7:57 AM on March 9, 2003

What could possibly justify Americans missing out on such a massive scale?

Well, it does encourage truly-curious Americans to take a surreptitious visit to Cuba, whether for cigars or the chance to see the best collection of 1950s cars in the world, and compare the US media's depiction with the one before their eyes. I'd certainly encourage a visit before Castro pops his clogs; though I'd also recommend reading Amnesty's report on Cuba first, and do some lobbying for human rights at the same time.
posted by riviera at 8:42 AM on March 9, 2003

Given the present Us administration's respect for the rights of its own citizens, I would think twice before taking a trip to Cuba while Bush is in power. You never know today what they will decide is seditious tomorrow.
posted by zaelic at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2003

zaelic, i know several people who have taken more then one trip to cuba since Bush was...elected. The only thing i hear about "cuber" that worries me is the possible sale of old russian listening post to some other country. Cuba is now letting scholars examine the Hemingway house and it's contents. This is good.

migs, great collection of links, I'll skip the booze (does a barney) and just plain sulk at that cigar link collection.
posted by clavdivs at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2003

Are there any US citizens reading this who have been to Cuba legally, through one of those cultural/scientific/etc. programs? I see ads for Treasury-approved package tours every now and then. I'd be interested in hearing (via private e-mail or in this thread) about your experiences.
posted by Vidiot at 10:10 AM on March 9, 2003

...although OFAC typically assesses travelers with $7,500, it often accepts a payment of between $700 and $2,500. Travelers can try to avoid paying a fine by exercising their right to request a hearing; lawyers and Cuba experts said that the agency, short on personnel, had not actually held such a hearing in 10 years.
--from, 2001
Note that, so far, no one who has made a timely request for a U.S. hearing after receiving notice of a proposed fine has ever had a hearing or had to make any payment.
--from (National Lawyers Guild) which offers a wealth of info on travel to Cuba for citizens of US.
posted by G_Ask at 10:13 AM on March 9, 2003

Definitely what Vidiot said. The Cuban exile community in Florida is extremely powerful politically, almost totally Republican, and beyond irrational in their thinking on the matter.

Moderate Cubans there, who would be open to a more intelligent approach to change, are routinely intimidated into silence by the rabid ones. Any disagreement with the prevailing policy and you get branded a "Nangara" (communist), and ostracized by the bullies. Years ago, there were organizations operating the community that assassinated anyone who openly espoused any sort of dialogue.

Very sad state of affairs, and obviously, since Florida is crucial to GWB's power base, he's not going to touch that situation. And since the rest of the country really doesn't care much beyond an interest in the pleasure of cigars, Congress won't overwhelm Florida's Bully Cubans.
posted by reality at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2003

Cuba claims the highest ratio of doctors-to-patients in the world and an average lifespan longer than that of America, plus a lower infant death rate. And this despite the idiotic embargo, which has crippled their economy. Without the embargo, I think Castro could have proved that communism can work on a small, local scale.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:57 AM on March 9, 2003

reality: You've driven me nuts with that "Nangara"—I can't find it in my dictionaries or online. Did you mistype it, or is it brand new, or just too obscure to be easily found? (I know Spanish pretty well and this is the first I've heard of it.)
posted by languagehat at 11:52 AM on March 9, 2003

The Cuban exile community in Florida is extremely powerful politically, almost totally Republican...

So why aren't the Democrats more vocal about lifting the embargo? They certainly don't have any support to lose from the exile community, and the rest of the country couldn't care less (except, of course, for those of us who pine for the cigars and rum). Is it still the old fear of being labeled "soft on communism"?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2003

five fresh:
Some of what you say is true, except their centrally planned economy completely sucks at efficient production and distribution. And no amount of doctors justify the government's brutal treatment of dissidents and political prisoners through the years. In fact, I think Cuba shows that communism won't work anywhere, if it didn't work there, in my opinion.


It's actually spelled "Ñangara" (I hope the en-ya comes through). It's a slang word used within the Cuban community as an epithet for communists.

Good question, but the Dems would have to carry the state for the Presidential elections, to make the Rightwing Cubans irrelevant.
posted by reality at 3:05 PM on March 9, 2003

Lo mismo es ñangá que ñangué, pero Ñangara no es lo mismo que Nangara! Gracias, pibe.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 PM on March 15, 2003

reality - 'the government's brutal treatment of dissidents and political prisoners through the years'

Which government doesn't treat dissidents in a brutal manner? There are plenty which behave worse than the Cuban government, does that prove that capitalism won't work anywhere? Or non-secular government? Or secular government? Does it prove anything other than people with power like to preserve it?

I liked this definition of Cuba under Castro, from the book 'Waking up in Cuba' by Stephen Foehr -
Juan D. said "He's Our Father. My generation has known no other leader, and he has done good things for us. But he is like a father of a beautuful 15-year-old-daughter who knows the dangers in the world to her. His love for his daughter blinds him so he can't see her own capabilities, her own confidence in surviving in the world."
posted by asok at 4:07 AM on March 20, 2003

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