Can't we all just get along?
October 31, 2007 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I've recently been to Cuba and am very curious as to why the embargo continues. The cold war is over. Cuba is not a threat to the U.S. What am I missing?
posted by cookie googleman to Law & Government (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A sizable voting block, namely individuals of Cuban descent who fled Castro, are very very important in Florida politics. This means they are important in national politics.

This means that any politician who wants to be elected has to promise to maintain the embargo.

...and that sets aside all of the usual "I'm more anti-commie than you are!" rhetoric, which naturally plays a big role as well.

Look up organizations like Alpha66 for more info. Some commentary on the Elian Gonzalez debacle may also be relevant.
posted by aramaic at 5:34 PM on October 31, 2007

Cuban-Americans are an important ethnic group in a very, very, very closely-split swing state, and they care a lot about maintaining the embargo. Plus, while a lot of people think the embargo is silly, very few of them feel terribly strongly about it. I think that's pretty much it.
posted by craichead at 5:42 PM on October 31, 2007

The embargo continues because the stated root cause still exists -- the Cuban government has not compensated US landowners for the propery it expropriated during and immediately after the revolution. The fact that the embargo also lines up with the proclivities of the exile and anti-Communist communities is...just a coincidence.
posted by backupjesus at 5:54 PM on October 31, 2007

Why did the embargo start? Because of communism. Has anything changed? Nope.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:54 PM on October 31, 2007

Yep, it's a combination of the Cuban lobby in the USA (mainly in Florida) and Cuba's insistence on going its own way, even in the face of assassination attempts and economic and travel embargoes.

Essentially, from the US government's perspective, Cuba represents an ideological threat (unapologetically communist and fairly self-sufficient), and therefore must be punished.
posted by Rykey at 6:05 PM on October 31, 2007

posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:06 PM on October 31, 2007

Yeah, everyone is on the right track (except for falameufilho who holds a dangerously naive notions...)

- Our electoral system means that Cuban dissidents in Florida have a disproportionate say in our foreign policy toward Cuba. (See also: Israel, E85 fuel)

- Some of it is about the Cuban government taking property from US investors...

- Some of it is left over aggression about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missie Crisis...

- Some of it is lip service regarding the alienation of any communist country...

Mostly though it is the dissidents and their children who continue to be responsible for our embarrassing lack of grace with regard to Cuba.

Indeed, the embargo has empowered pro-communist Cuban nationalism in exactly the opposite way we wanted. In hindsight most everyone (well, anyone not running for president) agrees that a better policy would have been one of openness toward Cuba.

For some reason we were able to fold the USSR with our soft power, but to wield anything less than a militant embargo against a third world country would be sacrilegious?!! Give me a fucking break.

Yeah Castro sucks, but he would have been gone a long time ago if we had been trading nylon pantyhose for cigars this whole time...
posted by wfrgms at 6:31 PM on October 31, 2007

I taught a course about the history of Cuba and the U.S. a couple of years ago. The embargo was established when Cuba represented a real threat to U.S. interests. It was seen by the U.S. and by the Soviets as well as the communist beach head in the Americas. There is something of a debate among historians on how much of a communist Castro was at the start and if the U.S. did not in fact push him into the Soviet camp. But I digress...

The embargo continues entirely because of the south Florida Cuban-American community, who are several hundred thousand strong. Florida is a swing state--a big chunk of electoral votes that can go either way in a presidential election. Those Cuban-Americans are king makers, and they have exactly one issue--continue the embargo.

The irony is that there is no constituency for the embargo in either party, other than the Miami Cubans. On the eve of 9-11 Bush faced a big revolt against the embargo led by farm state Republicans who see Cuba as a potential market. Both the House and the Senate voted to lift the embargo, but Bush allies killed the bill in committee.
posted by LarryC at 6:35 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's one of many examples of the principle of irrational escalation.

(1) Something seems like a good idea at the time.
(2) Powerful people make arguments in favor of that something.
(3) It happens.
(4) Whoops, turned out not to be such a good idea. But abandoning it would prove wrong, hence embarrass (and cost funding to, and incur the enmity of) the people at 2, so ...
(5) Come up with more arguments in favor of the something. Add to the people to be embarrassed and defunded and annoyed.
(6) Go back to 4.

It might even have been a good idea at the time, but the accumulation of justifications have reached the point where it would cost more people more influence to stop it than it does to keep it going.

When Castro dies, it'll probably be called off. A lot of those justifications depend on Castro being in power.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:42 PM on October 31, 2007

I hate to be condescending, but this is a really amazing question. If you are an American citizen and you don't grasp the stupid political tension between the US and Cuba you are not paying attention. A lot of rich people lived in Cuba. They were driven out by the revolution and many came to the US. They harbor resentment. They vote. Cuba was OMG Communist, they still may be. We don't like Communists, officially at least. Cubans vote. Did I mention that? Large governments like the US are plagued with incredible inertia. We are still fighting the Cold War. It was over a decade or more ago. Cuba, although really small, amazingly still fights the Cold War too. Castro is a cruel despot, he kills people who oppose his ideas. He is an easy strawman to oppose. Our leaders are weak and want to use this strawman. It is wrong. It won't change until Castro dies, and if Raul takes over it won't change until he dies. Get over it. I have trouble getting over it. It kind of sucks, but it sucks much more for Cubans. Putin hates us. He might re-adopt Cuba. That would be bad. I am babbling. That is bad.......
posted by caddis at 7:16 PM on October 31, 2007

Caddis, most Americans aren't concerned with foreign policy. Our presidential elections are decided on domestic issues. Bush won election (well, he wasn't "re-elected" that is for sure) in 2004 by playing the "You Could Be Next!" terrorism-crisis card. At the time I literally had family out there in fly over country asking, "Do you really think John Kerry will keep us safe?!?" as if terrorist were going to be targeting their strip malls and Old Country Buffets.

Likewise I'd be willing to bet good money that most Americans couldn't find Cuba on a map. They certainly can't find Israel or Brazil where we dump many billions of dollars propping up corrupt regimes. Hell, most Americans don't even know a Cuban or a Jew. Outside of the cities this is a striking fact that we tend to forget. Most people can't articulate why there is an embargo in Cuba, don't care either way, and certainly aren't interested in a change in the status quo. Amid such a backdrop of ignorance special interests such as the pro-Zionist Jews and the pro-embargo Cubans flourish.
posted by wfrgms at 7:45 PM on October 31, 2007

Mod note: this is a pre-emptive PLEASE DO NOT TURN THIS INTO A CUBA ARGUMENT admin note. It's a straightforward question, answer it or don't but don't start arguing with each other about it, take that to metatalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:48 PM on October 31, 2007

Sorry to derail slightly but can someone please explain to an ignorant Aussie why Cuban-Americans want to continue the embargo?
posted by indienial at 9:24 PM on October 31, 2007

the Cuban government has not compensated US landowners for the propery it expropriated during and immediately after the revolution

Some of the US landowners didn't come by the land honestly.

The embargo was established when Cuba represented a real threat to U.S. interests.

When was that? (If you mean the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union put missiles in Cuba as a response to the US putting missiles into Turkey.)
posted by kirkaracha at 10:30 PM on October 31, 2007

indienial, plenty of Cuban-Americans directly represent families who were disenfranchised of their property by Castro, and Castro is still around. If there had been some sort of political change in Cuba as there had been in so many other Soviet clients things might have changed on our side as well. But it's essentially Castro and the embarrassment of a climb-down after 45 years of saying X. Indeed, many actually believe that the embargo itself has constrained Castro or would eventually force him out -- or they're unwilling, politically, to say otherwise.

The US has a century-plus relationship with Cuba. The first revolution was planned here, then with the Spanish-American war we actually took over the place, and ran it as an arm's-length colony. Some people think of Cuba still as a quasi-province of the US that by thumbing its nose at us is more offensive than just any other old place thumbing its nose at us.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on October 31, 2007

I believe that there is also a significant interest seen by policy-makers in preventing Cuba from flourishing. Cuba has done something of an amazing job at making its economy work despite the economic problems associated with the embargo. They have modified their ownership scemes of cooperatively owned farms, they have implemented a country-wide system of publicly owned and operated farmers markets, and they have managed to build a really great medical infrastructure.

Permitting them to establish normalized economic relationships with the rest of the world? Just not in the interest of the major capitalist power structures of the world. They sleep easy at night knowing that "communism failed." They sleep even easier pretending that they had nothing to do with that failure.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:37 AM on November 1, 2007

As with any issue, if a minority is vocal and the majority is apathetic, then the minority will set the agenda. The only way to change the embargo is to join the growing cadre of people who see the pointlessness of the administration's embargo. There are plenty of groups supporting an end to the embargo, so it is simply a matter of joining their forces and becoming vocal about it.

So many people like to argue that the embargo is all about punishing an evil and despotic regime. The facts are that there are more cruel and despotic regimes that we fully support with billions of tax dollars. Most people making the assertions about Castro's government are making them based on through second-hand or third-hand biased accounts or just based on the party line - "Castro Bad". While I agree that Castro is not good, his level of "evil" should not result in such an unrelenting cold war.
posted by JJ86 at 8:16 AM on November 1, 2007

As with any issue, if a minority is vocal and the majority is apathetic, then the minority will set the agenda. The only way to change the embargo is to join the growing cadre of people who see the pointlessness of the administration's embargo.

Exactly. The vocal minority can often trump the majority if the majority doesn't think it is important enough. This is especially true in the US where the electoral college makes smaller states and key small constituencies in large states disproportionally powerful.

Most Americans I truly think believe the embargo is a bunch of crap. Go to any water-cooler in any office, but those most Americans aren't affected much by it one way or another, so they say "Can you believe this crap? I can't even buy a Cohiba?" and then go back to their cubes.

But for those in Miami who eat, breathe, sleep Cuba and Castro, it is VERY important, and those Cubans can tip the scales in a very close presidential election where ALL the electoral votes in the fourth largest state are up for grabs no matter what the proportion of the actual vote is.

Not to derail, but if the electoral college were ended tomorrow, the Cuban embargo would go, farm welfare for the "heartland" would go or at least be scaled back, probably a lot of other strange shit that the US government does goes too. (Note I am not naive enough to think that ALL of the strange shit US gov't does will end)
posted by xetere at 8:29 AM on November 1, 2007

So, one reason the embargo continues is because Cuban-Americans in Florida want it to.

Why do they want an embargo against Cuba? Don't they have relatives there that they might want to visit, or send money or a box of Christmas cookies to? It seems like it would benefit the average resident of Cuba for the embargo to be lifted, so why do Cuban-Americans oppose this?
posted by yohko at 9:46 AM on November 1, 2007

A lot of rich people lived in Cuba. They were driven out by the revolution and many came to the US.

...and they lost property, which annoys landowners to no end. Plus, they still have influential friends in high places. That's why.
posted by Rash at 10:20 AM on November 1, 2007

Excuse me, but this bit about the power of cuban americans is a bit of a red herring. I'm not going to question the tenacity and vigor in their vehement desire to return Cuba to a plantation society, but the U.S. had an embargo against vietnam until 1994 and no one ever accused that exile community of being the determining factor, electoral college or not. Cuba is being punished because it is the threat of the good example. Small countries that challenge their role in the core-periphery relationship of neocolonialism must be crushed as an example to the other small countries/colonies: this is what the empire does to the slaves that rebel (c.f., Haiti, Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, et al). Even if it seems anachronistic and foolish, it isn't an error ("oops, forgot to quit waging economic and covert war against a small island" isn't exactly "left the bread in the oven too long") or catering to a vocal minority (how many people are vehemently against the wars and they still can't stop it?). The Miami mob are a good backdrop for the ongoing Public Relations facet, but until Cuba buckles under sweatshops taking raw products in and wall street taking the wealth out, the embargo goes on.

In fact, not to toot my own horn, but I have a great map about it at
posted by history is a weapon at 11:24 AM on November 1, 2007

...but the U.S. had an embargo against vietnam until 1994 and no one ever accused that exile community of being the determining factor, electoral college or not.

Well one could argue that if it weren't for the Miami Cubans, the embargo against Cuba would have been lifted in '94 as well. Plus, and correct me if I am wrong, it wasn't illegal for Americans to even *go* to Vietnam, or to purchase *any* Vietnamese product anywhere in the world, regardless of whether or not you bring it back to the states as it is with Cuba. That is what raises the level of the Cuban embargo to something hysterical, emotional, and downright bizarre.

(That's right, if you're an American, smoke a Cuban stogie in Montreal and you are breaking the law even though you take back nothing across the border with you)
posted by xetere at 2:43 PM on November 1, 2007

NB, it isn't even illegal for Americans to go to our current middle east bogey countries, Iran and Syria, although there are probably restrictions.

And while I am aware that the technical Cuba embargo is against spending money rather than travelling, the fact remains that so long as Syria, Iran, or even North Korea let me in, and I can pay for it, I am breaking no US law by being international tourist there. I need no permission from my government, even if there are restrictions in trading with said countries.
posted by xetere at 2:53 PM on November 1, 2007

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