Maybe Is Time To End The Cuban Embargo

logoBy Alex Gonzalez

While the current immigration debate is purely focused on Border Security, low-skilled immigrants, future guest-workers, and citizenship for those immigrants already here, the outdated Cuban Embargo that grants free services to “undocumented” Cubans, and subsequently citizenship, remains untouched. Tragically, this Cold War archaic policy penalizes American citizens and businesses, and although it has failed to topple the Castro Regime, it will continue to encourage more Cubans to come to the U.S. illegally under the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot policy; policy that stems directly from the Cuban Embargo.  As a result,  and even if we overhaul our Broken Immigration system,  the incentive for Cubans to come here illegally,  and the penalties for Americans who want to travel to Cuba to promote trade, will not change until the Embargo is changed, or terminated.

The Treasury Department penalties for Americans traveling to Cuba are about $7,500. The Treasury Department forbids United States citizens to spend money in Cuba without authorization, effectively barring tourist travel. As a result, American citizens must first travel to Canada or Mexico, avoid getting their passport stamped in Cuba, and  not use any credit cards. Conversely, Cubans can legally fly from the U.S. to Cuba while American citizens have to use a third Country to get to Cuba.  Also, under the Embargo, American Corporations and their subsidiaries can be fined one million if they set up operations in Cuba.

Consequently, the Cuban Embargo is relic of the Cold War that does not reflect the economy realities of today’s global economy. Moreover, the Embargo is the only reason why President Clinton signed the Wet-foot, Dry-foot policy; and it is only important to Cuban-Americans who keep insisting that the Republican Party must support the Embargo because Cuba is a communist regime.

However, this argument made by Cuban-Americans no longer can be  utilized as valid since we have open trade relations with China, another communist regime, yet we don’t offer citizenship or benefits’ to all Chinese caught entering the U.S. illegally. Similarly, we don’t punish American citizens traveling to China or corporation doing businesses in China.

So trade with Cuba is a more viable solution to spur economic development in Cuba and liberate the Cuban people. For example, some regions of China, though under a communist regime, have thrived economically thanks to trade; the per capita of residents in those regions has increased up to 10-fold in the last 20 years due to free-trade between China and US and Europe. Thus, in reality, communist regimes can also thrive when restriction on businesses are lower. For instance, Shanghai, China’s largest metropolis, ranks 6th in GDP per capita at $18,400. Other Yangtze Delta metropolitan regions have GDPs per capita between $10,000 and $15,000. There two very important distinctions:  communist is political ideology; and free trade is economic system. Both system  can coexist, as it is the case in China.

And even Paul Ryan and Rand Paul have noticed that the Embargo is outdated. Pau Ryan has repeatedly argued that ‘we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba. The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy.” Ryan has also voted three times to lift the Embargo.

In addition, Doug Bandow from the CATO Institute also argues that it “Time to End the Cuba Embargo” because:

The U.S. government has waged economic war against the Castro regime for half a century. The policy may have been worth a try during the Cold War, but the embargo has failed to liberate the Cuban people…  However, the end of the Cold War left Cuba strategically irrelevant. It is a poor country with little ability to harm the United States.  Similarly, the “embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hardliners.” Almost two decades later, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, retains faith in the embargo: “The sanctions on the regime must remain in place and, in fact, should be strengthened, and not be altered”…The embargo survives largely because of Florida’s political importance. Every presidential candidate wants to win the Sunshine State’s electoral votes, and the Cuban American community is a significant voting bloc.

Therefore, traditionally, the main reason why the Republican Party nationally has supported the Embargo was because of Cold War, and with hope of winning the Cuban vote in Florida to capture the Electoral votes in the state. However, for the last two presidential elections, 60 percent of Cubans in Florida voted for President Obama. Therefore, there is no longer a  practical political incentive for Republican Party to support the outdated Embargo, which is more beneficial for Cuban Democrat in New Jersey where Sen. Menendez repeatedly introduced legislations to strengthen the Embargo while creating more legislations banning American from taking flights from the U.S. to Cuba.

The fact is that The GOP platform on Cuba is held  hostage by “embolden hardliners” Cuban “emmigrees” from South Florida–and New Jersey–who have monopolized the politics of Florida and want any policies toward Cuba to be centered around the Cuban Embargo. For example, while running for Vice President, and even thought Ryan had voted three times to lift the embargo, Paul Ryan was forced to recant his statement on the Embargo after he supposedly was “educated” in Florida about the Embargo.

These pre-Marielito “Cuban hardliners” in Florida built their fortunes and political monopoly around Politics of the Cold War and anti-Castro fervor. So now they pressure Cuban-American Senators Rubio, Menendez–and Now Cruz–of avoid any changes to the Embargo at the expense of American citizens who want travel to Island or do business in the island.

The Cuba Embargo and the Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot Policy

Another important reason why these groups of  old “hardliners” in Florida and New Jersey want to avoid any changes to the Embargo is because the preferential immigration toward undocumented Cubans who touch U.S. soil. The Wet-foot, Dry-foot policy was implemented in 1995 under Cuban Adjustment Act. This is the informal named given to a 1995 agreement under which Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) are sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The policy, formally known as the U.S.-Cuba Immigration Accord, has been written into law as an amendment to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that allows Cubans to get permanent residency, citizenship, and government services.

 

 If you look the chart, you can see that even if  the U.S. Coast Guard strengthen it operations, it does not halt Cuban immigration since more Cuban come through Mexico illegally.

What happens to Cubans who illegally make it to U.S. soil either by walking to at Border Patrol or Customs agent, or after reaching shore in Florida?  Cubans, after two year of collecting Social Security benefits, are eligible to apply for a change in legal status that makes them eligible for an immigrant visa (green card) and eventually, U.S. citizenship. The policy applies to undocumented aliens from Cuba only. Hence, a Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. illegally, and after collecting social Security benefits, can apply for Citizenship within five years. Essentially free ride to citizenship for coming here illegally.

Republicans traditionally would agree with this policy since the idea was that Cubans will vote Republican. But this is longer a practical approach since 60% of Cubans in Florida vote Democrats and 80% of Cubans in New Jersey vote Democrat.  Thus, the Embargo is used mainly to create laws again American citizens.

Also, changes to Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which categorized Cubans as the only subset of foreign national illegible to collect federal benefits. Thus, Cubans get all the benefits of citizens upon arrival. According to Congressional Research Report, any Cuban couple that enters illegally, once process under the wet-foot dry-foot policy, became eligible to collect $959 each month.And these benefits and citizenship this have become a magnet for Cubans who are now economic immigrants as opposed to political refugees.

For places like Texas, the population of Cuban immigrants have increased because Raul Castro passed a decree making it easier for citizens to travel outside the country.  As a result, the U.S. Coast Guard has been on high alert, making water crossings to Florida risky. So Cuban immigrant now come through Mexico illegally where they only need to approach Border Patrol or Customs agent at any port of entry and claim asylum, and thrreby, receive the benefits of the Wet-foot, Dry-foot policy. So no matter how high the “fences” are, or how tough  Border Security gets at the Mexican border, fences will not stop Cubans from coming to the U.S. to get government services and obtain citizenship.

But these policies against U.S. citizens and businesses, and benefits for Cubans, stem directly from the Cuba Embargo; and hence, the opposition to any changes from Dem. Senator Menendez of New Jersey and Cuban pre-Marielito  “ hardliners” in South Florida. But, there is not real political incentive for the GOP any more since even with the Embargo in place “Cubans are moving Left” in Florida and New Jersey. Likewise, the views of those Cuban “hardliners” are no longer appealing to all Cubans or conservative economists like Paul Ryan who believe that the best way to end the Castro regime is through free trade with Cuba.

Sure there are Cuban-American activists within the Heritage Foundation like Mike Gonzalez and Al Cárdenas, President of  CPAC, attempting to persuade conservatives with antiquated Cold War rhetoric that the Embargo is a patriotic American ideal against communism and therefore the Republican Party must continue to support the Embargo. But the views of  Mr. Gonzalez and Cardenas regarding the Embargo represent only the views of those in South Florida and should not be the views of the entire Republican Party, nor are the  views of Latinos in the Southwest who want the U.S. to promote more free trade throughout South America and stronger trade ties with Mexico.

And, if you move in Conservative circles in Texas, you can see that some of these “hardliners” have relocated to Texas to promote this faulty idea of building fences while keeping an open-door policy for Cubans at the border.

And if indeed Cuban activists within the Republican Party still want Cuban immigrants to be treated humanely, Cuban immigrants need to be part of the new Immigration Reform and be placed on 10 years waiting period before the an apply for green cards or to receive services, just like anybody else in the proposed immigration bill, until they “earn” their path to citizenship. Or have their relative pay for services provided to them without any burden to tax payers.

Therefore, the embargo has become burden Americans and businesses who want to engage in free enterprise. And because of outdated Cold War policies, the Embargo has become part of the broken immigration system that grants benefits and citizenship to any Cuban immigrants that make it to American soil. If we end Embargo, there is no need for a  Cuban Wet-foot, Dry-foot policy and its  predecessors the Cuban Adjustment Act.

The Embargo is supposed to be a conservative American ideal against Communism, but there is no longer a  need to punish American citizens and business who want to engage in free market American Capitalism when most Europe, Asia, Canada, and Mexico already investing in Cuba. In other words, the Republican Party should not be held hostage by Cuban activists to an outdated policy that punishes American Citizens and business. A better example on how to fix the Cuban Embargo is opening up the door to business like we did in China.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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