Watch Their Language! On listening to the Bipartisan Calls to End the Cuba Embargo

This morning, before an audience gathered at Florida International University, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all. We should replace it with a smarter approach that empowers the Cuban private sector, Cuban civil society, and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and keep pressure on the regime.”

Earlier this week, Representative Tom Emmer wrote in an op-ed arguing that none of the aims of U.S. policy are achievable with the embargo still in place. The Minnesota Republican said ending trade restrictions would advance the goals of human rights, free expression, and open markets in Cuba. This week, Emmer did more than talk; he introduced legislation to repeal the embargo with Rep. Kathy Castor, a Florida Democrat.

What are we in the U.S. supposed to think when a Democratic candidate for President of the United States and a Republican elected to the Congress in 2014 use the same language to increase public support to end the embargo that was used for decades to defend sanctions?

Let’s start by recognizing that Secretary Clinton and Rep. Emmer are right to call for the trade embargo to end. Restrictions on trade and travel hurt Cubans economically and demonstrate disregard for their country’s sovereignty, which hurts our relations with Cuba and the nations of Latin America more broadly.

These policies have also prevented the people of our country from traveling freely, exchanging with Cuban citizens from whom we have much to learn, and deprive U.S. companies of opportunities for profit and job-creation by locking them out of the Cuban market.

Emmer framed his bill and Clinton framed her Cuba policy speech by defining repeal of the embargo as an expression of the U.S. national interest.

Then, by coincidence or design, Emmer and Clinton both used language most likely to win the most valuable new converts to their cause: those least likely to change their minds because they are angry at Cuba’s government or still hold out hope that after more than 50 years sanctions will finally begin to work.

Social science tells us that if you if you want someone to accept a new perspective make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

Instead, talk to them, as Tom Emmer does, in ways that connect the case for ending the embargo to their most cherished values. As he said to a reporter for USA Today:

“I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand. But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government – it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”

The literature also says you can advance the argument further by providing information to people that they also assume to be true. This was undoubtedly why Secretary Clinton said that Cubans “want to buy our goods, read our books, surf our web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century. That is the road toward democracy and dignity,” she said, “And we should walk it together.”

Their language advocating an end to the embargo must have been very effective, since it appeared to make supporters of the U.S. sanctions strategy very nervous – given their reactions.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, lectured Secretary Clinton that she’d gotten the politics wrong – she was energizing voters who disagree with her position, operating on the basis of manipulated, unreliable polls – and allowed herself to be “walked down a political plank.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio called her position “a grave mistake” and an act of “appeasement.”

Jeb Bush said that Secretary Clinton is endorsing “a retreat in the struggle for democracy in Cuba,” and he called her speech “insulting to many residents of Miami.”

Of course, it depends what your definition of “many” is. A call to action “Join us to protest Hillary demanding the lifting of Cuban embargo” produced what Politico called “a relatively muted response from about two dozen participants.”

To us, this is storm and fury signifying little.

The hardliners know — as we do — that when conservatives unite behind a policy that’s consistent with their values, joined by businesses who believe the policy is good for their bottom lines, joined by foreign policy icons declaring the strategic interests of the U.S. will be realized by trading with Cuba rather than isolating it, joining the faith community, and joining experts and advocates who’ve been here all along – this is how great causes gather momentum.

In losing the battle for language, they are really losing the war on policy. Even if some of the rhetoric seems a little stale, the debate has actually shifted and the wind has already changed course.



Campaigning in Miami, Secretary Hillary Clinton calls on Congress to end Cuba embargo

In a speech delivered today at Florida International University, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the U.S.-Cuba policy debate as a choice between engagement and embargo, saying, “The Cuba embargo needs to go once and for all.”

Clinton, running in the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination, acknowledged before an audience at FIU’s Miami campus, that she had previously supported sanctions against Cuba, but that her views changed during her tenure as Secretary of State, as the Washington Post reported.

As President, Clinton said she would push for an end to the embargo, a next step she called “crucial” to continue progress made on the island. As reported by CBS News, Secretary Clinton challenged the leadership of the current Congress to change the policy:

“Today I am calling on [House] Speaker [John] Boehner and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell to step up and answer the pleas of the Cuban people…By large majorities, they want a closer relationship with America.”

If Congress failed to act, Clinton promised to use her executive authority to continue building ties between Cubans and Americans.

According to Reuters and other news agencies, Clinton warned against reversing the Obama Administration’s changes to Cuba policy, as several candidates for the Republican nomination for President, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, have suggested they would do.

Clinton maintained that returning to a policy of isolation would benefit no one more than “hardliners in Havana,” making the case that this would amount to a strategic failure and tragedy for the Cuban people.

In a statement released before Clinton’s speech, Senator Rubio said, “Unilateral concessions to the Castros will only strengthen a brutal, anti-American regime 90 miles from our shore.”

Clinton said she supports the recent efforts of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, and recalled her own recommendation as Secretary of State to President Obama to work to lift the embargo of Cuba. Clinton was encouraged by policy changes implemented in 2009 and 2011 to encourage unlimited family travel and remittances, as well as to open opportunities for religious, academic and people-to-people visits to the island.

“Small businesses started opening, cell phones proliferated. I then became convinced that building ties between Cubans and Americans could be the best way to promote political and economic change on the island,” Clinton said, arguing that the U.S. should “double down” on a policy of engagement.

“What makes Secretary Clinton’s speech profound is her recognition that a policy of engagement rather than embargo offers the best way to realize U.S. interests in Cuba and the region, and to ensure that Cubans write the next chapter in their country’s future,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

Florida International University conducts a highly respected survey of public opinion among Cuban Americans living in South Florida. Its 2014 poll found that 52% of Cuban Americans opposed continuing the embargo while a larger majority, 68%, supported restoring diplomatic relations.

After Cuba trip, GOP Congressman seeks bipartisan repeal of Cuba embargo

Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-6), a Republican elected to Congress in 2014, and Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14), a five-term Democrat whose Congressional district includes Tampa and St. Petersburg, introduced legislation this week to eliminate provisions of U.S. law that restrict trade with Cuba.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Emmer called Cuba a “natural market” for businesses in Minnesota and across the United States, and described opening trade relations as being “in the best interests of the Cuban people.”

Rep. Castor said ending the trade embargo “will advance human rights and lift the fortunes of families and entrepreneurs on both sides of the Florida Straits [and give] a boost to our port and local small businesses in Florida.”

Rep. Emmer briefed House GOP leaders and Cuban American colleagues on his effort to lift the embargo, but didn’t expect everyone would be “thrilled” about it. “I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand,” Emmer said. “But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government – it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”

Rep. Emmer told USA Today he decided to introduce his bill to repeal the embargo after his trip to Cuba earlier this year – he visited the island with a bipartisan delegation led by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which publishes the Cuba Central Newsblast.

“It really makes a difference when you see the facts on the ground,” said Sarah Stephens, the Center’s Executive Director. “You get an understanding that a measured, gradual opening is best for us and for Cuba.”

Rep. Castor made her first trip to Cuba in 2013, also with the Center for Democracy in the Americas. Castor returned convinced that the U.S. should engage with the island. “Cuba is changing. They have embarked on economic reforms that the United States of America should promote.” Castor said at the time. The United States of America now should normalize relations and begin a constructive dialogue with the island nation.”

Since traveling to Cuba two years ago, Castor has been a champion for the Tampa business community’s efforts to increase travel and trade to the island.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, sought to dampen expectations for repealing the embargo, pointing to recent House votes to roll back several of President Obama’s recent Cuba policy changes. “If anyone is trying to imply that somehow, within a couple of months, 61 members of the House of Representatives are going to flip, I think they have an unpleasant surprise coming.”

But Steven Law, President and CEO of the conservative Super PAC American Crossroads, who also advises the pro-normalization advocacy group Engage Cuba, thinks more members are going to follow Emmer. Law noted, “A lot of Republicans started out with the reflexive view that if Obama was behind it, there’s something wrong with it. But I think that’s changing. A lot of these members are hearing from constituents that it’s a new day and we need a new policy to respond to those changes.”

In June, Senator Jerry Moran (KS), a Republican, introduced similar legislation to end the trade embargo with Maine Senator Angus King, an Independent.

U.S. removes Cuba from its worst offender list in annual human trafficking report

Acknowledging the island’s “significant efforts” to comply with its minimum standards for combatting human trafficking, the U.S. State Department upgraded Cuba from Tier 3 status to Tier 2 Watch List status this week in its 2015 Trafficking in Persons report.

The United States first added Cuba to its Tier 3 list in 2003.

Senator Marco Rubio, a critic of the Obama Administration’s effort to reset relations with Havana, criticized the report as politically motivated. “It is important that … a country’s rating not be determined by political considerations but by the country’s record on this issue,” Rubio commented. “For example, I find it difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record.”

As we recently explained, the State Department report assesses the efforts of countries to comply with minimum standards to combat all forms of human trafficking set forth by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. According to the annual report, Tier 1 countries are compliant with the minimum standards, Tier 2 countries are making significant efforts to comply, Tier 2 Watch List countries are making significant efforts but have problems, such as an inability to produce sufficient evidence of their efforts, and Tier 3 countries are not making significant efforts to comply with the U.S. minimum standards to combat all forms of human trafficking. Tier 3 designated countries can be subject to sanctions.

For the past two years, the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons reports have described efforts by Cuba to combat human trafficking, including cooperating with foreign authorities’ investigations and providing information to the public on the government’s efforts to combat trafficking, which include 13 criminal prosecutions, acceding to the United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol and inviting the UN Rapporteur on Trafficking to visit the island, and designating the Ministry of Labor and Social as the lead agency coordinating government-wide efforts. The latest report continues to identify deficiencies in Cuba’s efforts and makes recommendations to improve them, including to pass new, comprehensive legislation that would cover all forms of trafficking.

Since President Obama’s December 17th announcement that he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba, his Administration has issued regulations to loosen certain restrictions on trade with and travel to the island, removed Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, re-established formal diplomatic relations and, now, has upgraded Cuba’s status in its annual human trafficking report.

U.S. and Cuban scientists collaborate to study rare orchids

New scientific collaborations are becoming possible due to warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba, reports the Associated Press. In July, researcher Ernesto Mujica of Cuba’s Ministry of Science ECOVIDA Research Center joined colleagues from the University of Florida and Illinois College to study the rare ghost orchid flower in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Dr. Mujica waited two years for his visa to be approved, which was finally achieved with help from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Illinois College President Dr. Barbara Farley, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Illinois College researcher Dr. Lawrence Zettler said that scientists “hope to compare ghost orchid populations in southwest Florida to those in Cuba as a means of better understanding the species’ specific habitat requirements and needs for continued survival,” adding that this U.S.-Cuban scientific collaboration demonstrates, “how cooperation between our two countries may help at least one rare species in peril.”

The team of scientists documented the endangered ghost orchids and for the first time ever was able to bring Cuban innovation to improve long-term identification and monitoring methods of the rare flowers. Prior to Mujica’s contribution, there were eleven known ghost orchids cataloged in the Panther Refuge; now scientists have identified more than 80 new orchids, according to Tom Mackenzie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mackenzie said that this “would not have been possible without years of persistence and the recent, history-making improvements in U.S. relations with Cuba.” As we have previously reported, the U.S. scientific community has welcomed closer relations with Cuba as a boon for science that holds the potential for beneficial medical and environmental advancements.



Sherritt CEO sees brighter future in Cuba

Canadian oil and mineral company Sherritt International Corporation is optimistic about its business on the island as relations continue to warm between the U.S. and Cuba, reports the Toronto Star. Despite flagging oil and nickel prices in recent years that have hit Sherritt’s bottom line, causing the company to lay off 60 employees last fall, CEO David Pathe sees growing opportunity in Cuba.

Sherritt has done business in Cuba for over 20 years and is the island’s largest foreign investor, producing two-thirds of Cuba’s oil and holding 50 percent ownership of the Moa nickel and cobalt mining joint venture with the Cuban government. While Pathe says that Cuba is a “remarkably stable place to do business,” Sherritt has had to cope with “negative connotations” of conducting business on the island and serious practical impediments. Due to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Sherritt executives are banned from entering or doing business with the U.S., as we previously reported.

Ending trade restrictions between the U.S. holds the potential for significant cost savings if Sherritt were able to access U.S. ports to sell oil and use high-quality American-made mining equipment. U.S. heavy equipment company Caterpillar has long supported ending the embargo and would relish selling equipment into the Cuban market.

Pathe maintains that ending the embargo “would be a big benefit to us. I think it would change the way our assets are viewed and remove some of the stigma that, from our experience, has been somewhat overblown, and that has the potential to create new opportunities for us.”

Bioven seeks IPO to help market Cuban cancer drug

Malaysian biotech company Bioven is seeking an initial public offering (IPO) which will help provide the company with the financial resources it needs to more quickly move a Cuban-developed cancer drug to market, reports the Financial Times.

Bioven acquired rights to the drug developed over the past 25 years by the Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM). As we previously reported, CIM also reached an agreement with Roswell Park Cancer Institute to begin clinical trials in the U.S. following the trade mission led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in April.

The drug, known as CimaVax, has been described as a lung cancer vaccine, and showed promise in mid-stage trials, extending the survival of younger patients an average of 6.5 months longer than existing treatments.

Bioven CEO Stephen Drew, formerly an executive at GlaxoSmithKline, believes the closer relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will help open Cuba to more foreign investment and research in biotechnology. But he pointed out that companies such as Bioven, which already have longstanding relationships with Cuba, would retain an advantage over newer players.



Surpluses and shortages in the Cuban economy

Inefficiencies in Cuba’s economic system are creating bottlenecks in the construction industry and other sectors with implications for the country’s economic growth and employment goals, according to Progreso Weekly.

Construction work is often delayed and difficult to complete due to insufficient production of key goods like concrete. Yariel, a Camagüey construction manager, told Progreso, “To do construction work in Cuba, it’s not enough to have money or work crews. You also need a lot of luck and patience because, when you least expect it, you have to stop production for something as unusual as the unavailability of wire mesh for reinforcements.”

Production shortages can be exacerbated by hoarding in the bureaucratic chain, which particularly affects the construction sector. For example, cement producers operate routinely produce below capacity because their stores are overflowing. Economist Juan Triana argues that inefficiencies arise because of over-centralization, which affects Cuba’s ability to sell goods abroad: “Worst is the need to apply constantly for permits. That excessive centralization has generated one of our worst ills: our minimal capacity to export.”

Periodic shortages of domestic goods such as toiletries and appliances can also be attributed to the lack of purchasing power from foreign countries and various inefficiencies in the Cuban production, distribution, and commercialization systems. Wholesale markets have not been widely created, which makes it hard to get both imported and domestic goods to market. Market inefficiencies such as lack of wholesaling also present challenges to entrepreneurs who need supplies, as we have previously analyzed.


Recommended Reading

Cuba Through the Eyes of the Poet Richard Blanco, By Michael T. Luongo, New York Times

Poet Richard Blanco shares insights about his visits to Cuba as the U.S. and Cuba begin to normalize relations.

Alabama has a proud, rich history with Cuba, we should capitalize on it, By John Hammontree, Alabama Media Group

Columnist John Hammontree describes the fascinating history between Alabama and Cuba and argues that Alabama should be at the forefront of deepening the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

Lift travel and trade restrictions on Cuba, Boston Globe Editorial Board

The Boston Globe Editorial Board argues that the U.S. embargo against Cuba should be lifted, citing inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy and the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions.

The U.S. now has an embassy in Cuba, but relations are hardly normal, by Nick Miroff, The Washington Post

From figuring out how to help U.S. companies make business connections after more than 50 years, to how to handle invitations to the August 14th flag raising ceremony with Secretary Kerry in Havana, Nick Miroff explores how having a U.S. embassy in Cuba once again offers a new set of challenges.

Is Cuban music about to blow up in America?, By April Clare Welsh, The Fader

April Clare Welsh examines how the Cuban music industry may be affected by the changing relationship between Cuba and the U.S., as the American music industry is increasing its attention to the island.


Recommended Viewing

PHOTOS: Cuba as it was – A glimpse of life before the US arrives, Sarah L. Voisin, The Washington Post

The Tico Times presents a series of photographs of Cuban daily life by Washington Post photographer Sarah L. Voisin.

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