Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Cuban Trade Embargo: On the Eve of Its Repeal

The following exchange took place at Cubanet over the ten days preceding President Barack Obama's announcement that he would re-establish diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba unilaterally and without prior conditions, exactly as the Castro regime has always demanded and as his predecessors from either party refused to do for 54 years. In contravention of U.S. law, Obama has announced that he will do everything within his power and outside his authority to nullify the trade embargo, and, in effect, make this country Castro's economic sponsor as it has been the guarantor of Communism in Cuba since the Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact (which itself has never been nullified). I had no idea when I had this exchange with "Ilumar" that we were discussing what was already a dead letter. I do not think that he was aware of what was in the offing either. Still, his indoctrination was so complete and his demeanor so  shameless, I suspected that he had some tie to the Cuban Interests Section. Whether naturally or by design, Ilumar was the perfect foil. Slavish to the point of caricature, but not smart enough to avoid entangling himself in his own arguments, Ilumar's type is now extinct because superfluous. There are no more arguments to be made against the embargo. Their side has prevailed because a president as ignorant and duplicitous as they come has decreed that 55 years of slavery is not enough for the Cuban people and that their masters should not be deprived of their human chattel, nor the U.S. of the opportunity to exploit them as well, which the embargo, if nothing else, preempted. No, the embargo did not topple Fidel Castro; but lifting the embargo will assure the continuation of Castroism — that is, of a corporate fascist state in Cuba — for the duration of its geological life. The Great Capitulator has seem to that.

MANUEL TELLECHEA If a man refuses to speak to you except with the understanding that nothing that he tells you can ever be repeated by you, then you are either in a papal conclave or in a meeting with Ernesto Londoño, The New York Times' reincarnated Herbert Matthews. How can such a one-sided exchange of opinions — with Castro's subjects openly expressing their views on the record and possibly to their peril while the editorial writer from the so-called "newspaper of record" decrees that nothing which he says can be on record, nor considered "fit to print" — how can such a meeting of unequals be said to have been held "in an atmosphere of mutual respect," as reported in your publication. What respect does a man have for you as a fellow professional, or, indeed, as a fellow human being, who would censor those who are already censored. And yet, you somehow feel honored to have been singled-out for his disdain, and believe that your words are safe in his keeping! His bogus apprehensions about you should be your real apprehensions about him. Your only defense against his proven malice and ill-will is to do what he has forbidden you to do. You have no moral or ethical obligation to abet his mischief with your silence. Speak. Isn't that what this is all about?

ILUMAR Someone in an investigative mission collects information, does not provide opinions. It is perfectly OK for Mr. Londoño to stipulate that any statement by him be off the record. Although he would avoid expressing opinions, it is to be expected that in discussing subjects and trying to clarify an issue, Mr. Londoño would make statements that he doesn't want published, not necessarily because he tries to hide his views, but because it is not his intent to be quoted. Further, he has to mind the distinct possibility that he will be quoted out of context, distorting the meaning of his words, making him a protagonist in the news story. I am not a newspaperman, but I have gathered that knowledge by simple observation and a bit of logical thinking.

MANUEL TELLECHEA Mr. Londoño is not an investigative reporter but an expounder of opinions (i.e. editorial writer), and his opinions are very privileged indeed if they must be confined to the pages of his paper. Mr. Londoño is also, apparently, a believer that a picture is worth a thousand of his words, because he also refused to be photographed with the independent Cuban journalists. He had no compunction, however, about being interviewed by or photographed with the staff of the regime organ Granma. In fact, Londoño himself posted those photographs on Facebook. Anyone who has ever talked to The New York Times or any other media on the record has risked the possibility that he would be "quoted out of context, distorting the meaning of his words." Nowadays, however, most interviews are recorded, and this interview certainly was, if not by the participants then by Cuban State Security, which no doubt has compiled an interesting dossier on Mr. Londoño during his two weeks on the island. But it is not Castro's henchmen whom Londoño fears, only his victims.

ILUMAR I think that the issue I addressed was whether or not Mr. Londoño was correct in demanding that he not be quoted. He does not have to be technically an investigative reporter to be in a fact-gathering mission. As an editorialist of the NY Times, he is part of a committee and can’t go around spreading opinions on delicate or controversial issues while representing the paper. If I were him you would not catch me dead making public statements of my personal views. Therefore, I stick to my thinking that Mr. Londoño’s requiring that he not be quoted makes a lot of sense.

 You go into other issues which are your take of the situation, and certainly not mine. Londoño refused to be quoted by the “independent journalists” while giving a collective interview published by, well, it was his prerogative to do so. Let’s face it, he knows who are the people positively receptive to his views and who are the people who would try to trip him, misquote him and harm his position. In any case, an interview is quite different from a private discussion, which is what he had with the Cubanet people. In the published interview he spoke of facts, such as seeing more openness for opinions in Cuba, but did not make editorial comments that he cannot make.

And there you go assuming, but stating as a fact, that every word of Mr. Londoño during his visits was secretly recorded by the Cuban government. I guess that you give your opinions even if you do not have hard proof on hand, and so can I. I think that those “independent journalists” respond to American government agencies, and are paid by them. I have heard of hard proof of this but I am not researching it now. Needless to say, I agree 99% with every one of the NYT editorials in which Mr. Londoño is involved. And it looks that the majority of Cubans residents of the USA do too, although they are not represented in Cubanet. Check this out:

MANUEL TELLECHEA Your premise that a newspaperman cannot voice a private opinion because it might be at variance with his public opinion presupposes a level of hypocrisy in journalism that would surpass even that in politics. In Londoño's case, I believe that you do him a great injustice. He is undoubtedly an apologist for the Castro regime whether he's on the job or not. And, of course, he felt more at home among "people positively receptive to his views," that is, among Castro's minions at Granma whose opinions he parrots and whose discretion he can rely upon. I don't think that he was afraid that Cuba's independent journalists "would try to trip him," but, rather, that he would trip himself and expose his monumental ignorance about Cuba. Under such circumstances, perhaps silence is best (for him).

ILUMAR A member of the Times' Editorial Board does not go around shooting his mouth up in front of terribly biased and antagonistic people. Mr. Londoño probably doesn't want to disclose a position not yet discussed in a meeting of the Board to which he belongs. I do not think that in his interview at the he went out of his way to express subjective opinions. What I find is that the mere fact that he did not take the opportunity at either meeting to verbally trash the Cuban government is taken by you and the Cubans like you, not a majority, as proof that he is a Castro apologist and that he is ignorant about Cuba. What else is new? That routine has been playing for so long.

 Mr. Londoño's opinions so far are very close to mine, and I am a Cuban immigrant who happens to be in the majority of Cubans on this issue, not even counting the wonderful people currently residing in Cuba who are my primary concern. To us, for example, the embargo and the provisions that make it a "bloqueo" is an absolute disgrace. 188 to 2 was the vote at the UN, remember? It is clear that that terrible policy has politically helped the Cuban government, but the compelling point against it is that it has been profoundly detrimental to the well-being of your compatriots as the policy unabashedly set out to be. On the issue of exchanging the three remaining Cubans in American prisons (unjustly convicted of espionage) for the American operative, Mr. Alan Gross (too harshly sentenced), I also agree with the Times editorials. Right wingers, on the other hand, don't see the humanitarian aspect of that exchange, or don't seem to care.

 There is no need to continue this discussion between us as our positions are clear, opposite, and without much chance for agreement, as it has always been.

MANUEL TELLECHEA You are right in one respect: our positions are clear, opposite and irreconcilable. Mine, of course, is the majority position among both Cubans on the island and in exile. The fact that the Castro dynasty has ruled Cuba for 55 years without the benefit of free elections proves not only that it is an illegitimate government, but also that it knows that it does not have the support of its people. The fact that no Cuban has ever been elected to the U.S. Congress, at any time, who supported the end of the embargo or the restoration of diplomatic ties with the regime proves that Cubans in the United States today are as opposed to Castro's dictatorship as any previous generation. My side has to wait for the deaths of two octogenarians for democracy to prevail in Cuba. Your side must await the annihilation of 12 million Cubans on the island and two million in exile for there to exist a consensus for the continuation of their legacy.

ILUMAR I must say something: in what the heck world do you live? To say that the majority of Cubans anywhere support the embargo, (to reduce this to one issue) is basically saying that Cubans want to starve themselves to see if in that manner they gather the fortitude to take action against the government (which is the premise of the embargo), and that presumes that they are cruel and stupid, which conditions only apply to a small part of the US Cubans, the ones who vote detestable politicians to US congress. I suppose you don't believe in surveys, and, more surprisingly, you don't believe in common sense or evidence. You are outrageous, sir.

MANUEL TELLECHEA So you are in fact admitting that for 55 years the Castro regime has starved the Cuban people rather than recognize their civil and human rights, which is all that would have been required for the embargo to end. The embargo, however, never forbade the exportation of food and medicine to the island. If starving the Cuban people into embracing freedom and democracy were its object, it certainly left some big loopholes which have only grown as the embargo has been relaxed through the years. At present, Communist Cuba can purchase anything it wants from the U.S. except armaments. Of course, it must pay for what it buys upfront and is not eligible for government-backed credit. Having exhausted its credit with every other country in the world — and stiffed every other country in the world — the Castro regime desperately wants the U.S. to extend a line of credit so that it can continue its parasitic existence for a while longer. This is what "lifting the embargo" signifies for Communist Cuba today: being financially underwritten by and dependent upon the "yanquis."

 We are agreed that Cubans do not want to starve, but they do not blame the U.S. embargo for their plight but the catastrophic economic model which Castro imposed at the start of the Revolution, which reduced a country with the third-highest GNP in the Western Hemisphere to a mendicant state whose largest export and source of income is slave labor (before 1991 it was cannon fodder).

No, Cubans do not want to starve, nor do their exiled relatives in the U.S. want them to starve (the largest source of revenue for Cubans are cash remittances from abroad). The only one with an interest in starving the Cuban people is Castro himself, who has always used food as an instrument of state control.

ILUMAR No, I did not admit what you say I admitted, period. I said, to put it differently, that Cubans that want the embargo to stay, cruelly and stupidly act against their own interests, because the intent of the embargo (not that of the Cuban government) is that the people of Cuba starve and no good Cuban would wish them to starve. The ultimate purpose at its inception was of course that the "starvation" leads them to rebel and depose the government just to effect a change that would cause the US to stop the embargo, and they would rebel not necessarily because they blame the government for their vicissitudes, although many would blame it because of confusion. That rebellion has not occurred and every day it is farther from ever occurring.

The embargo can be called an extortion. It reminds me of an election in Nicaragua where the premise was: if the anti-Sandinista wins the election, the war, the aggression ends. Otherwise, the war continues. Talk about influencing democratic elections! Democratic institutions do not develop or work well in a state of war. Stop all aggression against Cuba to increase the possibility of an improvement of civil liberties on the island.

 I do not at all share your opinion that the US embargo is now significantly relaxed, that food, medicine and medical equipment flow to Cuba unharmed by the embargo, that the main problem with Cuban commerce is its bad credit, and other fallacies. You seem to forget that the "embargo" is in fact an economic blockade that punishes foreign companies. The main question remains for those who use your arguments: If the embargo is so benign, why not lift it altogether and thus shut up its detractors: those 188 countries, the pope and virtually everyone else, including (it is crazy to deny it) the great majority of Cubans everywhere? Why not gain the political upper hand and then brag: "see, they keep on sinking, told you so"? My answer is - they don't lift it because Cuba would rise and certain American political circles would be damaged when that is exposed.

 Although poor in terms of material riches, Cuba is a country of high standards in many areas of human rights, the most important being those human rights that lead to long and healthy lives. Imagine what Cuba could be if it is just simply allowed to exercise unfettered the human right of international commerce.

 Only if you misinterpret something material that I said, would I reply to you again on this issue. I hope it is not necessary.

MANUEL TELLECHEA Now you have admitted that an improvement in civil liberties is necessary on the island and that such an improvement will not come until the U.S. agrees to underwrite financially the Castro regime (i.e. lift the embargo without prior conditions).

 There is no "human right of international commerce," as you put it, but if there were such a right, Communist Cuba, which has trade relations with over 200 countries, exercises that "right" fully and without constraint. If a U.S. blockade of the island were in fact in place, Cuba would not be able to trade with any country.

 The U.S. has no obligation under international law to trade with Cuba or with any other country, and if 188 nations think that it does or should, then 188 nations are wrong. All of these countries as well as the Vatican supported economic sanctions on South Africa, and it was their united front that brought down apartheid there. If Cubans had received as much solidarity from the world community, apartheid on the island would also have been long ago extinguished. But the craven institution that is the United Nations reserves its solidarity for leftist tyrants and not their beleaguered subjects.

ILUMAR You and the "admissions" of mine, LOL. Well, yes, civil liberties can be improved if the aggression ends, for there would be no need to keep paid foreign operatives tightly in check. Yes, the US has no obligation to trade with Cuba but has no right to interfere with Cuba's trading with other nations, foreign companies, foreign financial institutions, and that the US does. Hell, Cuba can't get a bank in Washington DC to handle its Interest Section financial affairs!

 You have a funny way to portray what is the meaning of ending the embargo. I will not dispute your view, but add that to me ending the embargo means (1) not interfering with Cuba's right to trade with other nations in order to sustain its economy and improve the livelihood of its people; (2) at least continue trading with Cuba under the present terms, no financing required. (3) Let the Americans visit Cuba as tourists without limitation (it is their right to visit a friendly and safe country!).

I think that further improvement in the US trade with Cuba will occur upon realization that the US companies are missing out on profits. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

MANUEL TELLECHEA The trade embargo is not a policy that can be altered by presidential fiat. According to U.S. law, the trade embargo cannot be lifted until certain preconditions have been met, in particular, the formation of a Cuban government which is the product of free elections and is not headed by either Fidel or Raúl Castro.

What a moral victory could be achieved by anti-embargo proponents like yourself if you could only convince these superannuated tyrants to do what Pinochet did and retire! But they are determined to do what no Cuban dictator has ever done in history — die in his own bed. And if the Cuban people must endure another decade of slavery and starvation to make this possible, so be it. José Martí wrote that "No man is worth more than an entire people." Fidel and Raúl beg to differ.


Vana said...

Wow! What an idiot, you tripped him good.

My friend no one but us understands, not being Cuban is what trips the whole world, they don't realize that the real embargo is the one handed out by the castros to our poor unfortunate people.

Marisela Verena is right: El mundo se divide exactamente a la mitad, nosotros los Cubanos-y el resto de la humanidad.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Dear Vana:

The world does not understand us because, unlike us, it can no longer distinguish between good and evil; right and wrong; predator and prey; justice and injustice; truth and falsehood. Without a moral compass, this generation does not know itself and much less does it know others. Cubans were spared this fate by the great agency of personal suffering. Nothing like it to concentrate the mind on the essential things of life and free us from the vacuity fostered by a life without purpose or meaning.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Dear Vana:

Our country has transcended its geographic borders and condensed itself in our hearts, where it will always be loved and cherished. There it is completely ours and can never be taken from us. Once we have realized that we don't have to look for it anywhere else, nor mourn its loss or fatal destiny. Indeed, the only things that are entirely ours in life are lodged in our own bodies or proceed from our own bodies. So, too, our country, which is present in every fiber and chord of our being. Although we are mortal, our country is not. It shall live again one day beyond our days, animating other lives and awakening hopes in others that are not tinged with despair.

Christian C. said...

You must admit that there is no great solution to this dilemma, but there is a least-bad one. If the embargo remains, the Castro regime stays in power and the Cuban people continue to suffer. If the embargo is removed, the Castro regime stays in power and the Cuban people continue to suffer, but perhaps a bit less than before, and definitely not under the fiction that the Goliath to the north is responsible for their plight.

Cuban exiles who haven't been to Cuba in decades underestimate how widespread this myth is in Cuba (and rightfully so). It makes them feel as if they are trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. If you remove the embargo, there can be no doubt to Cubans that the Castro regime is the enemy, not the United States. If you keep it, you give the Castro regime the lifeblood that has sustained it for half a century.

The cases of China and Vietnam are instructive. Communist Parties in both countries were far more bloodthirsty than Castro, responsible for the deaths of millions including, in Vietnam's case, thousands of Americans; and in China, the world's greatest famine. The absurdity that we've restored relations with those more horrible regimes and not Cuba aside, the restoration of diplomatic and economic ties with China and Vietnam hasn't put an end to those regimes but undoubtedly resulted in more economic opportunity and less material deprivation for the Chinese and Vietnamese people.

Ironically, the hostile policy towards Cuba championed by hardline Cuban exiles has been one of the greatest contributors to its longevity. Some Cuban exiles realize all of this more than they let on, leading me to believe that this is no more than another pathetic machista contest to see who has the bigger dick.


Christian C. said...

Ironically, the hostile policy towards Cuba championed by hardline Cuban exiles has been one of the greatest contributors to the Castro regime's longevity.*

Vana said...


Indeed! It lives in our hearts and mind, but it's still hard to reconcile with the fact, that it's still there, wounded and suffering.

Vana said...


Here we have an apologist for the regime using one of our "favorite" words-Hardline, I think he forgot intransigent.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Christian C.:

I have replied to your comment in a new post devoted just to you.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


The boy must have checked one hundred times to see if I have answered his comment. He's probably still looking in the wrong place. I may have to add a link to get him there.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Ah, what the heck:

Pilgrim's Progress: Or, How Christian Learned to Love the Embargo