The case of Cuba, a country where Americans died fighting the
Spanish at San Juan Hill, offers a chance to inject a note of substance
into an otherwise sterile presidential debate. I say sterile because not
even the germ of a controversial idea has yet surfaced. And many still
have the expectation that their future leaders will raise questions not
yet vetted by pundits and pollsters.
The time is ripe to present serious issues so that the American voter
might actually have a voice in policy decisions. In that spirit, I
propose that some presidential candidate discuss lifting the Cuban
Insiders say that after the election, the embargo will be eased to
permit sales of farm products, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. But
that would only underscore the emptiness of our quadrennial presidential
Representative democracy works only if the candidates talk about
issues before the election, not after. Fear of voter opinion should not
be used to stultify debate on fundamental issues; otherwise democracy
begins to flatten under a weight of distracting trivia and political
Cuba is an example of the inertia now destroying honest debate in both
Congress and the presidential campaign. This year, for example,
overwhelming majorities in the Senate and the House voted to end the
embargo against U.S. companies selling food and medicine to Cuba. Yet the
leadership in both houses quietly eliminated the proposed changes. With
no debate and no notice in the Congressional Record, Tom DeLay (R-Texas)
in the House and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Robert
Torricelli (D-N.J.) in the Senate overruled their colleagues under the
guise of technical corrections. What cynicism and what an irony for the
cause of bringing democracy to Cuba.
The Cold War has been over for 10 years. The original rationale for
the Cuban embargo disappeared long ago. In 1975, the Organization of
American States--with the U.S. voting in favor--lifted its multilateral
embargo. A few years later, the United States assured Cuba that it would
move toward normalization of relations if Cuba took three steps: removed
troops from Africa, halted support for revolutionaries in Central America
and reduced military ties to the Soviet Union. All three steps have been
taken, yet successive administrations have not only maintained the
embargo but intensified it with the Cuba Democracy Act of 1992 and the
Helms-Burton Act of 1996.
Now we have a campaign in which both Al Gore and George W. Bush
disagreed with the majority of the American people on returning Elian
Gonzalez to Cuba with his father, and both candidates remain silent on
whether to open trade with Cuba. Less bashful are the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce, former secretaries of State George Shultz and Lawrence
Eagleburger, the pope and several American cities with sister city
relations in Cuba. All support ending the trade embargo.
In effect, a small minority of anti-Castro voters in Florida have
reversed the centuries' old Monroe Doctrine by keeping the U.S. out of
Cuba. This, in turn, has paved the way for growing European and Canadian
involvement through trade, travel and investment. That's why the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce has made ending the embargo its top legislative
priority so that its members--high-tech companies, grain producers,
pharmaceutical companies and hotel chains--will get a fair shot at the
growing Cuban market.
Fidel Castro has outlasted nine American presidents and every national
leader alive at the time his revolution took power in 1959.
Paradoxically, even the Cuban exiles now provide his economy $800 million
annually by sending remittances home to their relatives. This sum almost
equals the net dollar inflow from tourism and sugar exports combined.
Current American policy is plainly incoherent.
Political maturity demands that the U.S. exercise its capacity to
trade and coexist with nations whose systems it does not approve. The
world is now too small for unilateral embargoes maintained against the
spirit of free trade and kept in place to appease small, domestic
constituencies. With an unstable world population, ever more powerful
technologies and profound divisions among nations, it is imperative that
old stalemates be broken.
Al Gore and George W. Bush can help themselves and their country by
addressing this totally unnecessary vestige of the Cold War. The American
people have accepted trade with China and Vietnam despite human rights
violations and single-party political systems. Surely voters would now
appreciate the logic of extending normal trading relations with our
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown is the Mayor of Oakland.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times