In the news: ” U.S. Ends Ban on China Trade; Items Are Listed“:

The President’s action lifts a 21-year-old embargo against trade with China permitting selected exports to China and the import of goods from China on the same basis goods from other Communist countries are admitted.

Why did the U.S. government relax trade restrictions with China, the USSR, and communist countries in Eastern Europe in the 1970s, but not with communist Cuba?

In an April 19, 1971 press conference, President Nixon said:

“If the want to trade … we are ready,” he said. “If they want to have Chinese come to the United States, we are ready. We are also ready for Americans to go there, Americans in all walks of life.

Chinese could visit America and Americans could visit China. Why weren’t similar doors opened for travel between Cuba and the U.S.?

By the time of the Cuban revolution United States had a long history of  “engagement” with Cuba. The U.S. military occupied Cuba from 1989 to 1902 and again from 1906 to 1909 and again from 1917 to 1922. U.S. firms controlled much of Cuban sugar and other industries.

Cuba’s political and economic history is complicated, and U.S. interventions in Cuba, as in many other countries, led to unexpected and unwanted consequences.

“Rum and Revolution”, a Washington Post review of the 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cubanotes problems with “help” from the U.S.:

But Cuba’s independence was stunted by the heavy-handed United States, which doubted that the republic (over half of whose population was black or mulatto) could govern itself. The United States aided Cuba’s fight but then re-occupied the island in 1906 at the request of the feckless Cuban president, Tomás Estrada Palma. A bitterly disappointed Emilio [Bacardi] left government and returned to Santiago, where he penned a 10-volume history of the city and tended his business affairs for the remainder of his life.

Some years ago a war veteran mentioned returning to Ft. Lewis, a Washington state military base, from Korea and being recruited by federal agents for a new assignment in Cuba. I asked: “So we were trying to get rid of Castro even then?” No, he said, he would be helping put Casto into power to reform the corrupt Batista government.

That didn’t turn out well.

This New York Times review (April 23, 2006) of The Man Who Invented Fidel explains how Fidel Castro’s reputation as a democratic reformer was shaped by NYT reporter Herbert Matthews who interviewed Castro in the mountains:Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 2.18.34 PM

The front-page scoop that followed and two additional articles predicted “a new deal for Cuba” if Castro’s insurgency won and reported that the romantic revolutionary was no Communist; in fact, the local Communists opposed him. The exclusive was a sensation at the time and transformed Castro’s image from a hotheaded Don Quixote into the youthful face of the future of Cuba. Unfortunately for Matthews and The Times, it didn’t age well….

DePalma shows that Matthews was a determined liberal but not a faker like Walter Duranty, the Times correspondent who won a 1932 Pulitzer Prize for his fawning coverage of Stalin and was probably in league with the Soviet secret police. Matthews’s articles were for the most part factually accurate. But he comes across as a self-righteous and credulous analyst who sided with those who gave him access and then refused to reassess, whatever the changing facts. While other reporters who also misread Castro toughened their coverage after he began ordering summary executions, Matthews stuck stubbornly to his original myth.

Okay, maybe that’s seems too much background to the long-standing trade and travel embargo with Cuba. But Castro’s communist revolution including seizing land, buildings, and factories owned by U.S. citizens and companies.

Exports from Cuba after the 1959 revolution would have been seized and tied up in litigation since they camp from farm lands or factories that U.S. Courts would support as seized illegally.

In Talks Over Seized U.S. Property, Havana Counters With Own Claim” (New York Times, Dec 13, 2015) reports:

Some of the thorniest conversations in the long road toward full relations between Cuba and the United States have only just begun in recent days: The two sides are sitting down for the first time to discuss the American properties Cuba confiscated decades ago.

The very idea of compensation for property and businesses seized in the wake of the Cuban revolution sent a quiver of excitement down the backs of the thousands of people who lost everything from sugar mills to family homes to oil refineries.

People started dusting off yellowing deeds. Lawyers were called.

Similar property confiscation problems followed the fall of communist governments in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and other Eastern and Central European countries.

The Cuban government has claimed it is due compensation for income lost due to the long-standing trade embargo, plus from damage caused by the Bay of Pigs invasion. Hungary could on similar grounds request compensation from Russia for the USSR’s invasion and 1956 suppression of the Hungarian Uprising (Freedom’s Fury is documentary on uprising and bloody Olympics match between Hungary and USSR).

Opening trade relations with Cuba has another connection with similar challenges opening trade with China:

In 1979, China agreed to pay $80 million to a China Claims Fund, which allowed American claimants 39 percent of the value of their lost properties, according to the Brookings study. Vietnam, to normalize relations with the United States, agreed in 1995 to apply its assets frozen by the United States government to pay claimants 100 percent of the principal and 80 percent of the interest they were owed.

So, in summary, property claims from the Cuban revolution can be dealt with as they have in other similar upheavals. Time magazine’s Oct. 19, 2015 article “The U.S. Trade Embargo on Cuba Just Hit 55 Years,” begins:

It’s been exactly 55 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s State Department imposed the first trade embargo on Cuba on Oct. 19, 1960. The original embargo covered all U.S. exports to Cuba except for medicine and some foods. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo to cover U.S. imports from Cuba and made it permanent on Feb. 7, 1962.

Although relations between the two countries warmed this year, the embargo is still in place and an act of Congress is required to remove it.

The origins of the embargo go back even further, to when Fidel Castro came to power Jan. 1, 1959. He quickly lost American support as he publicized private land and companies, and imposed heavy taxes on imports from the U.S. In the first year of Castro’s regime, U.S. trade with Cuba decreased 20%.

(When Time reporter writes “publicized private land and companies” he doesn’t mean advertise or promote.)

So ending the embargo with Cuba requires a procedure to address past seizure of U.S.-owned assets.

Also, according to “Tillerson would recommend veto of bill ending Cuba embargo,” Washington Examiner, Jan 11, 2017)

Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that he wouldn’t support legislation to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba, a major goal of the Obama administration that now seems likely to go unfulfilled for the next several years.

The Obama administration did all it could to ease trade and travel restrictions against Cuba, but the embargo against the island nation is federal law, and can only be undone through an act of Congress. But Tillerson indicated he wouldn’t support any such move on his watch.

 

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