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Bringing real freedom to Cuba requires staying the course

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 17, 2003

We have a brand new Congress and already there are forces working to accomplish that which they failed to do in the past couple of Congresses. There are Members of Congress in both parties and in both houses of Congress who want to lift the embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba for over 40 years.

The argument for doing away with the embargo runs something like this: It hasn't worked. Castro is still in power. If we overwhelm Cuba with American tourists and businessmen, who will spend good old American dollars, why perhaps Cuba will change. Perhaps Cuba will become more like China where the people-at least in the cities-have a considerable amount of economic freedom.

In fact, I had just about bought that line. It seemed reasonable to me. What is wrong with tourists being able to tell the good people of Cuba all about the exciting things that are going on in America?

Thanks to a Congressional briefing I had courtesy of the Cuban American National Foundation, I am back on the reservation again. I want to continue the embargo.

That's because I learned that ordinary Cubans are not permitted to associate with tourists in any way. The few who are hired by the hotels are vetted by the government for their loyalty. I thought it would be good for them to earn those good old American dollars. Unfortunately for them, Fidel has thought things through. If you earn $100, the government takes it from you and gives you 100 Cuban pesos in return. The artificial exchange rate is one peso to the dollar, just as the exchange rate in the Soviet Union was six rubles to the dollar when its economy was completely controlled. As soon as the controls were lifted the exchange rate soared to over 100 rubles to the dollar. Well, anyway, our poor worker ends up with about $4 for his $100 worth of hard work.

Who is able to mingle with tourists? Prostitutes are given free reign. After all, a few pictures of a Cuban prostitute with a prominent tourist or businessman and Fidel will be getting lots of American dollars to bail him out.

Fidel CastroWhile it is true that Castro is still in power, the Cuban American National Foundation points out how his armed forces have been drastically reduced. He also does not have much of a budget for exporting revolution, although he now does have some friends in high places in this hemisphere.

The foundation believes that the embargo is still working. If, as many in the Congress want to see happen, it is lifted and American dollars begin to flow to Cuba, these will be controlled and of value only to Castro. He watched closely as his former ally (the Soviet Union) disintegrated because political reforms there came before economic reforms and he has also knows full well that the prosperity in the cities continues to cause Chinese Communists problems. They have to constantly work to prevent the Internet from being available to the Chinese people. Every few weeks, however, it crops up in another place and it takes weeks for sophisticated engineers to shut it down. Fidel doesn't want the same problems.

He is 75 years old now. He can't last forever. Especially at the rate he gives those three hour speeches. It would be best to keep sanctions in place. True, it has not caused Cuba to become a democracy. But it has kept Cuba in check, especially since the passage of the Helms-Burton Act, which really strengthened the embargo. The change being peddled by those who claim to be advocates of the free market sounds great. In reality, it would have the opposite effect that its sponsors intend.

That, my friends, is how Washington works.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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