Analysis: Cuba claims, Cuban-Jewish affinity, and ASCE in Havana

Palli column headBy José M. Pallí, Esq.

The last week of July, the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) celebrated its silver wedding anniversary in Miami. Although as a lawyer I often find it difficult to understand and get along with economists, I have many good and dear friends in this organization, most of them of that professional persuasion. I was invited to comment on a paper written by Matías Travieso Díaz, one of the best Cuban American lawyers I have ever met. Matías is partly responsible for my association with ASCE, because years ago, when I was first invited to join one of their conferences and wondered what my role could possibly be in the midst of so many economists — there are no lawyers here, I pointed out — he told me there was one lawyer at ASCE, and that was Dr. Travieso Díaz.

Matías has written extensively, and very thoughtfully, about a topic I have never spent much time on myself: the Cuban claims program under which the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission was given authority to determine the validity and amount of claims by U.S. nationals against the government of Cuba for the taking of their property since Jan. 1, 1959.

I had the privilege of commenting on his latest update of a subject he arguably masters to an extent few other people do. And it turned out to be, in my humble opinion, the most sensible, balanced, practical and non-ideological paper ever presented in any of the many ASCE panels I have served in (ASCE will publish it in the coming months and anyone interested in the ongoing process of re-engagement between Cuba and the United States should place it at the very top of his/her must read list).

I have a hunch I will be writing extensively on Matías’ paper and its topic in the near future, but I also want to address another good piece of writing published in the Miami Herald this week, authored by Mauricio Claver Carone, the Director of the U.S.­ Cuba Democracy PAC (possibly the most “effective” outfit of the pro-embargo lobby still around). Mr. Claver Carone’s article accurately and vividly describes the way many Cuban-Americans like him feel about the ongoing process whereby diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States have been re-established, and negotiations over a number of topics have been rekindled. Mr. Claver Carone seeks to portray a deep affinity between U.S. Jews and Cuban Americans as himself, as well as between the Cuban American lobby and the Jewish American lobby and the roles they respectively play in U.S. politics. That is, an affinity between the “Jewish Cause” and his “Cuban Cause”.

I left Cuba in May 1960 and have lived in Miami for 36 years, and upon arrival in Florida I was surprised to hear about these very same claims of affinity between Cuban exiles and U.S. Jews (Mr. Claver Carone even uses the word Jewban to make his point more emphatically, a word I do not recall hearing in the late 1970s when I arrived), and my surprise was not the result of questioning, in my mind nor in my heart, the affinity in question. My surprise resulted of being told, at the same time I was told of the affinity, how the Cuban American lobby in the United States originally took its cues from and modeled (tailored even) itself after the Jewish-American lobby. Because you see, the way I understood the role and the goals of the Jewish political lobby in the United States was as having successfully sought an alliance of sorts between their U.S. government and whichever government happened to be running the state of Israel at any given time, both nations standing side by side on the strength of the many commonalities in their respective national interests. Rarely were those national interests perceived as diverging (the Suez crisis being an occasional example of that), and the success and accomplishments of the Jewish lobby in the United States have withstood the test of time.

But the goal pursued by the Cuban ­American lobby has always been diametrically opposed to that of the Jewish lobby. Lobbyists like Mr. Claver Carone, and the billfolds behind him, have always sought U.S. help to overthrow the Cuban government, so it has always seemed implausible to me that the same strategy the younger lobby claimed it had learned from its elder Jewish “simile” could work in trying to accomplish such a disparate role and/or goal than that of its model.

And over 50 years of trying without anything that can be described as an accomplishment (other than in the field of domestic, electioneering politics) attest to its utter failure. The Cuban American lobby could “subsist” for as long as Americans did not assert the incompatibility of its goals with U.S. national interests. But that (indifference, mostly) has now changed.

Americans want a U.S. policy towards Cuba that is incompatible with the goals of the Cuban American lobby.   I point this out because I understand that in many of the panels at the ASCE conference, some of the presentations persisted in presenting the relationship between Cuba and the United States in the very same way the pro-embargo, intransigent, fire-breathing anti-Castro Cuban American lobby Mr. Claver Carone is the standard bearer for has portrayed and projected that relationship for many decades, as if there was no alternative to that portrayal and projection. And at this day and hour, that ‘message’ seems to me an only-in-Miami waste of time, at this or at any other conference about Cuba and its interaction with its closest neighbor.

If it were up to me, ASCE would begin its second quarter century by holding next year’s conference in Cuba, with panels in which the views and opinions of all the different players who will have a role in the design of Cuba’s future. This would include, in similar terms and standing with the founding fathers (and mothers) of ASCE, their counterparts in the Cuban government who are presently in charge of managing Cuba’s real (even if not ideal) economy.

Why in Cuba? Because in order to be a player in the now developing game (and many of my economist friends at ASCE do deserve a place in the rosters on account of all the value they can add to the eventual game-plan) you need to realize that there is only one stadium were the game can be played, and that stadium is the island.

So what has for such a long time been little more than a domestic political football at play mostly in extreme South Florida has now progressively deflated. Cuban Americans can rant all they want against President Obama — or against Tom Brady for that matter — but the football is on the way out, so deflated that not even Mr. Brady, with all the strength in his arm, will soon be able to find any use for it.

The ultimate tool to deflate that political football of what little air it has left inside will be both governments coming together around the topic of Dr. Travieso Díaz’s excellent paper and beginning to move the chains on that particular issue of the certified claims. It is an issue that will not be easily resolved, nor will it be resolved overnight. But once that process starts, if perceived as seriously undertaken, it will mean that we definitely and irreversibly have an entirely new ballgame, and that the now deflated domestic political foot-ball we have tossed around for so long will never be pumped up again.

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached a jpalli@wwti.net.

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