Foreign investment in Cuba — Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!

By José Manuel Pallí

For the past week or so, everyone, in and out of Cuba, has been commenting on a law — Cuba’s “new” foreign investment law — no one seems to have fully read yet. An American friend from Massachusetts, finding me all worked-up with that very same topic, wistfully asked me why on earth is said topic so important when, on the one hand, Cuba remains a small communist country where few would entertain investing in, and, on the other hand, it is forbidden to us in America to invest in it anyways. I explained to him, who is spending his annual swallow stay in Miami, that this is not America: this is “Cuban America”.

Is my friend right? Is this just much ado about nothing?

Much of what I have read from others who are commenting without first reading the law and its companion documents and policy statements in full — even from those in Cuba that are trying to build up the “new” law’s significance — may suggest the law comes closer to qualify as a “cosmetic change” than many other important changes Cuba has made to its model over the past six years, giving a respite to the Cuban-American hardline that already claims that all those other changes we have seen in the recent past have been nothing but cosmetic changes. I can even visualize the headline in one of Miami’s newspapers reading: “Cuba’s ‘new’ foreign investment law” brought to you by Revlon…

If so, I am afraid that we are in for a new turn of increased obduracy on the part of the Taliban extreme on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Which is why it may be time for the president of the United States to take this bull by the horns…

When Cubans in the island — including the Cuban government — say, “the whole world is wrong and we are right,” they say it with an ironical, joking twist, something that is perceptible in Cuba’s streets and in the ongoing process of “adjustment” of its socio-economic model.

Here in Miami, we Cuban-Americans echo the same sentiment and use the same phrase with regard to the Cuban embargo, but, amazingly (and sadly), we mean it…

That senseless mantra — which is ensconced in U.S. policy towards Cuba — has led the United States to refuse to play ball with the Cuban regime, as opposed to China, with Vietnam and with other less than scrupulous regimes, and simply let the ball play us (in the guise of a dissident’s suicide, a brutal and violent shoot-down of unarmed aircrafts, a new wave of repression and incarcerations) whenever a bearded Providence throws the ball at us.

What we do not seem to understand is that it is in the Cuban regime’s interest for us to continue in this reactive mode, whenever the ball hits us, which is usually when we least expect it to. They can afford to be ironic about their being right and the whole world wrong, because they are in power, in control; we are not. We have not accomplished anything in over 50 years of dismissing what the rest of the world thinks of our policy towards Cuba, and we will not until we see the irony in it and decide to change it.

Either there is no real embargo/blockade, which can have and is having a starving impact on Cuba, or the United States (with the support of a couple of UN General Assembly members like Palau, because Israel is not blockading Cuba either, despite its usual “solidarity vote” in the long-running play the annual rite of voting against U.S. sanctions has become) should hold on to it in order to starve them of a cash influx, as some believe. But you cannot have it both ways: in Argie-speak that would entail claiming “la chancha y los veinte”, and that is a no-no in one of Argentina’s venerable card games.

Spinners have been running their mouths and pens on this issue of the effectiveness of the embargo for years, on both sides of the Florida Straits. From the standpoint of foreign policy, it is senseless for the United States to hold on to the all but symbolic embargo, only because some very deeply hurt and (unfortunately) bitter, hard-nosed and, more importantly, well heeled players in the Cuban-American exile community cannot live with the idea of either Castro eventually crowing over its demise, and they are willing to put their money where their collective ego is. By so doing, they are holding hostage this and future generations of Cuban youths — people like the blogger Yoani Sánchez — who could care less about bragging rights among the members of their grandparents’ generation.

A lifting of the American embargo would help those within the regime in Havana who want to move in a more liberal direction. Such a change in the atmosphere of what has been, for more than 50 years, a sadly and incomprehensibly barren “relationship” for both, Cuba and the United States, is likely to open minds (maybe even doors) inside Cuba. Something like a photograph of Fidel besides Pope John Paul II years ago (Fidel with Hillary? With Obama?), may undermine those who are prone to choose repression over liberalism.

It will also do wonders for the U.S. relationship with the rest of its hemispheric neighbors.

So who benefits from keeping the embargo in place: the Cuban and the Miami Taliban, but also the avid money grabbers, also known as petty politicians, who feed off the hands of the pro-embargo camp?

A recent poll — immediately vilified by wonks from the Reagan era and other worn out right-handed pitchers (lobbyists or self-proclaimed experts) from the “traditional” Cuban exile bullpen — shows that most Americans, even Cuban Americans, and an even larger majority of South Floridians, want the embargo gone.

Clinging to the embargo makes our hailed “democracy” something ever more difficult to explain, not to mention export. And meanwhile, back in the island Hugo Chávez once described as “paradise”, people begin to feel their opinion is taken into account, that their laws are indeed “theirs”, which is what the changes over the past six years are really all about, without my fellow Cuban American neighbors in Miami even realizing this (they are too busy and too loud into their usual and tired demonization of the Cuban regime to see or hear anything but their own “roar” of outrage).

So take heart, Mr. Obama. There are many things you can do to tear it down, even if in stages, specially if you recognize the embargo as the national policy issue (failed policy at that) it is and you wrestle it away from those who have, for many years, used it to get elected to local governments or even school boards in South Florida.

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached at jpalli@wwti.net; you can find his blog at http://cubargiejoe.com

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