• Drinking Rum Until I Understand the Cuban Embargo

    July 27, 2017

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy



    It was easier for me to pass through Cuban customs and immigration than it was for me to come home to the U.S. “Be sure to try our rum while you’re here!” said the Cuban official. “You’ll need to pay duty on that rum,” grumped the American official a week later, after the retinal scan, facial recognition scan, photo, passport inspection, agricultural questioning, and bag check that allowed me home.

    The rum is in a way what a trip to Cuba for an American is really all about. Rum, and el bloqueo.

    It becomes the first Spanish word you learn after the glasses are filled: el bloqueo, the blockade, the economic and political embargo. Some 60 years ago the United States slapped a near-complete economic embargo on Cuba, a Cold War spasm that lives on long after the struggle it may have served ended. It accomplished little of substance in Cuba except perhaps to impoverish some while fostering blackmarkets and corruption that enriched others. And like that other imperial boil, Guantanamo, the embargo sits atop Cuba as a symbolic wet blanket of American foreign policy, maintained by presidents Democratic and Republican alike.

    The embargo is also why you can’t buy Cuban rum in America.

    “Sit down, have something to drink, rum for my friend, you’re American, I must ask you a question” is how a dozen encounters with Cubans from different walks of life began. Educated or not, old or young, they all asked: why does the United States maintain the embargo? Fidel Castro is dead. His successor, his brother Raul, soon will be. The Soviet Union is no more. The excesses of the Cold War, when Cuba sought to export its revolution, are now just adventure stories old men misremember to their bored grandsons.

    The embargo started in earnest back in 1962, and grew to include almost all commerce between the United States and Cuba, snaring famously that Cuban rum (and cigars. Then-president John F. Kennedy loved his Cuban cigars so much he had an aide buy out existing stocks in Washington DC before he initialed the embargo paperwork.)

    The stated purpose of the embargo is to pressure the Cuban government toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights.” The result was that American businesses could not invest or operate in Cuba. Cubans could not sell their agricultural products in the United States. The embargo preserved those wonderful classic American cars you see in any documentary about Cuba, frozen in time as new vehicles could be imported. The Russians slid into place as Cuba’s economic godfather, followed by the Special Period, those years of particularly acute suffering after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was a limited loosening of the embargo as it applied to tourists under the Obama administration (and a titular change of the American Interests Section in Havana into the American Embassy in Havana; “unofficial” diplomacy never really ceased) followed by a planned re-tightening of tourist travel by President Trump.

    “My whole life all I know is the Americans don’t come,” said one Cuban doctor to me. “The Russians came. Canadian tourists we have everywhere, some Chinese. Fidel brought over many visitors from Africa. But no one from the United States. It’s only about 90 miles that way, you know.” We clinked glasses. Forget your mojitos; rum this good is drunk neat. Sitting there, it seems simple enough.

    I tried in every rum-fueled encounter to explain why the United States might want to keep the embargo in place. How of all the things they did not agree on, why did presidents from Kennedy through Carter through Trump all support the embargo? Don’t the Cuban people want freedom I asked? Yes, of course, but the embargo doesn’t seem to have had much effect on that and it’s been a lifetime, said most. How is the president prohibiting the import of spare car parts promoting democracy in Cuba anyway?

    Well, I tried to explain as the rum warmed me a bit too much, since Cuba is a socialist economy, lifting the embargo will benefit the government, which owns everything. As one person put it, for decades the U.S. made life harder on eleven million people to try and influence two, Fidel and his brother. My older Cuban drinking pals wondered if I was stupid enough to believe Cuba was still smitten with the revolutionary hallucinations of the 1960s, or was I simply blind to the fact that independent commerce was everywhere in Cuba and only likely to grow further if the doors were fully opened. Cuba was already an inverted pyramid of an economy, with some already rich off the proceeds from small independently owned restaurants, and taxi drivers making dozens of times what doctors do. The new One Percent of Cuba, I was told, were those who have figured out how to get their homes on AirBnB to rent out to foreigners. End the embargo, Cubans said, let us grow, and we’ll sort out the rest for ourselves.

    Cuban coffee is as good as its rum, and helps you clear your head after a long night out. What is left among the empty glasses is the sad truth that the embargo still exists because it is popular among Cuban-Americans in the United States and American candidates courting this voter pool know it. At least for now; polls show the more recently a Cuban-American voter came to the United States and the younger they are, the more liberal their attitudes toward easing the embargo. At some point the balance may tip, and American politicians will no longer need to support the embargo to win votes. Demographics in south Florida will end the last relic of the Cold War in the western hemisphere.

    The critical element of American foreign policy towards the Caribbean’s largest nation is based mostly on the favor of a shrinking pool of aging voters. And that’s where I gave up. It turns out I can’t drink enough rum, even in Cuba, for the embargo to make real sense. The embargo won’t be the cause, but someday if Cuba ever does achieve a different form of government, the people will have a lot to learn under democracy about how undemocratic such systems can be.

       

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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...

      1

      I’m fairly certain that the old school embargoists have tried to recruit youth to their cause. Bitter and vengeful elders do have power to infect youth with toxic ideas but youth can sometimes find ways to ignore the lectures of the old if only just to be contrarian. The Cuban geezers have lived too long. Hopefully their political sway will decay quickly.

      07/27/17 10:20 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      2

      Cuba would be wise to embrace the embargo and a quarantine as well to keep out the 63,000,000 crazy gringos who are infected with a mental illness and believe every insane word their lunatic presidense says.

      07/27/17 10:23 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      3

      The real Infidel: You just knew eventually the Great Divider would turn his own people against each other. Burn baby, burn.

      07/27/17 10:28 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      4

      I am so glad the Company controls the Media. What a smart move. It saves taxpayer$ money. Should I watch the BBC with a rum and coke? Kill your television. Drink Coffee or Rum (both would be Communist or socialist. Be Careful). Help the people. (other comments can be seen at a server in Utah ( I delete them ). Hope Change Believe Propoganda… Vote D or R often . Feel good, drink rum, have a cigar Bill & Hill. Protect women (interns at DC Demock pig palace). Have a nice day.

      07/27/17 10:29 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      5

      Off topic… Sen Gillibrand (ex tobacco lobby) is The Resitance? Progressive? Working for the people? Have a few Mount Gays! Pigs are pigs. Have a nice day. The Empire is falling. Wage Peace…

      07/27/17 10:47 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      6

      BDS with a Rum and Coke. Enjoy before Felony charges. Cuomo (D), NY passed pig anti bds stuff last year in NY. (Can I go to jail for saying this?). Have a nice day. Refuse Fascism? Vote D? R? Damn, just have a nice day, and help the people you see and live with. Enjoy. Time out.. ! pppppp’s

      07/27/17 10:55 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      7

      Videos off Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Grahmn may go public (sponsored by KYx).**** Barbara Starr banned from serving in the military for beng Trans**** Google/search her life, if you have a problem, I know. Have a nice day1 PPPP’S

      07/27/17 11:06 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      8

      Videos off Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Grahmn may go public (sponsored by KYx).**** Barbara Starr banned from serving in the military for beng Trans**** Google/search her life, if you have a problem, I know. Have a nice day1 PPPP’S. tWEET ME.

      07/27/17 11:07 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      9

      Enjoy! Jon Nichols (so called resit/progressive) uses the same “Orange” dye as The Donald! Look Young, or whatever. Pigs are what they are. Work for the people….

      07/27/17 11:21 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      10

      Pigs have more dignity.

      07/27/17 11:30 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      11

      Rich, you won a vegetarian BLT! Enjoy…. Wage Peace…

      07/27/17 11:54 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      12

      It will be delivered by drone. Have a nice day.

      07/27/17 11:56 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      13

      No Boots on the ground. How special. #1 (repeat)…

      07/27/17 11:58 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      14

      “When Drones Fly, Children Die”. Have a nice day.

      07/27/17 11:59 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      15

      Scaramucchi, Scaramucchi, do the fangdango. Trumpie just killed his man, put a bullet in his own head.

      07/27/17 12:07 PM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...

      16

      Fergittin’ Fanjul & (CIA) Company !

      07/27/17 2:48 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      17

      Peter,

      there aint enough rum in the world to understand our Cuba policy. Speaking for all nonCubans in Florida, we wish they all would go the hell back to their own country. They make as much sense as Kyrie Irving in their worldview. By the way, The Cavs are trying to contact Irving, but it is as if he fell off the end of the earth.

      07/27/17 3:33 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      18

      Scaramucchi is one fucking rummie.

      07/27/17 7:14 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      19

      Scareymucchi is watching too many Nazi movies:

      Scareymucchi: “Is it an assistant to the President?” I again told him I couldn’t say. “O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks.”

      07/27/17 7:18 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      20

      Scareymucchi has no interest in media attention. “Really? ”

      I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.)

      Must have his mouth full.

      07/27/17 7:21 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      21

      This guy really has to lay off the rum:

      Scareymucchi: What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,”

      Cant wait for his real agenda . Will be a killer.

      07/27/17 7:23 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      22

      Scareymucchi driving Trumpie to drink

      Trumpie: He better hope there arent any tapes of their conversation.

      Scareymucchi: Yeah, about that….

      07/28/17 8:57 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      23

      “Sonny” Scareymucchi better have EZ Pass. Don Trumpie dont like bigmouths.

      07/28/17 9:00 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      24

      Jesus Rich…

      Your even going after the guy that is going after your favorite Targets…..

      Remember the old saying….

      “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” ?????

      Ok….. So …. Rich…..

      Skipped your Meds again ????????

      M

      PS….

      Little thing I learned in college a Long time ago….. When your opponent is reduced to name calling…. You have already won.

      Just a thought for you.

      Btw….

      Why do you suppose Scaramucchi spent his first day in his new position cussing and ranting????

      Something for you to think about.

      Also…..please remember….. Trump is not someone “career politicians” are equipped to deal with.

      He’s business…. They are public thieves.

      Suggestion….. Watch what is happening behind the scenes ….while the funny, screaming man is up in front the crowds……

      Trump is using the same tactics that are common in businesses world wide…

      Including Disneyland…… You know….. The greatest illusion on Earth.

      M

      07/28/17 10:25 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      25

      ezpass is owned by what mic co.? Bill me, track me, have a nice day. Vote Often? Wage Peace.

      07/28/17 10:25 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...

      26

      So…… Chuck skipped his meds too.

      M

      07/28/17 10:27 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      27

      Kumbaya …

      07/28/17 10:28 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      28

      Off to listen to the Stones and “Mothers Little Helper” and “Yellow Submarine” group. Mitch, pick a colour! Peace…

      07/28/17 10:53 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      29

      Scareymucchi: Wish Bannon all the luck in his next career. Hope he makes lots of money in his gay porn career.

      07/28/17 10:53 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      30

      Yoga is good!

      07/28/17 10:55 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      31

      Plan B is in effect. If you do not know what it is, go to plan B (not d or r, much better). Have a nice day! Alert! Wage Peace…. “Good Night And Good Luck”.

      07/28/17 1:42 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      32

      Did the Peace Prize Winner “O’Droner” say John McCain was a Hero recently? Do we still have Obam(BOMB)’as Tuesday Kill lists?

      07/28/17 2:05 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      33

      Dropping Bombs from over 25ooo feet to kill civilians is #1.USA, repeat, kill, and wave multiple flags. McCain is a Cancer. Good Luck all.

      07/28/17 2:10 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      34

      Karma is a bad thing to waste John and others. Enjoy!

      07/28/17 2:18 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...

      35

      How many Dems were for Attack IraQ! How about the MIC R Crew? Wake up Sheeple.

      07/28/17 2:26 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      36

      Oh no, Reince is rinsed.

      07/28/17 5:01 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      37

      Failure is an option. Looks like Bannon is the only one in the Trumpie cult that is not a limp dick.

      07/28/17 5:28 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...

      38

      The pussygrabber talks tough, dont he?

      “When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump said during a speech at Suffolk County Community College. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”

      Are we sure this clown doesnt drink?

      07/28/17 10:04 PM | Comment Link

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