U.S. Commerce Secretary Defends Trade Embargo on Cuba
Washington — U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says it is
"naïve" to suggest that lifting the long-running U.S. trade embargo on
Cuba would weaken the Cuban communist regime and force change on the
Caribbean island. Speaking February 21 to the Council of the Americas, a
Washington business organization, Gutierrez rejected the argument of
those who suggest that Cuba, as it now exists, is an "untapped market
for U.S. goods and investors" and that lifting the embargo would be a
"boon" to foreign trade.
(Media-Newswire.com) – Washington — U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos
Gutierrez says it is "naïve" to suggest that lifting the long-running
U.S. trade embargo on Cuba would weaken the Cuban communist regime and
force change on the Caribbean island.
Speaking February 21 to the Council of the Americas, a Washington
business organization, Gutierrez rejected the argument of those who
suggest that Cuba, as it now exists, is an "untapped market for U.S.
goods and investors" and that lifting the embargo would be a "boon" to
"I submit to you that foreign businesses will not flourish on the island
as long as there is an active communist regime in control" of Cuba, he said.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba began in February 1962 in President John
F. Kennedy's administration, with the purpose of bringing democracy to
the Cuban people.
The embargo, said Gutierrez, is neither the "problem or the solution"
for the downtrodden Cuban economy. The problem, he said, is the
"repressive communist system" in Cuba, and "the solution is to change
Gutierrez also rejected claims that the embargo has worsened the
situation in Cuba.
"That is flat wrong," he said. The United States, Gutierrez said, has
been a major source of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, supplying
one-third of the island's food and medicine.
Gutierrez said the first report of the Commission for Assistance to a
Free Cuba showed that up to $1 billion, or roughly 2.5 percent of the
Cuban economy, came from remittances from the United States. President
Bush established the commission in October 2003 to bring about a
peaceful end to the Cuban dictatorship of Fidel Castro and establish
democratic institutions, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
PLAUDITS FOR THE LADIES IN WHITE
Gutierrez's speech came as the U.S. State Department's Office of Cuban
Affairs released a statement to USINFO February 20 saying it admires the
Ladies in White ( Damas de Blanco ) opposition movement, which consists
of wives and other close female relatives of imprisoned Cuban
dissidents. Among its many honors, the group was named one of the three
winners of the 2005 Sakharov Prize for the promotion of freedom of
thought. ( See related article. )
The statement said Ladies in White normally holds a peaceful protest on
Sundays for their loved ones' freedom. The protests occur at Santa Rita
Church in Cuba's capital of Havana, where the women attend Mass, and
then silently march down Havana's Fifth Avenue, wearing white dresses
that symbolize peace.
The Cuba office's statement praised the Ladies in White for their
"courage to challenge the Cuban regime on behalf of their families and
loved ones, and joins with them in calling for the immediate release of
all political prisoners" in Cuba. The statement added that the United
States congratulates the Ladies in White "for all the international
human rights awards they have won," which is "only secondary" to their
objective of obtaining the release of Cuba's political prisoners.
The State Department said in a profile of Cuba that as of July 1, 2006,
at least 316 Cubans were being held behind bars for alleged political
In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Gutierrez said
the U.S. rationale for imposing an embargo on Cuba and not on China,
another communist state, stems from the great differences in those two
countries' economies. While Gutierrez said the Castro regime has
destroyed any opportunity for Cubans to make a life for themselves,
"what you see in China today is a vibrant, entrepreneurial culture where
people are free to improve their own lives."
China remains far from a "100 percent free society," said Gutierrez.
But he added that "to compare the changes that have been taking place in
China … to the conditions in Cuba is the wrong comparison. I would put
Cuba in the same league as [the police state] North Korea."
VIEWS OF CUBA EXPERT
In a panel discussion after Gutierrez's presentation, Cuba expert Brian
Latell said that very few people on the Communist Party-ruled island
want or expect Fidel Castro to return to power after the dictator said
he was temporarily relinquishing his office in July 2006 to recover from
Latell, senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute
for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the Cuban people's sentiments
about Castro stem from being "exhausted" after 48 years of tyranny.
In the last seven or eight years especially, Cubans have tired of
Castro's refusal to allow "significant market openings" to permit
investment in the island or to allow "any iota of speech or political
participation," said Latell, the author of After Fidel, a look at
Latell did say that Cubans are looking forward to a "new era and new
leadership" under Raúl Castro, whom his brother Fidel has named acting
president. Raúl has been "encouraging higher expectations for economic
change," but "I'm not sure you're going to get any political change" in
Cuba, said Latell.
The text of Gutierrez's prepared remarks is available on the Commerce
Department Web site.
More about the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba is available on
its Web site.
The profile on Cuba is available on the State Department Web site.
See more about Cuba in the State Department's Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices, released March 8, 2006.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Cuba and the United States.
( USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov )
By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer