Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuban embargo: Should U.S. loosen it?

Posted: 11/22/2012 12:01:00 AM MST

By Damien Cave

The New York Times

HAVANA — "If I could just get a lift," said Francisco Lopez, imagining

the addition of a hydraulic elevator as he stood by a rusted Russian

sedan in his mechanic's workshop here. All he needed was an investment

from his brother in Miami or from a Cuban friend there who already

sneaks in brake pads and other parts for him.

The problem: The U.S.'s 50-year-old trade embargo, which prohibits even

the most basic business dealings across the 90 miles separating Cuba

from the United States. Indeed, every time Lopez's friend in Florida

accepts payment for a car part destined for Cuba, he puts himself at

risk of a fine of up to $65,000.

With Cuba cautiously introducing free-market changes that have legalized

hundreds of thousands of small private businesses over the past two

years, new economic bonds between Cuba and the U.S. have formed,

creating new challenges, new possibilities — and a more complicated

debate over the embargo.

The long-standing logic has been that broad sanctions are necessary to

suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raul Castro. Now,

especially for many Cubans who had previously stayed on the sidelines in

the battle over Cuba policy, a new argument against the embargo is

gaining currency — that the tentative move toward capitalism by the

Cuban government could be sped up with more assistance from Americans.

Even as defenders of the embargo warn against providing the Cuban

government with "economic lifelines," some Cubans and exiles are

advocating a fresh approach. The Obama administration already showed an

openness to engagement with Cuba in 2009 by removing restrictions on

travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans.

But with Fidel Castro, 86, and President Raul Castro, 81, leading a

bureaucracy that is divided on the pace and scope of change, many have

begun urging President Barack Obama to go further and update U.S. policy

by putting a priority on assistance for Cubans seeking more economic

independence from the government.

"Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is

strengthen and embolden the hard-liners," said Carlos Saladrigas, a

Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which

advocates for engagement with Cuba. "What we should be doing is helping

the reformers."

When asked about Cuban entrepreneurs who are seeking more U.S. support,

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who is chairwoman of the House Foreign

Relations Committee, proposed an even tighter embargo.

"The sanctions on the regime must remain in place and, in fact, should

be strengthened, and not be altered," she wrote in an e-mail.

"Responsible nations must not buy into the facade the dictatorship is

trying to create by announcing 'reforms' while, in reality, it's

tightening its grip on its people."

Many Cubans agree that their government cares more about control than

economic growth. Business owners complain that inspectors pounce when

they see signs of success and demand receipts to prove that supplies

were not stolen from the government, a common practice here. One

restaurant owner in Havana said he received a large fine for failing to

produce a receipt for plastic wrap.

As for the embargo's restriction on investment, Cuban officials have

expressed feelings that are more mixed. At a meeting in New York in

September with a group called Cuban Americans for Engagement, Cuba's

foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, said business investment was

not a priority.

"Today the economic development of Cuba does not demand investments of

$100,000, $200,000, $300,000," he said, according to the group's account

of the meeting. Rather, he called for hundreds of millions of dollars to

expand a local port.

Owners of Cuba's small businesses, mostly one-person operations at this

point, say they know that the government would most likely find ways to

profit from wider economic relations with the U.S. The response to the

informal imports that come from Miami in the suitcases of relatives, for

instance, has been higher customs duties.

Still, in a country where Cubans "resolve" their way around government

restrictions every day (private deals with customs agents are common),

many Cubans anticipate real benefits should the U.S. change course.

Lopez, a meticulous mechanic who wears plastic gloves to avoid dirtying

his fingers, said legalizing imports and investment would create a flood

of the supplies that businesses needed, overwhelming the government's

controls while lowering prices and creating more work apart from the state.

Other Cubans, including political dissidents, say softening the embargo

would increase the pressure for more rapid change by undermining one of

the government's main excuses for failing to provide freedom, economic

opportunity or just basic supplies.

"Last month, someone asked me to redo their kitchen, but I told them I

couldn't do it because I didn't have the materials," said Pedro Jose,

49, a licensed carpenter in Havana who did not want his last name

published to avoid government pressure.

"Look around — Cuba is destroyed," he added, waving a hand toward a

colonial building blushing with circles of faded pink paint from the

1950s. "There is a lot of work to be done."

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