Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo

The New York Times


Published: November 19, 2012 54 Comments

The problem: Washington'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 Mr. López'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 United States have

formed, creating new challenges, new possibilities — and a more

complicated debate over the embargo.

The longstanding logic has been that broad sanctions are necessary to

suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raúl 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,

retired and President Raúl Castro, 81, leading a bureaucracy that is

divided on the pace and scope of change, many have begun urging

President Obama to go further and update American 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 engagement with Cuba. "What we should be doing is helping the


Any easing would be a gamble. Free enterprise may not necessarily lead

to the embargo's goal of free elections, especially because Cuba has

said it wants to replicate the paths of Vietnam and China, where the

loosening of economic restrictions has not led to political change.

Indeed, Cuban officials have become adept at using previous American

efforts to soften the embargo to their advantage, taking a cut of

dollars converted into pesos and marking up the prices at state-owned


And Cuba has a long history of tossing ice on warming relations. The

latest example is the jailing of Alan Gross, a State Department

contractor who has spent nearly three years behind bars for distributing

satellite telephone equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.

In Washington, Mr. Gross is seen as the main impediment to an easing of

the embargo, but there are also limits to what the president could do

without Congressional action. The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act conditioned

the waiving of sanctions on the introduction of democratic changes

inside Cuba. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act also requires that the embargo

remain until Cuba has a transitional or democratically elected

government. Obama administration officials say they have not given up,

and could move if the president decides to act on his own. Officials say

that under the Treasury Department's licensing and regulation-writing

authority, there is room for significant modification. Following the

legal logic of Mr. Obama's changes in 2009, further expansions in travel

are possible along with new allowances for investment or imports and

exports, especially if narrowly applied to Cuban businesses.

Even these adjustments — which could also include travel for all

Americans and looser rules for ships engaged in trade with Cuba,

according to a legal analysis commissioned by the Cuba Study Group —

would probably mean a fierce political fight. The handful of

Cuban-Americans in Congress for whom the embargo is sacred oppose looser


When asked about Cuban entrepreneurs who are seeking more American

support, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican 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.

Cuban officials say the shortages fueling the black market are caused by

the embargo. But mostly they prefer to discuss the policy in familiar

terms. They take reporter after reporter to hospitals of frail infants,

where American medical exports are allowed under a humanitarian

exception. Few companies bother, however, largely because of a rule,

unique to Cuba, requiring that the American companies do on-site

monitoring to make sure products are not used for weapons.

"The Treasury Department is asking me, in a children's hospital, if I

use, for example, catheters for military uses — chemical, nuclear or

biological," said Dr. Eugenio Selman, director of the William Soler

Pediatric Cardiology Center.

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 Rodríguez 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 United States. 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 United States change

course. Mr. López, 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 José,

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."

A version of this article appeared in print on November 20, 2012, on

page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Easing in Cuba Renews

Debate on U.S. Embargo.

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