Week of February 4, 2002
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'U.S. Agricultural Sales to Cuba' conference
By JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
CANCUN, Mexico -- "Ultimately, what's good for humanity is good for economics," said former Sen. Paul Simon.
Free trade can be a major chain in that link connecting economics and humankind, he added.
"The way to bring about change is to have trade, to have exchanges," Simon contended.
Normalizing U.S.-Cuba trade relations was the predominant thrust of Simon's Jan. 31 keynote address at the "U.S. Agricultural Sales to Cuba Conference," held Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in Cancun, Mexico. (See accompanying feature, "Members of Congress, High-Level Cubans Join at Conference to Strengthen U.S.-Cuba Ties.") Unilateral trade sanctions like the current U.S. policy toward Cuba don't work, he contended.
"Sanctions do no good unless the entire community of nations support them," said Simon, who has headed the Public Policy Institute (www.siu.edu/~ppi) at Southern Illinois University since retiring from the Senate in 1997. "I don't know of a single nation with sanctions toward Cuba except the U.S. And those sanctions only hurt Cuba and the U.S."
In contrast to the United States' Cuba policy, broadly supported sanctions can be effective, Simon explained. Case in point: South Africa.
"I was involved in creating sanctions for South Africa," he recalled. "And those sanctions worked because other nations in Africa, Asia and Western Europe joined in and supported them. F.W. de Klerk (the South African politician largely credited with dismantling apartheid) later told me that those sanctions played a key role in creating a climate for change in South Africa."
Cuba, however, is a far different case from South Africa, the retired Democratic senator from Illinois contended.
For example, Pope John Paul II, Simon pointed out, has called U.S. sanctions on trade with Cuban "a monstrous crime." And the UN, he added, has denounced U.S. sanctions by a vote of 137 to 3.
Cuban-American Votes, Contributions
Simon, however, arguably made the strongest case in Cancun for revamping U.S.-Cuba relations. "There are some areas [in Cuba] in which I'd like to see changes," he allowed. "But compared to China, Cuba's record on human rights is a lot better.
"Castro has done some good things," he continued. "Cuba's illiteracy rate was 83 percent when Castro came in. Now it's reportedly about 3 percent." Cuba's health services have also improved dramatically, he added.
The receptiveness toward normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations that was evident in Cancun is now part of mainstream thinking, Simon asserted.
"Public opinion is receptive to change on our Cuba policy," he said. "Why do we have this policy? It's political - the votes in Florida and the political contributions by the Cuban-American community, particularly in Miami."
From 1979 to 2000, Cuban-Americans made US$8.82 million in political contributions, he said. "That figure, however, is declining," Simon added, "and younger Cuban-Americans have different attitudes" about U.S.-Cuban relations.
Cuban-American political pressures, however, are still potent enough to slow efforts to change U.S.-Cuba relations, he said.
"Presidential action is not likely until after November," Simon explained. "That is when [Gov.] Jeb Bush will be running for reelection in Florida."
Marshall Plan, NAFTA: Historic Parallels?Changing U.S.-Cuba relations, Simon allowed, will be a difficult task - one that he compared to the introduction of the Marshall Plan after World War II.
"The Marshall Plan is a good example of what's good for humanity being good for economics," Simon said. "The first poll after the implementation of the Marshall Plan showed that only 14 percent of the American public supported the plan. Here we were, some people thought, helping the Germans and the Japanese that we just fought so hard with.
"Ultimately, though, the Marshall plan was good for the U.S.," he continued. "It took courage to implement the Marshall Plan. We need that kind of courage on the question of Cuba." The North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) provides another parallel to the initiative to change U.S.-Cuba relations, he added. Simon, who supported NAFTA in the Senate, recalled Ross Perot's warnings of the "giant sucking sound" of jobs disappearing into Mexico.
"But since NAFTA, there are 24 million more jobs in the U.S.," he said. "And in Mexico, 1.6 million people have been lifted above the poverty level, which has meant less illegal immigration into the U.S."
Dropping U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba, Simon maintained, will similarly yield positive mutual benefits.
U.S. Citizens Have 'Basic' Right to TravelSimon recommended "three specific changes" in U.S. policy toward Cuba:
Only individual actions, however, will bring such policy changes, he maintained.
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