Tag: Cuba

Economics 101

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

In his speech in Ohio yesterday, did President Obama draw a stark enough contrast with House Minority Leader John Boehner, whom he attacked by name eight times, to help his party in November?

My response:

The contrast the president drew was clear enough. His problem is that the people aren’t buying what he’s selling – and for good reason. His ideas, far from being new, have been tried countless times, both here and abroad. They don’t work. And they undermine basic American principles about individual liberty and free choice.

So when Obama says that Boehner and the Republicans have no new ideas, he’s partly right. (They have new ideas about how to address unsustainable entitlement programs – ask Rep. Paul Ryan.) At least in their rhetoric – their behavior in office, alas, is too often another matter – Republicans stand in substantial part for old ideas that work and conform more closely to the nation’s first principles, starting with lower taxes, less regulation, and less government management of the economy. That contrasts sharply with Obama’s countless “programs” to “stimulate” the economy, his targeted tax and spending schemes to create “green jobs,” to sell cars, and on and on. Listening to him, you’d think the economy would collapse were it not for Washington’s management of it.

The truth is quite the opposite, of course, as Americans are coming increasingly to appreciate. Economies prosper when entrepreneurs with ideas and capital are able to employ both for profit. But they won’t do that when conditions are uncertain, as they are when government meddles recklessly and uncertainly at every turn. How often have we heard entrepreneurs in recent months saying that they’d like to hire more people, but with the uncertainty of ObamaCare and so much else coming out of Washington, they’re sitting on their capital? And who can blame them?

So the answer is, get out of their way and let them do what they do best. But that’s not the Obama way. This “community organizer” – who organized people to demand more from government – seems to have no grasp of how economies work, beyond the failed command-and-control model. Even Fidel Castro has just now admitted that a government run economy doesn’t work. So either Obama smells the coffee coming now even from Cuba, or elections will take care of the matter.

Chávez Introduces ‘Good Life Card’, Better Known as Rationing Card in Cuba

The latest feature in Venezuela’s road to socialism was introduced yesterday by President Hugo Chávez. It’s the “Good Life Card,” an instrument that, according to the government, will make it easier to buy groceries at government-owned supermarkets.

Even though Chávez denies that the card is a way “to promote communism,” the concept of a government-sponsored card to buy food in a country suffering from acute shortages is well known. They call it a “rationing card” in Cuba.

Let’s Open a Wireless Window to Cuba

Three of the world’s largest companies involved in wireless telecommunications—Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon—this week asked the Obama administration to further loosen the U.S. embargo against Cuba. According to a Bloomberg News story this morning:

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone maker, is urging the U.S. to ease its 47-year-old trade embargo so it can sell handsets to Cuba. AT&T and Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless providers, urged regulators to make it easier for U.S. companies to directly connect calls to and from Cuba.

The almost half-century-old embargo no longer serves any legitimate national security purpose, as I’ve argued before. The remaining restrictions on providing wireless communication services only demonstrate how the embargo actually undermines our stated goal of bringing more freedom to the long-suffering people of Cuba.

To President Obama’s credit, he has done more than most presidents to ease the embargo, including modest steps such as easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans and authorizing telecommunications firms to offer limited service in Cuba. In practice, however, President Obama’s efforts have had little effect, and they have not gone far enough.

If the basis of current U.S. policy toward Cuba is democratic empowerment of its people, then removing telecommunications restrictions would be a logical and healthy next step. According to the Bloomberg story, Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin America. What better way to empower nearly eleven and a half million people than by easing restrictions on their communications with free residents of the democratic United States?

President Obama himself argued in a White House statement in April 2009 that two of the best ways to promote Cuban democratization were by “facilitating greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba” and “increasing the flow of … information to the Cuban people.”

Here is an opportunity to translate those sound words into action.

Obama on Human Rights in America

I’ve just sent a short post to ”The Corner” at NRO on the Obama State Department’s new report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on human rights conditions in the U.S.  In a word, we’ve got problems, especially concerning women, minorities, etc., but we’re trying to live up to the expectations of other human rights exemplars on the council – Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba.

Read and weep.

Great New Blog in English by Cubans in Cuba

During the past several years, the growth of the Cuban dissident blogger movement has become a major irritant to the Cuban regime. Some bloggers, such as Yoani Sanchez, are becoming well known around the world. Her blog has even been available in English for a few years. I’ve written about her here and Cato published a recent paper by her.

The Cuban blogosphere is vibrant and diverse, but has been available almost exclusively in Spanish. Now, a new English blog site, Translating Cuba, is posting the thoughts of leading Cuban bloggers in Cuba, including Sanchez and recent hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas. Contributors to the site don’t share identical points of view, but they hope that “the voices on this site will mirror the free, open and plural society we all know that Cuba is ultimately destined to be.”

A Cuban Exile Speaks for Millions

Renowned Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner speaks for millions of Cubans in his statement on freedom below. It is a translation of the speech he gave in Madrid last Friday upon accepting a well deserved award given by the Instituto Juan de Mariana for defending liberty.  

 Freedom for What?*

 In 1980, shortly after making a dramatic exit from Cuba, the magnificent writer Reinaldo Arenas collected in a book his more combative articles and essays and titled it “The Need for Freedom.”

It was a shout. Reinaldo felt the need to be free. Human beings need to be free. He was asphyxiating in Cuba. He lived in sadness, fear and indignation. None of those three emotions is pleasant, and sometimes they twisted in his heart to the point of desperation.

After finding exile, Reinaldo felt profound relief and said something that was both wondrous and painful: for the first time, he had shown his true face. He had “unmasked” himself and felt the warm sensation of being himself, without the fear that such an act might bring him punishment and alienation.

In totalitarian societies, the pain of not being free and moving about in disguise becomes somatic in various ways, from a knot in the throat to a diffuse malaise expressed by assorted neurotic behaviors.

What is freedom? It is the ability we have to make decisions based on our individual beliefs, convictions and interests, without external pressures.

Freedom is choosing the god who best fits our religious perceptions, or choosing no god if we don’t feel the spiritual need to transcend.

Freedom is fearlessly offering our affection and loyalty to the people we love, or to the groups with which we feel a kinship.

Freedom is choosing without interference what we want to study, where and how we wish to live, the ideas that best reflect our vision of the social problems or the ideas that best seem to explain them.

Freedom is selecting the artistic expressions that please us the most, or, conversely, rejecting them without consequences.

Freedom is being able to undertake or renounce an economic activity without reporting to anyone, beyond the formalities established by law.

Freedom is spending our money as we see fit, acquiring the goods that satisfy us and disposing of our legitimate properties. Without freedom, the creation of wealth is weakened to the point of misery.

José Martí, the illustrious journalist who generated Cuba’s independence, contributed another definition: “Freedom is the right of every man to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.”

Tyrannies deny us the right to be honest when they force us to applaud what we detest or reject what we secretly admire.

When Cubans parade, shouting slogans they don’t believe in, they are not honest. When they applaud the leader they abhor or laugh at the nonsense he spouts, they are not honest.

That simulation creates in us an uncomfortable psychological dissonance. When we sacrifice our honesty, when we renounce our internal consistency to avoid harm or obtain a privilege, we feel “dirty” and internally ashamed. Hypocrisy is a behavior that wounds the person who practices it and repels the person at whom it’s directed.

But there’s more. At some point in the evolutionary process, when human beings abandoned the rule of instinct and began to guide themselves by reason, they discovered the agonizing process of making decisions by constantly shuffling the prevailing moral values, material interests, and psychological impulses.

To make such decisions, it was necessary to become informed. Totalitarian violence tries to prevent people from becoming informed. Why become informed if all the decisions are made by the State and all the truths have already been discovered?

In Cuba, there are numerous police brigades whose task it is to remove parabolic antennas, find satellite phones, confiscate banned books, and deny Internet access to anyone who is minimally independent. I cannot think of a more wretched activity.

When Spanish socialist Fernando de los Ríos asked Lenin when he was going to institute a regime of freedoms in the fledgling Soviet Union, the Bolshevik answered with a question loaded with cynicism: “Freedom for what?”

The answer to that is manifold: freedom to investigate, to generate wealth, to seek happiness, to reaffirm the individual ego in a human tide, all of them tasks that depend on our ability to make decisions.

The history of the West is the history of societies that have progressively expanded the horizons of free people.

Gradually, they took away from the monarchs and the religious and economic oligarchies their exclusive powers to decide in the name of the whole. The poor and the foreigners attained their rights. The same happened with the races considered to be inferior, with the women, with the people who were alienated because of their sexual preferences. Slavery was finally eradicated.

It is possible to narrate the long, historical trek of human beings as the constant adventure of our species in the quest for a gradual increase in the number of people given the right to make their own decisions.

Sometimes, the exercise of that ability assumes heroic proportions. Some weeks ago, Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo decided to die of hunger and thirst to protest against the injustice and abuses of the dictatorship. All he had to defend his dignity as a human being was his life — and he gave it. To him, to his sad memory, with deep emotion, I dedicate these words.


 * Speech by Carlos Alberto Montaner, upon receiving the “Juan de Mariana Award for an exemplary trajectory in the defense of freedom,” Madrid, April 30, 2010.


Seven (Free-Market) Ways to Boost U.S. Exports

President Obama has committed his administration to the ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years. I don’t believe the government should be setting such targets—the rate of growth of U.S. exports should be left to the marketplace—but I am all for the administration seeking ways to expand the freedom of U.S. companies to sell in global markets.

In the “Economic Watch” column of the Washington Times today, I suggest six policy changes that will help American producers sell more of their goods and services abroad. None of them involve subsidies, threats of sanctions, or other government involvement.

Among my suggestions: enact into law the three free-trade agreements that have already been negotiated, repeal the trade embargo against Cuba, keep trade peace with China, and set a good example by keeping the U.S. market open.

If I could have added another suggestion (alas, space in a real newspaper is limited), it would be to issue more visas for trade delegations visiting the United States. Under misguided notions of national security, we make it more difficult than it should be for delegations from China and other  markets to visit the United States to inspect U.S. goods offered for sale. But like the other suggestions, this one is politically challenging as well.

If the president wants to boost exports, he will need to show the necessary leadership to remove the government-imposed barriers that still remain.