Tag: Cuba

The Land Is There, the Cubans Are There, but the Incentives Are Not

The Washington Post has an interesting story today on the program of the Cuban government to transfer idle state-owned land to private farmers so they can resurrect the dilapidated agricultural sector on the communist island. As Ian Vásquez and I wrote in the chapter on U.S. policy toward Cuba in Cato Handbook for Policymakers, before this reform, the agricultural productivity of Cuba’s tiny non-state sector (comprising cooperatives and small private farmers) was already 25 percent higher than that of the state sector.

At stake is an issue of incentives. Collective land doesn’t give farmers an incentive to work hard and be productive, since the benefits of their labor go to the government who distributes them (in theory) evenly among everyone, regardless of who worked hard or not. While with private property, “The harder you work, the better you do,” as a Cuban farmer said in the Post story.

The country’s ruler, Raúl Castro, recently declared that “The land is there, and here are the Cubans! Let’s see if we can get to work or not, if we produce or not… The land is there waiting for our sweat.” However, it’s not a matter of just having land and lots of people. It’s also a matter of incentives to produce. Failing to see this, as in the case of Cuba’s failed communist model, is a recipe for failure.

Congress to Lift the Travel Ban to Cuba?

Bloomberg News reports today that the U.S. House may pass a bill by the end of the year lifting the almost five-decade-old ban on travel to Cuba by American citizens. The step is long overdue. According to the article:

A group of House and Senate lawmakers proposed in March ending restrictions to allow all U.S. citizens and residents to travel to Cuba. [Rep. Sam Farr, a California Democrat] said the legislation, known as the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act,” also has enough votes to clear the Senate, where Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, and Republican Senator Michael Enzi of Wyoming introduced the legislation.

As Rep. Farr succinctly added, “If you are a potato, you can get to Cuba very easily, but if you are a person, you can’t, and that is our problem.”

“If you are a potato, you can get to Cuba very easily,” he said. “But if you are a person, you can’t, and that is our problem.”

I rebut a lot of what Sen. Dorgan has said about free trade and globalization in my new book, Mad about Trade, but on the issue of the Cuban embargo and travel ban, Sen. Dorgan and most of his fellow Democrats are pushing in the right direction, while most Republicans still vote to maintain our failed policies. For more on why the travel ban and embargo should be lifted, read my speech at Rice University in 2005.

Here is one issue where those of use who support less government and more economic freedom really can hope for progressive change.

Civil Liberties and President Barack W. Bush?

It’s fair to say that civil liberties and limited government were not high on President George W. Bush’s priorities list.  Indeed, they probably weren’t even on the list.  Candidate Barack Obama promised “change” when he took office, and change we have gotten.  The name of the president is different.

Alas, the policies are much the same.  While it is true that President Obama has not made the same claims of unreviewable monarchical power for the chief executive–an important distinction–he has continued to sacrifice civil liberties for dubious security gains.

Reports the New York Times:

Civil libertarians recently accused President Obama of acting like former President George W. Bush, citing reports about Mr. Obama’s plans to detain terrorism suspects without trials on domestic soil after he closes the Guantánamo prison.

It was only the latest instance in which critics have argued that Mr. Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledge “to restore our Constitution and the rule of law” and raised a pointed question: Has he, on issues related to fighting terrorism, turned out to be little different from his predecessor?

The answer depends on what it means to act like Mr. Bush.

As they move toward completing a review of their options for dealing with the detainees, Obama administration officials insist that there is a fundamental difference between Mr. Bush’s approach and theirs. While Mr. Bush claimed to wield sweeping powers as commander in chief that allowed him to bypass legal constraints when fighting terrorism, they say, Mr. Obama respects checks and balances by relying on — and obeying — Congressional statutes.

“While the administration is considering a series of options, a range of options, none relies on legal theories that we have the inherent authority to detain people,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said this week in response to questions about the preventive detention report. “And this will not be pursued in that manner.”

But Mr. Obama’s critics say that whether statutory authorization exists for his counterterrorism policies is just a legalistic point. The core problem with Mr. Bush’s approach, they argue, was that it trammeled individual rights. And they say Mr. Obama’s policies have not changed that.

“President Obama may mouth very different rhetoric,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He may have a more complicated process with members of Congress. But in the end, there is no substantive break from the policies of the Bush administration.”

The primary beneficiaries of constitutional liberties are not terrorist suspects, but the rest of us.  The necessary trade-offs are not always easy, but the president and legislators must never forget that it is a free society they are supposed to be defending.

Question Regarding Obama’s Signals Toward Latin America

How come President Obama can find time to call and congratulate Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on his reelection (someone who has said that he prefers “a thousand times” to be a friend of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez than to be an ally of the United States) but can’t find time to meet with, or at least issue a statement supporting, Cuban dissidents at the White House as his predecessors did?

The UN and Human Rights: Never Shall the Twain Meet

The U.S. has rejoined the Human Rights Council, expressing hopes for positive cooperation in the future.  Reports the Associated Press:

The United States joined the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday, a body widely criticized for failing to confront abuses around the world and for acting primarily to condemn Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies.

U.S. officials pledged to work constructively in the 47-member council, which has frequently been hampered by ideological differences between rich and poor countries.

“The United States assumes its seat on the council with gratitude, with humility, and in the spirit of cooperation,” said Mark C. Storella, who is for the moment the top diplomat at the U.S. Mission to U.N. organizations in Geneva.

The decision in May to seek a seat on the Geneva-based body after three years of giving it the cold shoulder represented a major shift in line with President Barack Obama’s aim of showing that “a new era of engagement has begun.”

Council members, U.N. officials and independent pressure groups applauded the move as a sign the only remaining superpower is prepared to debate human rights with the rest of the world.

Alas, it’s a forlorn hope.  The Council is dominated by human rights abusers and their enablers.  The recent case of Cuba, as Cato’s Juan Carlos Hidalgo pointed out,  is instructive.

I wrote up the story for American Spectator online.  The debate over Cuba’s record was particularly revealing:

Pakistan wished Cuba well in realizing “all human rights for all citizens.” Venezuela (you don’t have to be a member to comment) lauded “the iron will” of Cuba’s government. Russia said, “Cuba had taken a serious and responsible approach.” Uzbekistan “stressed Cuba’s work in the promotion of human rights.” China declared that “Cuba had made important contributions to the international human rights cause.” Egypt opined that “Cuba’s efforts were commendable.” And so it went.

Why should American taxpayers pay for such a farce?  Not only is it a waste of money, but it sets back the cause of human rights.  In general, the Obama administration’s emphasis on engagement is appropriate.  In this case, however, “engagement” is a mistake.

This Is Not from The Onion, but the UN

Cuba recognized in the UN Human Rights Council

The HRC’s press release states that:

Cuba had withstood many tests, and continued to uphold the principles of objectivity, impartiality and independence in pursuance of the realisation of human rights. Cuba was and remained a good example of the respect for human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights. The Universal Periodic Review of Cuba clearly reflected the progress made by Cuba and the Cuban people in the protection and promotion of human rights, and showed the constructive and responsive answer of Cuba to the situation of human rights. Cuba was the victim of an unjust embargo, but despite this obstacle, it was very active in the field of human rights.

Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Record on Foreign Policy

Cato foreign policy experts weigh in on President Obama’s record in his first 100 days:

Christopher Preble, Director Foreign Policy Studies:

President Obama deserves credit for making a few modest changes in U.S. foreign and defense policy, and he has signaled a desire to make more fundamental shifts in the future. Some of these may prove helpful, while others are likely to encounter problems. In the end, however, so long as the president is unwilling to revisit some of the core assumptions that have guided U.S grand strategy for nearly two decades – chief among these the conceit that the United States is the world’s indispensable nation, and that we must take the lead in resolving all the world’s problems – then he will be unable to effect the broad changes that are truly needed.

Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President Defense & Foreign Policy Studies; Christopher Preble:

On the plus side, Obama moved quickly to fulfill his most important foreign policy promise: ending the war in Iraq. That said, the policy that his administration will implement is consistent with the agreement that the outgoing Bush administration negotiated with the Iraqis. Given that the war has undermined U.S. security interests, and our continuing presence there is costly and counterproductive, Obama should have proposed to remove U.S. troops on a faster timetable.

Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst:

The jury is still out on the other major, ongoing military operation, the war in Afghanistan. That mission is directly related to events in neighboring Pakistan, which is serving – and has served – as a safe haven for Taliban supporters for years. President Obama deserves credit for approaching the problem with both countries together, and also in a regional context, which includes Iran, as well as India. Still unknown is the scope and scale of the U.S. commitment. President Obama has approved a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. Some have suggested that still more troops are needed, and that these additional troop numbers might prevail for 10-15 years. That would be a mistake. The United States should be looking for ways to increase the capacity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to confront the extremism in their countries, and should not allow either to grow dependent upon U.S. military and financial support.

Christopher Preble and Ted Galen Carpenter:

On Iran, President Obama made the right decision by agreeing to join the P5 + 1 negotiations, but that is only a first step. The two sides are far apart and President Obama has not signaled his intentions if negotiations fail to produce a definitive breakthrough. Sanctions have had a very uneven track record, and are unlikely to succeed in convincing the Iranians to permanently forego uranium enrichment. If the Iranians are intent upon acquiring nuclear weapons, military action would merely delay Iran ’s program, and would serve in the meantime to rally support for an otherwise unpopular clerical regime, and a manifestly incompetent president.

Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow; Christopher Preble:

A related problem is North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program, an area where the president and his team seem to be grasping for answers. President Obama was mistaken if he believed that that the UN Security Council would render a meaningful response to Pyongyang’s provocative missile launch. It was naive, at best, for him to believe that even a strong rebuke from the UNSC would have altered Kim Jong Il’s behavior. The president must directly engage China, the only country with any significant influence over Kim. The North’s reckless and unpredictable behavior does not serve Beijing’s interests.

Benjamin Friedman, Research Fellow; Christopher Preble:

Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are correct to apply greater scrutiny to bloated Pentagon spending, and to terminating unnecessary weapon systems, but the budget will actually grow slightly, at a time when we should be looking for ways to trim spending. If President Obama decided to avoid Iraq-style occupations, we could cut our ground forces in half. If we stopped planning for near-term war with China or Russia, the Air Force and Navy could be much smaller. Unless we commit to a grand strategy of restraint, and encourage other countries to provide for their own defense, it will be impossible to make the large-scale cuts in military spending that are needed.

Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies; Benjamin Friedman; Christopher Preble:

Two other quick points. President Obama has moved away from some of the overheated rhetoric surrounding counterterrorism and homeland security, including dropping the phrase ‘War on Terror”. This was the right approach. The language surrounding the fight against terrorism is as important – if not more important – than the actual fight itself. Equally useful is his pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and his renunciation of the use of torture and other illegal means in the first against al Qaeda. These steps send an important message to audiences outside of the United States who cooperation is essential.

Ian Vasquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty & Prosperity; Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Project Coordinator for Latin America.

President Obama has signaled a slight change on US-Cuba policy by softening some travel and financial restrictions. It is not as far as we would have liked, but it is a step in the right direction – toward greater engagement, as opposed to more isolation, which was the approach adopted by the Bush administration.

For more research, check out Cato’s foreign policy and national security page.