Tag: raul castro

Hagel’s Common Sense on Cuba

Foes of Chuck Hagel have found another reason to oppose his nomination for secretary of defense: he supported ending the 50-year old embargo on Cuba. Hagel also called the idea that the government in Havana constitutes a terrorist threat to the United States “goofy”, referring to Fidel Castro as a “toothless old dinosaur.” Supposedly, this proves he’s weak and won’t stand up to world dictators when vital U.S. interests are at stake. 

In reality, Hagel belongs to a growing group of conservatives who have come to realize the failure of U.S. policy towards Cuba. This group includes former senator Richard Lugar, who until recently was the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Jeff Flake, a freshman Republican from Arizona. Even Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP’s former VP candidate, voted against the embargo the last time it came to a vote in the House in 2005. 

You don’t need to think hard to understand why the embargo and travel ban on Cuba have failed: the Castro brothers are still in power in Havana. Five decades of economic sanctions—the most stringent Washington has imposed on any country—have failed to bring about a democratic transformation of Cuba. Moreover, the embargo has served as a scapegoat to the regime.

Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, a leading dissident in Cuba, has aptly summed up that strategy: “[Castro] wants to continue exaggerating the image of the external enemy which has been vital for the Cuban Government during decades, an external enemy which can be blamed for the failure of the totalitarian model implanted here.” Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez has called the embargo “the regime’s excuse for all its failures” and pointed out that its existence has undermined the work of dissidents on the island. 

Proponents of the embargo (who are now opposing Hagel’s nomination) inadvertently accept this reality. Our friend Frank Calzón, at the Center for a Free Cuba, mentions in the Washington Post several instances when Havana rebutted Washington’s outreach efforts: “Each solicitation has been met with aggressive action.” Why? Perhaps because the Castro regime fears that an end to the embargo and travel ban could weaken its grip on power? 

Ironically, those who argue that national security concerns are reasons to oppose changing U.S. policy towards Cuba ignore that the embargo has also become somewhat of a U.S. security liability itself. A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office points out that enforcing the embargo and travel ban diverts limited resources from homeland security that could be used to keep terrorists and criminals out of the United States. The GAO report warned that arrival inspections from Cuba intended to enforce the embargo are “straining Customs and Border Patrol’s capacity to inspect other travelers according to its mission of keeping terrorists, criminals, and inadmissible aliens out of the country.”     

It would be naïve to think that ending the embargo will somehow transform Cuba into a democratic society. As long as the Castros are in change, that won’t happen. But it’s equally naïve to believe that there are great benefits and no significant downsides to the current policy. Chuck Hagel doesn’t have a Cuba problem. Just the opposite. He has shown common sense in ending one of Washington’s most anachronistic foreign policies.

Cuba Lifts De Facto Travel Ban … Maybe

In a move expected for over a year, the Cuban government announced today that, starting January 13th, it will lift the travel ban it imposed on its citizens since 1961. This is certainly not an official travel ban. Cubans are allowed to leave the island as long as they get an exit visa and have a letter of invitation from the country they want to visit. But in practice, only few Cubans get the exit visa—and most of them, if not all, are sympathetic to the regime. Well known dissents like Yoani Sánchez are repeatedly denied their exit visas despite having invitation letters from abroad. So in practice, it is a travel ban on the Cuban people.

What lies behind the decision is up for debate. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the economic “reforms” implemented by the regime in recent years aren’t working. The Economist recently reported that the timid changes announced shortly after Raúl Castro came to power “have indeed paused.” Exactly a year ago, I wrote about how the U.S. government registered the first rise in illegal Cuban immigration by sea in 3 years. Given the increasingly tough economic conditions, La Havana might be resorting to the “escape valve” of emigration to ease social discontent.

Or maybe little will change in practice, as has been the case with the much heralded economic reforms. Cubans are required to apply for a passport and, as the official newspaper Granma announced today, the issuance of passports will be denied for several reasons such as:

  1. Defense and national security reasons.
  2. Having a security measure pending.
  3. Having “obligations” with the Cuban government.
  4. Preserving a “qualified” labor force for the development and security of the country.
  5. “Public interest” reasons determined by the authorities.

As we can see, the new restrictions to get a passport are so nebulous and discretionary that in practice it’s very likely that the Cuban government will continue to prohibit most of its people from traveling. Thus, it’s better to wait and see if the restrictions are actually lifted and Cubans are allowed to travel abroad more or less freely. If that happens, a new dynamic will enter into play that might accelerate (or delay) the implementation of further political reforms.

Fidel Castro, Medicare Beneficiary?

There’s no proof yet, but it looks an awful lot like Medicare might be subsidizing the Castro brothers.

I, for one,  was not surprised to read that Medicare payments for non-existent medical services are ending up in Cuban (read: government-controlled) banks. Nor that “accused scammers are escaping in droves to Cuba and other Latin American countries to avoid prosecution — with more than 150 fugitives now wanted for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. healthcare program, according to the FBI and court records.”

In fact, I have been wondering for some time when we would see evidence that foreign governments have been stealing from Medicare. The official (read: conservative) estimates are that Medicare and Medicaid lose $70 billion each year to fraud and improper payments, a result of having almost zero meaningful controls in place. That’s practically an open invitation to steal from American taxpayers. Kleptocratic governments—and other organized-crime rings—would be insane not to wet their beaks.

In this National Review article, I explain how easily it could happen:

Last year, the feds indicted 44 members of an Armenian crime syndicate for operating a sprawling Medicare-fraud scheme. The syndicate had set up 118 phony clinics and billed Medicare for $35 million. They transferred at least some of their booty overseas. Who knows what LBJ’s Great Society is funding?

I also explain how these vast amounts of fraud aren’t going to stop without fundamental Medicare and Medicaid reform. Give the National Review article a read, and tell me if you share my suspicion that Medicare is bankrolling other governments.

Thursday Links

  • Nat Hentoff: If you’re looking for reform in Cuba, don’t rest your hopes on Raul Castro.
  • Tim Carney, author of Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses gives the inside scoop on why big government is good for big business.