- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

If the United States listened to the Cuban people, to Cuba's religious leaders, and to the overwhelming majority of its human rights activists and dissidents, it would lift its embargo and begin to normalize relations with the island. That it does not do so seems to be because of the power of the ultraconservative Cuban exiles in the United States. The source of that power is difficult to fathom, for these exiles do not determine the outcome of statewide elections in either Florida or New Jersey, and while they may contribute handsomely to campaign funds, their money, on a national level, cannot be that important. Nor do they even represent Cuban-Americans as a whole. As I have discovered, there are many moderates in that community: Cubans who believe in reconciliation and in dialogue with their brothers and sisters on the island even in dialogue with the Cuban government.
But somehow it is not the moderates who are heard; rather, it is the ultraconservatives, and they continue to insist, so far successfully, that the embargo be continued as is. It is only by exerting unrelenting pressure on the Cuban government, they say, that the latter can be forced toward a democratic opening. But after 40 years, the rest of us must ask: where is the evidence for that?
These same hard-line exiles would even have the American public believe that they speak for the Cuban people, that Cubans on the island want the embargo continued. They so assert, however, without consulting the Cuban people.
I totally reject all these assertions, and I am in a position to do so. I speak as an Afro-Cuban dissident who lives on the island. I am not some pro-government sycophant. I was fired from my job in 1991 because of my views, and it is only after four years of effort that I have now been allowed to travel abroad for the first time in my life. I work closely with human rights activists and with other dissidents in Cuba. Shortly, I will return to the island to continue that work. I will not presume here to speak for my colleagues in the dissident community, but I know that I reflect the views of most in calling for an end to the embargo and to the hard-line policy followed by Washington toward Havana for the past 40 years. They are relics of the Cold War and should be dispensed with forthwith. U.S. policy, indeed, is a major obstacle to the peaceful transitional process we all want in Cuba. A threatening U.S. attitude and efforts to choke Cuba economically inevitably draw a defensive reaction from the Cuban government and give it the ideal pretext to call for internal discipline and ideological unity. We cannot have an atmosphere conducive to positive change so long as we are threatened by the world's only remaining superpower. Pressure simply does not work. In fact, it is counterproductive. Every time the United States announces some new sanction against Cuba, the Cuban government responds with an internal crackdown. The UnitedStates could do far more to bring about movement toward a more open society in Cuba by ending its embargo and relaxing tensions generally. It could not possibly accomplish less than with its present policy, which after 40 years must be judged a total failure.
The tendency of American political leaders to stick with that policy would nonetheless be comprehensible if it served the interests of other sectors in the United States. But that is not the case. American farmers need markets. They want to sell their products to Cuba. American businesses also are interested in trading with Cuba. And the polls indicate that the majority of Americans believe they should be able to do so. Why then do U.S. political leaders turn their backs on the interests of these other sectors and defy majority public opinion in a continuing effort to pander to the wishes of that tiny group of hard-line Cuban exiles? And apparently we've just had another example of that pandering. American friends tell me they'd hoped the U.S. Congress would this year pass legislation making possible the free sale of foods and medicines to Cuba. Under pressure from the Cuban-American lobby, however, the amendment that has emerged from the House of Representatives has been so emasculated as to sharply limit such sales. I am told that some of those limitations might be removed in the House-Senate conference. That is to be hoped.Whose interests were thereby served? Certainly not those of the American farmer. The question must therefore be asked: do congressmen and senators from the agricultural belt represent people in their own states, or the exiles in Miami? As country people the world over would put it: whose ox is being gored here?

Manuel Cuesta Morua is the secretary general of the Socialist Democratic Current, a small dissident group in Cuba that calls for a peaceful transition to a more democratic system.

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