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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

I promised to get back to you after the two day trip to Cuba with observations and wanted to do so.

Mar 25, 2016
Blog Post

I promised to get back to you after the two day trip to Cuba with observations and wanted to do so.

Three things stood out for me.

One, the central business district of Havana is a monument to the power of government. It’s a reminder to all of us of the ways in which government can impact people’s lives for good or bad and how important it is that we all be engaged in the political process. What were once magnificent buildings are in decay as a consequence of bad government. It’s a reminder of the importance of private property rights. People just don’t take care of “everybody’s stuff” the way they do their own. People don’t wash rental cars for a reason, and if you magnify this phenomenon across a city and country, the decay that one observes in Havana is the logical consequence. It’s also a place where people earn on average $10 a month. In short, the 11 million people that make up Cuba are in a world of hurt because of communism, dictatorial rule, and all that goes with it.

Two, the place is a monument to the power of the American economy. The ruin of Havana is a consequence of communism...but it has been amplified with the embargo. At times, we forget how significant our economy is relative to so many other economies around the world, and seeing what I saw made me think about this. We are blessed and at times don’t properly appreciate the importance of preserving the rule of law, private property rights, and a free market system in the American economy.

Finally, it was a reminder of the ingenuity, perseverance, and will built into the human spirit. While every one of us would take strong exception with the government of Cuba, its people (like those held captive by a whole host of bad governments around the world) are wonderful. I saw it in a cab driver I rode with who had managed to somehow keep his 1955 American-made car up-and-going over the last 60 years. These people have endured bad government and worked around it wherever they could...and indeed shown real ingenuity in doing so.

In fact, I wrote an op-ed for The Post and Courier almost twenty years ago on this subject - before the newspaper was even online! So, while I wanted to share the link with you, looks like I’ll have to go old school and type it up for you below.

Oh, and if you read through to the end, I did send some aspirin...

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New Prescription Needed For Policy Toward Cuba
Post and Courier, September 14, 1997

“What does reducing government spending and congressional reform have to do with Cuba or Zaire? As best I know, the answer is nothing. So when I went to Washington three years ago and found that one of my three committee assignments was International relations, I was disappointed. Yet despite my personal interest in the budget and foreign policy not matching, this assignment has proven to be one in which I have learned a lot.

“One of the things I most recently learned about is our policy toward Cuba. It is maybe not the subject that wakes you up in the morning but I have the chance to go there at the end of August and see firsthand the effects and effectiveness of our current policy. Unfortunately, what I saw was that both Cuba and our Cuba policy stand in disrepair.

“Cuba by geography alone is of significance to Charleston. It lies 681 miles to our south, which means that while Los Angeles might take you five hours by air, you could be in Havana in less than 1 ½. History as well ties us to the Caribbean basin since it was from these islands that settlers arrived at what is not Charlestowne Landing in April 1670. The planters from Barbados had significant influence on both our agriculture and architecture.

“To go to Cuba is to see the might of the American economy. By being blocked from it, Cuba’s economy has become frozen in time. Streets are filled with 1958 Chevys and Fords, formerly spectacular buildings now stand dilapidated, and the sugarcane crop (one of Cuba’s biggest exports) is about the same as it was in 1958. Our policy is just as frozen in time. Since 1962 we have had a trade embargo with Cuba for the purpose of ending the Castro regime.

“Unfortunately, 35 years later Castro still strongly holds the reins of power. Sometimes our sanctions have been more (a naval blockade during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis), sometimes a little less.

“The bottom line in our policies was that we didn’t need him and he didn’t need us. The only people to suffer in this formula were the regular Cuban people without ties to the military or government. Glimpses of their plight were visible when 125,000 of them headed for American shores in the 1980 Mariel boat lift, or 32,000 wound up at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy base in 1995.

“Who Castro “needed” though changed radically in 1991 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. With the Soviet Union no longer standing as Castro’s benevolent sugar daddy, Cuba’s economy fell by 40 percent and, as a result, he has been forced to allow private enterprise and capital a beachhead on this socialist island. There are 11 million Cubans and life on the island for most of them is fairly wretched. The average worker earns $10 per month and finds basics as simple as aspirin nearly impossible to obtain.

“The critical question is can this level of hardship cause enough civil unrest to overthrow the government? My belief after this trip is no, for the following reasons:

“1)  For warriors to stay in power they need a war – or at least an enemy. Castro uses the embargo as the reason for the Cubans’ hardship. To my surprise, Catholic charity leaders, political dissidents and the independent press all said the same thing. End the excuse by ending the embargo. Let the Cuban people see who is really responsible for their condition, and then you will see change.

“2) Unilateral embargoes don’t work. Until the Berlin Wall fell, our embargo worked reasonably well because for the most part the rest of the free world wasn’t trading with Russia – and this extended to Cuba. After 1991 the rest of the world didn’t see Cuba as we did and the Canadians, Europeans, Mexicans and Japanese began investing and trading in Cuba.

“In 1996 they invested $2.1 billion. In addition 1.2 million European, Latin American and Canadian visitors came to the island and left behind $1.3 billion. In short there is enough money coming onto the island to keep the government in power, but not enough to make the lives of the Cuban people better.

“3) We are not serious about this policy. For example, despite similar authoritarian regimes in China and Vietnam, the United States has adopted the opposite policy. This creates problems with our allies who contend that they are doing in Cuba what we are doing elsewhere in the world. They ask how can free ideas and markets bring about change in one part of the world but not the other? Even from our own country, 1,500 U.S. business executives went to Cuba last year, many of them looking into American investment in Cuba. Because of a 1994 ruling, American companies can make investments in Cuba through a third-party country. Last year Days Inns and several investment banks did just that.

“All this leaves us with a policy that is political. It looks good in that we are supposedly getting tough with a bad government and a bad dictator. In fact, we are giving this bad government an excuse for its outdated policies.

“One of the last meetings before leaving the island took place at the University of Havana with a few of its teachers. At the visit’s end one of the old professors, with tears in his eyes, asked me to send aspirin for his mother who had no relief from severe arthritis.

“If our policy was making a difference in the Cuban government, it would be worth his mother’s suffering. As it stands, that is not the case, so for the Cuba people’s sake, we need to look at a new prescription for our Cuban policy.”