(Photo Credit: Maxually’s Photostream)
This is a guest note by Anya Landau French, director of the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative. This post originally appeared at The Havana Note.
You have to hand it to Amb. Roger Noriega, former U.S. Representative to the OAS and former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere under President G.W. Bush. When our fifty year-old failed Cuba policy is in trouble, he steps up to defend it the best he can.
In Forbes.com last week, Noriega sought to quell business community interest in The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TRREEA), a draft bill offered by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson that would lift the U.S. travel ban and slightly ease certain food export restrictions toward Cuba. Noriega, a former Jesse Helms staffer who helped draft the 1996 Helms-Burton Act – the best known piece of the U.S. embargo of Cuba – offers a little something for everyone.
For foreign policy purists who believe that foreign policy is the sole prerogative of the President, and for preconditioned policy subscribers, Noriega waves the red flag that TRREEA “would take that discretion and diplomatic leverage out of [the President's] hands.” Of course, that’s more than a little ironic coming from the architect of the most codified (legislatively mandated) foreign policy ever foisted on a U.S. President. Until 1996, much of the U.S. embargo, like most sanctions, was largely based on Presidential declarations and Executive Branch regulations. The Helms-Burton Act turned all of it into law.
For free traders, Noriega’s got something for you too. And it’s anything but Cuba.
“There are three other trade deals pending in Congress today–with Colombia, Panama and South Korea–that would mean much more for American farmers, workers and consumers. Every day that we fail to act on these accords, our competitors can take those markets away from us.”
Now, there’s a compelling argument: the competition’s going to eat our lunch. Sounds an awful lot like what Scott Fritz of the American Soybean Association told Congress last month when he and a panel full of farm commodity group representatives urged increasing food trade with Cuba, “”We can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch our competitors supply a market where we have a natural advantage.”
So, what’s the difference then between trade with, say, Colombia, and trade with Cuba? Is it that Colombia would have “free” access to the U.S. market and Cuba would gain no new access? (Well, and Cuba doesn’t have any access now.) I’m not against the free trade agreements negotiated with Colombia, Panama or Korea, but keep in mind that free trade isn’t always a simple sell to U.S. producers. FTAs offer U.S. producers the hope of increased access to a foreign market in exchange for foreign producers gaining freer access to our market too. Uniquely, the Peterson proposal would only increase U.S. market share in Cuba – as a rancher friend of mine from Montana often says with an urgent glint in his eye, “We’re talking about one-way trade here!” (Not that I’m for one-way trade, either. But I’ll bet American farmers would take it while it lasts.)
Noriega admits that the Cuba embargo has failed to produce its intended results – yet. But now is not the time to “resuscitate” Castro, he warns. “We can do right by our farmers without compromising our values.” Well that sure sounds nice but I wouldn’t take it to the bank.
Our current policy violates our freedom to travel, harms the Cuban people more than it harms the Cuban government, and puts U.S. farmers in need of new markets at a disadvantage in a natural market 90 miles away. How many American values are worth treading on for the satisfaction that we didn’t give the old man the satisfaction? So long as we continue to stand in the way of free and open travel and food trade to the island, we’re not doing right by our farmers or the Cuban people.
– Anya Landau French