(Washington, D.C.): Yesterday, congressional leaders
agreed to the most significant erosion of U.S. sanctions against
Communist Cuba in four decades by approving the sale of American
food products to that island nation. According to the 28 September
editions of the New York Times, the deal would allow Cuba
to make cash purchases of U.S. food products, financed through third
countries. The agreement, hammered out after intense lobbying by
U.S. agribusinesses, would also eliminate restrictions on travel to
Cuba for those who seek to export foodstuffs there.
The move is a giant bound onto the slippery slope toward full
normalization of relations with one of the world's last
unreconstructed totalitarian regimes -- something the Clinton-Gore
Administration clearly intends to effect before leaving office. At
this point, the only impediment to House and Senate adoption of this
deal will be if the proponents decide to try to get all they want
in one bite, rather than the two contemplated by the
Even in this electoral silly season, with the remnants of
budgetary discipline being sacrificed left and right in the quest
for votes, many legislators are clearly uneasy about not just
selling Castro food but having the American taxpayer pay for
it. Since the only prospects for large-scale sales of
U.S. food to the impoverished Cuban people and/or government is to
have them subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer (e.g., in the
form of Commodity Credit Corporation credits), the greediest of the
agribusinesses and their champions on Capitol Hill are intent on
striking from the pending compromise restrictions on CCC and other
taxpayer-subsidized lubricants to trade.
The case for opposing even the relatively modest -- to say
nothing of the more costly -- of these openings to the Castro regime
was made by the Center for Security Policy's President, Frank J.
Gaffney, Jr., in testimony last week before the U.S. International
Trade Commission. In the following prepared statement and orally
delivered remarks, Mr. Gaffney made clear that, while easing the
embargo may advance the interests of a relatively small
number of American companies (as opposed to individual farmers,
who are unlikely to benefit appreciably from the sweetheart
deals Castro will secure from unscrupulous multinational
agribusinesses), the net effect is likely to be to provide
economic life-support for Fidel's despotic government. This would be
in the interests of neither the United States nor the long-suffering
Submitted Testimony by Frank J. Gaffney,
President, The Center for Security Policy
Before the International Trade Commission
19 September 2000
'Freedom is served by Maintaining Sanctions on
I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before the
International Trade Commission to address the impact of the economic
embargo the United States has long maintained against Fidel Castro's
Cuba. I do so from the perspective of a former senior official in
the Reagan Defense Department and as the current President of the
Center for Security Policy -- an organization that concerns itself
with strategic developments that bear on our national defense and
As the Commission evaluates the impact of the U.S. economic
embargo on Cuba, you will be urged to embrace three seductive
notions. Permit me to address each in turn briefly:
Untrue: The Embargo has 'Failed'
The first of these is the proposition that the embargo
has been a failure. In making this claim, critics of our present
economic sanctions define success, at least implicitly, in terms of
removing Fidel Castro from power.
To be sure, this certainly would have been desirable to have
accomplished years ago -- for both the United States and for the
Cuban people who have long-suffered under Castro's totalitarian
misrule. Economic sanctions, especially ones actively undercut by
other nations, have limited ability to effect regime change.
That does not mean, however, that the embargo has "failed." In
fact, I believe that it would be more accurate to describe the
effect of the embargo on Cuba as an incomplete success, and
certainly no abject failure.
After all, there can be no doubt that U.S. economic sanctions
have succeeded in crippling Castro's ability to amass the wealth
that would have enabled him to assemble a far more formidable
military and other threats to U.S. interests.
That said, Fidel has certainly pursued -- and continues to do so
-- what are known as "asymmetric" threats to the United States, its
forces and interests. These are believed to include biological
weapons programs, information warfare capabilities and a nuclear
reactor program that, if brought on-line, could threaten to unleash
Chernobyl-like levels of deadly radiation upwind from millions of
These potentially lethal means of doing harm to the United States
pale by comparison, however, with the magnitude of the threat a
richer Castro regime would surely have sought to mount in an
international marketplace awash with long-range ballistic missiles
and nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, no one can say for sure how much worse things would
have been in these and other ways had the constraints imposed by the
American economic embargo not been present. We do know, however,
that when Castro was able to offset them with the largesse of his
Soviet sponsors, he managed to dispatch expeditionary forces to
Africa and to provide underwriting for a variety of Marxist and
other terrorist groups and odious governments in the Western
Fortunately, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of what
President Reagan accurately described as the "Evil Empire," however,
its Cuban outliers had their hands full just keeping the Castro
regime afloat. Given the dire straits into which Fidel has plunged
Cuba's economy, even the considerable cash flow the government is
garnering from illegal narco-trafficking (with which Castro is
reportedly personally implicated) has been insufficient to support
the sort of aggressive international agenda Cuba pursued as a Cold
War proxy for the USSR.
Had this not been the case, it seems unlikely that the
hemisphere would have reached the point it did during the 1990s when
Cuba was the only nation in the hemisphere that did not enjoy
Unfortunately, that happy state of affairs has already begun to
unravel. In Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama, for example, we
are witnessing developments that suggest trouble ahead for the
political stability and economic opportunity of the region. Notably,
Venezuela's dictator-in-the-making, President Victor Chavez, has
publicly declared that he "loves" Fidel and is actively working to
inflict upon his country Castro's "revolutionary" model.
In short, in weighing the success and shortcomings of the U.S.
embargo, it may be difficult to say with precision how much worse
would things have been without it. But the embargo has, in my
judgment, helped reduce Castro's capacity for malevolence. Should it
be removed or eased while he retains power, moreover, a fundamental
truth will likely apply: The more cash Castro has at his disposal,
the better able Fidel will be to cling to power -- and to try to
make up for lost time by reinvigorating and consolidating his
anti-U.S. and anti-democracy campaigns throughout much of Latin
Untrue: U.S. Farmers and Businessmen Are
Missing a Windfall
Second, those who claim the embargo has failed often insist that
its only effect has been to punish American concerns who could
otherwise be making good money selling food, medicine and other
commodities to the Cuban market. Here again, the facts suggest that
"it ain't necessarily so."
For one thing, it turns out the rest of the world is not
making huge profits selling in the Cuban market. Last year, for
example, the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles
Times published reports documenting the fact that Canadian,
European and Latin American governments and companies that once were
convinced they could make a killing investing in Cuba (with the
Americans held at bay) have been sobered by hard experience with the
As the Journal reported on 28 June 1999, "'[In 1993],
there was an effervescent feeling that Cuba had opened up a process
of change,' says Archibald Ritter, a prominent Cuba scholar at
Carleton University in Ottawa."
In light of Fidel's double-dealing (e.g., giving proprietary
information developed at one company's expense and contracts based
upon them to competitors), his capriciously instituted impediments
to doing business in Cuba (e.g., confiscation of portable copiers on
the grounds that they could be "subversive tools") and his regime's
determination to maintain control over foreign investments, even the
companies that seemed to delight in defying U.S. policy -- like
Canada's Sherritt International Corporation -- have pulled back.
The Journal reported that Sherritt "had raised nearly
$500 million three years ago to invest on the island. Now the mining
and energy company is looking elsewhere; it just bought a share of a
nickel mine in Australia for about $35 million. 'There's a limit to
the rate you can invest in Cuba,' Sherritt Chairman Ian Delaney told
reporters after the company's annual meeting in May."
In words that were intended to be prescriptive to other
businessmen, moreover, a Canadian entrepreneur -- who once was
enthusiastic about investing in Cuba -- last year wrote in a
financial newsletter quoted by the Wall Street Journal that
"The best way to see Cuba is on a holiday package to the island's
beautiful beaches. Don't waste time in the business district."
An underlying fact of life is that the Cuban people have no money
with which to buy American products -- any more than they do those
of our competitors.
In other words, the only way in which American farmers
and businessmen are likely to prosper from selling their products in
so impoverished a place as Castro's Cuba is if American taxpayers
subsidize their sales.
Under certain circumstances, such subsidies can be rationalized.
But in every case, before the taxpayer is obliged to underwrite
transactions that can not only wind up costing the U.S. Treasury
dearly but that can have undesirable political and strategic
repercussions, to boot, these subsidies must be subjected to the
closest scrutiny. National decisions to do business in that fashion
should then proceed, if at all, only after open, informed and
It is deeply distressing that the present, frenzied effort to get
the embargo lifted appears to be a stalking horse for securing such
subsidies, instead, through a non-transparent and back-door manner.
Presumably, this is because the huge agribusinesses -- which tend to
benefit far more from this sort of taxpayer-subsidized trade than do
the small farmers whose plight is far more often touted by those who
would end U.S. trade sanctions -- are reluctant to be seen seeking a
renewal of the sorts of Commodity Credit Corporation hand-outs that
previously cost the American people hundreds of millions of dollars
worth of write-offs on grain sales to countries like Saddam
Hussein's Iraq and the Soviet Union.
Untrue: 'Engagement' Will Free
Finally, proponents of doing more business with Castro's Cuba
often try to dress up their true motivations -- namely, greed --
with pious pronouncements that doing what will profit them is
actually noble. They typically contend that economic "engagement"
will not only improve the lot in life of the people they intend to
sell to, trade with and employ in countries like Cuba; it is said
that it will also produce, at least over time, desirable political
Unfortunately, time after time, in country after country where
this practice has been applied, it has proven to be cynically
exploited by the government in question to secure legitimacy and
financial life-support from the West, while staving off political
liberalization. This was true with the first Communist government in
Lenin's Soviet Union -- which survived its infancy only by securing
Western investments and other cash infusions. It has, moreover, had
similarly dismal results in each of the Communist nations where it
has subsequently been applied.
For example, reasonable people can disagree about the
significance and extent of changes U.S. and Western "engagement" has
effected in the economic system in China. But trade on basically
Beijing's terms has, to this point, certainly has not created the
liberty, the freedoms -- to say nothing of the democratic
institutions -- that have often been promised as the inevitable
result of "engaging" the Communist Chinese.
The point is, if we are genuinely interested in promoting
freedom, then enriching those who are responsible for repressing it
is a real formula for failure. And that, regrettably, would be the
ineluctable consequence of lifting the embargo while Castro remains
What is more, were we to lift the embargo while Fidel remains in
charge, we may well make more problematic the chances for real
reform after he finally goes. In this connection, I commend to the
Commission's attention the views of one of our government's most
astute and informed observers of developments in Cuba -- Rep.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- who believes that Cuba would probably enjoy a
transition to democratic capitalism unless the U.S. embargo were
In that case, Rep. Diaz-Balart has warned, chances are good that
Castro would be succeeded by a government determined to pursue the
"Little China" model of fascist capitalism -- under which foreign
infusions of capital are welcome, provided they are
effectively controlled by the state (e.g., through joint ventures,
state-owned entities, etc.) and political control remains firmly in
the hands of the regime and its adherents.
I would like to conclude my remarks by quoting an individual
whose savoir faire in the world of international business
is the stuff of legends. In an op.ed. article in the 27 June 1999
editions of El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language version
of The Miami Herald, Donald Trump made the following
"I perfectly understand the arguments that are frequently used in
favor of lifting the embargo. The Cold War has ended. Castro has not
much time left. Investing money in the Cuban economy would benefit a
people that has suffered for a long time. It would be a way of
exerting pressure so that Cuba "opens up": it would help export
democracy and promote free enterprise. All those arguments
are totally false.
For me, there are no doubts regarding the embargo. Of
course we must keep the embargo. We must keep it until Castro
In short, Mr. Chairman and members of this
distinguished Commission, I am convinced that -- even if some small
subset of America were to benefit economically from lifting the U.S.
economic embargo -- it will not translate into, on net, a
positive result for the Nation as a whole. And it certainly
would not help the people of Cuba.