THE WINDS OF CHANGE SHOULD BLOW SOUTH TOWARDS CUBA
Tom Daschle and Ed Schafer
It was 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, an event that signaled the utter failure of communism. The Soviet Union collapsed shortly after that, the Chinese began to embrace capitalism – first in their agricultural sector — and the rest, as they say, is history.
But 25 years later, we’re still staring down a little throwback authoritarian regime 90 miles off the coast of Florida on the island of Cuba. The cold war era justification for sanctions have long since passed, and the trade embargo failed at any rate to bring us the regime change we hoped it would.
Instead, both the US and Cuba, the most natural of trading partners, are simply poorer for it.
Now that the President has ended decades of diplomatic inertia toward Cuba, the time is ripe for Congress to revisit our embargo, the reality is that we already have a trading relationship with Cuba – particularly for a select group agricultural commodity products. Unfortunately, it’s a cumbersome and bureaucratic process that serves neither country’s interests. Our economic industries, whether it’s agricultural, manufacturing, transportation, banking, telecom, hospitality, or others, could greatly expand their business with Cuba if trade relations were established and improved.
It’s not that Cubans are going to start buying thousands of Chevy’s overnight. But they are looking forward, with the aid of American businesses, to building a better life.
For example, according to the US International Trade Commission, our share of Cuba’s agricultural imports would jump to 64% from 38%, an increase of nearly $500 million in annual sales if the current embargo was lifted.
Where do Cubans currently get the kind of hard currency they need just to put food on their families’ tables? Ironically, from the US. American relatives send an estimated $2 billion a year to the island. It would make great sense for us to get much of that back in the form of increased trade and business opportunities.
There’s no arguing that communism has left the world a legacy of brutal, repressive and economically inept regimes. But there’s also no good argument that starving them results in submission or the hoped for transitions to pluralistic free market capitalism. As we’ve seen in North Korea, the more desperate the situation for the populace, the tighter the regime’s control.
It’s time to take advantage once again of the natural economic ties between the US and Cuba. The US will get new markets for its business sectors. The average Cuban will enjoy an improved quality of life and, as we’ve seen in places such as China, the old communist model will begin to look ever more awkward and untenable going forward.
There will be a robust debate in Congress over normalizing our diplomatic relationship with Cuba. Regardless of how that debate unfolds, however, the Administration can and should act boldly to facilitate expanded trade between our two nations.
Trade is ultimately about freedom and freedom serves our country’s commercial interests and in the long-term – our strategic interests too.
Tom Daschle is the former Senate Majority Leader and represented South Dakota in the U.S. Congress from 1979-2005. He is currently the Chairman and CEO of the The Daschle Group, A Public Policy Advisory of Baker Donelson.
Ed Schafer is the former US Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush and former Governor of North Dakota. He sits on the Agenda Advisory Board.