Must-read article by William Leogrande on Foreign Policy about The Cuba Lobby in DC, and their influence over Washington. I have a couple issues with this article:
1) the headline “Castro-hating right wing”. To clarify, they’re not the only ones who hate Castro. An overwhelming majority of Cuban-Americans have no love for Fidel and Raul, and most of us are not right-wing.
2) It depicts the Cuba Lobby as the most powerful lobbying group in America. They are not. Their PAC raised only $500,000 last election cycle, almost a 40% drop from what they raised in 2008, and is ranked 1,206 out of all PACs in campaign contribution amounts by OpenSecrets.org. They are not drawing in new donors who actually care about maintaining the embargo, only donors who care about gaining access to our Cuban-American members of Congress. Their influence is directly proportional to salience and urgency (or completely lack thereof) of Cuba policy within foreign policy circles. In other words, in the list of foreign policy priorities our country faces, Cuba ranks very low, and any fruit borne of reforms implemented today will not be seen for many years. So in the cost-benefit analysis that goes on in every DC bureaucrats head, the immediate cost of having the insufferable Mario Diaz-Balart or Mauricio Claver-Carone jamming their noses up your ass and screaming “communist apologists!” through the halls of Capitol Hill, even if they can’t really do anything to you, is usually higher than any benefit that may come from pushing for changes in Cuba policy. Meanwhile, they’re support in both the Cuban-American and larger American communities has been steadily plumeting over the past decade. The minute Cuba becomes a half-way real priority for the Administration or State Department, you will see the Cuba Lobby’s “influence” drop to a level on par with their OpenSecrets ranking.
So now that we go that out of the way, lets focus on the major points the article does get right:
Today, U.S. relations with Latin America are suffering from an…irrational policy toward Cuba — a policy designed in the 1960s to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government and which, more than 50 years later, is no closer to success. Like U.S. policy toward China in the 1950s and 1960s, policy toward Cuba is frozen in place by a domestic political lobby, this one with roots in the electorally pivotal state of Florida. The Cuba Lobby combines the carrot of political money with the stick of political denunciation to keep wavering Congress members, government bureaucrats, and even presidents in line behind a policy that, as President Barack Obama himself admits, has failed for half a century and is supported by virtually no other countries.
The irrationality of U.S. policy does not stem just from concerns about electoral politics in Florida. The Cuban-American community has evolved to the point that a majority now favors engagement with Cuba, as both opinion polls and Obama’s electoral success in 2008 and 2012 demonstrate. Today, the larger problem is the climate of fear in the government bureaucracy, where even honest reporting about Cuba — let alone advocating a more sensible policy — can endanger one’s career. Democratic presidents, who ought to know better, have tolerated this distortion of the policy process and at times have reinforced it by allowing the Cuba lobby to extort concessions from them. But the cost is high — the gradual and insidious erosion of the government’s ability to make sound policy based on fact rather than fantasy.
If Obama intends to finally keep the 2008 campaign promise to take a new direction in relations with Cuba, the job can’t be left to foreign-policy bureaucrats, who are so terrified of the Cuba Lobby that they continue to believe, or pretend to believe, absurdities — that Cubans are watching TV Martí, for instance, or that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. Only a determined president and a tough secretary of state can drive a new policy through a bureaucratic wasteland so paralyzed by fear and inertia.
Ok, a couple more things the article doesn’t mention – The founding members of the Cuba Lobby, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Robert Menendez, Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, were all elected into the US Congress at a time when a hardline position on Cuba was important to Cuban-American voters: 1988 through 2002. That is no longer the case. The community by every measure has left the hardliners behind. There is no resurgency whatsoever of support for the family travel bans or remittances, nor for any other travel restrictions toward Cuba (even those young Cuban-Americans who have stepped up to criticize Jay-Z have done so on the grounds that he was irresponsible in choosing the island as a vacation spot, but make no calls for restricting his right to do so). Thus the continued re-elections of these politicians has everything to do with their success in appealing to their constituencies in other matters, rather than their continued intransigent stance on Cuba. For years they peddled the myth that the Cuban-American community stood united in favor of a hardline policy, and then we went ahead and elected Joe Garcia and re-elected Obama in ’12, both of whom support greater openness toward the island.
Bottomline: this lobby only represents itself and absolutely no one else, especially not the Cuban-American community or the Cuban people.