Behind Obama

Democratic and Republican consultants and politicians are joining forces in a new group to lobby in Congress against the economic embargo on Cuba. U.S. businesspeople are moving the cards.

After announcing on December 17 the start of talks with the Cuban government, Obama has taken other steps that are encouraging U.S. economic and political actors.

Foto: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Influential politicians, consultants and former officials of the U.S. government joined to create a lobby that will work in Congress to eliminate the economic blockade on Cuba. The decision was announced by the daily The Wall Street Journal on April 17, three days after the White House announced that it would take the Caribbean island off the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, one of the arguments wielded by the U.S. administration to maintain the anti-Cuba policy.

With the name of Engage Cuba, this group will start operating next month with the aim of repealing the ban against doing business with the Caribbean nation. The WSJ reported that this non-profit group will act in the Senate and the House of Representatives “to repeal the long-standing trade and travel embargo with Cuba,” which it describes as “a vestige of the Cold War.”

 

Important U.S. business groups and nongovernmental organisations have already committed financing to Engage Cuba. The National Foreign Trade Council, which represents the major corporations and lobbies in Congress to expand international trade, said it would sign up as one of its members.

 

Serving as senior advisor to the group will be Steven Law, a former official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and current president of the American Crossroads super PAC, a group that spends millions backing Republican candidates.

 

Another sign that not only the Democrats are starting to think about a normalisation of relations with Havana is the union of another two prominent Republican lobbyists, both with the firm Fierce Government Relations: former President George W. Bush aide for legislative affairs Kirsten Chadwick will manage much of the lobbying in the House of Representatives, while Billy Piper, a former top aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell, will manage the Senate lobbying.

 

Veteran Democrat Luke Albee will also join the group, while Luis Miranda, former White House director of Hispanic media and an aide to President Barack Obama, appears as one of the organizers of Engage Cuba.

 

Though Republican circles in Congress are still expressing their rejection of the normalisation of relations with Cuba, business and political spheres are increasingly confirming their interest in doing business with the Caribbean island. The WSJ article confesses that “Many American businesses see the island as a huge potential business opportunity.”

 

The daily says that an agricultural coalition and telecommunications and tech companies are among the sectors already exploring the Cuban market and pressing to eliminate the laws that prevent them from investing in and trading with Cuba.

 

James Williams, a consultant who will serve as president of Engage Cuba, said that the economic embargo represented a failed policy. “Has isolation for 54 years advanced any of our goals? The answer is clearly no,” said Williams.

 

The perception of isolation, however, is not understood the same way by all the observers. U.S. analyst Noam Chomsky said in a recent interview for Russia Today that the decision of the U.S. president to dialogue with the government of Raúl Castro is not a noble gesture, but rather only Obama’s recognition that the United States is being practically expelled from the hemisphere because of its isolation in this matter, he explained. It is the United States and not Cuba that is being isolated, said Chomsky.

 

Another expert, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), Alicia Bárcenas, deems “Cuba is at a very propitious moment to welcome the new investments and forms of production and for the U.S. economic actors it would be very important to be able to participate. There are several sectors that are already asking for this embargo to end.”

 

Bárcenas considered correct the process of transformations being undertaken by the island’s government despite the U.S. economic blockade. “I think,” she said, “that Cuba in more than 50 years has been able to resist and to outline its own productive strategy. Today the United States loses more with the blockade than Cuba does.” The U.S. businesspeople seem to agree. (2015)

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