End sanctions on a more open Cuba

Posted Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Cuba's Castro revolution, now in its 54th year, has given Cubans free healthcare, dental care, education and monthly rations. The country reportedly has no poverty, and Cubans enjoy a longer lifespan than Americans.

They have freedom of religion and can now own and sell their homes and cars, open private businesses and earn additional income on the black market. The Cuban president now is limited to two five-year terms.

But one would hardly trade places with them.

Many Cubans are educated but have no significant nongovernment jobs to go to. Many leave the country, trying to make a new life elsewhere.

There is still no free press or two-party political system. There is no significant Internet service. Life for most is paltry compared to ours.

I was part of a group from the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth that traveled to Cuba this month as part of a "people to people" exchange allowed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

In 2011, the U.S. made it legal again for Americans to travel to Cuba.

Never having been there, I imagined it was a repressive communist regime whose people hated Americans. Instead, Cubans were friendly, welcoming and eager to learn about the United States, where many hoped to travel.

That dream became possible for them on Jan. 14, two days after our group left, when the government lifted the requirement of an exit visa and other rules that limited Cubans from traveling abroad.

Tourism is Cuba's number one industry. Havana is safe. You can walk around the city without problems. Cubans will invite you into their homes. The homes in downtown Havana are small spaces within mostly crumbling buildings that the government does not have the resources to restore.

More than 50 years after his death, American writer Ernest Hemingway remains well-known in Havana. His home at Finca Vigia has an incredible view overlooking Havana from the top of a three-story tower where he worked. His home reportedly attracts more than 1,000 tourists a day.

Small steps toward capitalism in Cuba have not significantly changed the nation's relations with the U.S.

The failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 emboldened the Castro regime. But the U.S. response has proved costly and, in some ways, strange.

The U.S. trade embargo imposed in 1962 and reinforced by the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act of 1996 limits travel, restricts vessels trading with Cuba from docking in the United States for 180 days; and penalizes companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates a $1.2 billion loss to the U.S. economy.

Despite the strained relations, the U.S. has been using the military base at Guantanamo Bay under the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903 and pays $4,000 a year to the Cuban government, which does not cash the checks. Gitmo employs no Cubans.

Cuba will not change to our liking, nor will it totally reject its 1959 Revolution. The Cubans no longer export their military to Africa. The Soviets are gone. Now, Cuba relies on Hugo Chavez's Venezuela for its oil.

It is time to end the U.S. stalemate with Cuba. The sanction laws should be repealed. The U.S. should restore full diplomatic relations, negotiate for foreign investment in Cuba with protections for those investments, allow technology exchange and negotiate a new treaty for the Guantanamo Bay military base.

A half-century has proven that the U.S. cannot sanction Cuba into submission.

Perry Cockerell is an attorney and partner with Cantey Hanger LLP. He is a member of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.

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