Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lobbyist: Obama is "bailing out" Cuba

Maurcio Claver-Carone
WASHINGTON – Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of America’s most prominent pro-embargo lobbyists, gives Barack Obama mixed reviews for his approach toward Cuba.
Americans should be proud, he said in an interview, that the U.S. government hasn’t supported the Cuban government’s repression of dissidents and others who seek change.
The problem, he said, is that Obama loosened restrictions on travel and remittances so much that he’s “bailing out the regime at the worst possible time.”
Claver-Carone, 35, doesn’t object to Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba for humanitarian purposes.
Obama’s “biggest mistake” was allowing Cuban-Americans to visit the island as often as they want, he said.
Some of the travelers have only been in the United States for a year, he said. They emigrate to the U.S. and start collecting government welfare checks. They stay for a year, then begin traveling back to Cuba, where they spend much of their time – and their money.
“You can’t be a refugee and then in a year and a day, go back to the source country. That’s a problem. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too.
“Going to Cuba 10 times a year isn’t humanitarian. Our taxpayers are paying for a welfare state within a welfare state.”
He also objects to Obama administration rules making it easier for anyone – not just Cuban-Americans – to send money to Cuba.
He said his single biggest criticism of Obama’s Cuba policy is the “unlimited nature” of the rules on travel and remittances.
“I disagree with the overall policy changes,” he said.
Claver-Carone sits on the board of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports a tough stance against the Cuban government. He also edits a blog called Capitol Hill Cubans. He said he often finds himself writing blog posts when most other people are sleeping.
But, he said, “It’s worth every sleepless night.”

Too often, reporters are wrong about Cuba, he said. They publish stories containing “poorly elaborated facts.”
He said he wants to “make them think twice” about what they write.
“Eventually the truth is somewhere in the middle.”
He doesn’t consider himself a “political philosopher” or a “professional blogger.” He’s a lawyer and lobbyist first - a “nuts-and-bolts person” who sticks to “what reality is.”
Claver-Carone said the “biggest strength of U.S. policy” is that there is no question that the American government opposes Cuba’s socialist regime.
“The United States indisputably in all senses – symbolically, economically, politically – is not on the side of the regime. Every Cuban knows that the United States is not on the side of the regime. That’s important. We in no way colluded with this dictatorship.”
Cubans will remember and be grateful for that in the post-Castro era, just as eastern Europeans were thankful that Americans opposed leaders in Moscow, he said.
“After the fall of the Soviet Union, people in eastern Europe wanted to be U.S. allies. We were on their side and against the Soviets. Cuban people will feel that same way.”
Lending any support to Cuba’s socialist government would be “beyond grave,” he said. “It would be a betrayal” to democracy activists to normalize relations with the socialist government and lift economic sanctions while Cuba’s Communist Party is in power. “All international trade and tourism is still controlled by one monopoly.”
Claver-Carone said money from trade, travel and remittances inevitably benefits the socialist government, giving it money to buy patrol cars from Russia, police batons from Spain and other equipment.
At least, he said, the U.S. government does not funnel money or supplies to the socialist government, even indirectly.
“The United States can say we didn’t finance the repression of the people. We’ve got it right. We’re not supporting a dictatorship. It’s not an American baton hitting them over the head.”
Claver-Carone supports U.S. democracy programs in Cuba. The Bush administration believed in the programs and “took them to another level.”
However, non-profit organizations – not private contractors – should carry out democracy work in Cuba.
“I was an opponent of the contractors from Day 1. I don’t like contractors. I’m a huge fan of and have great respect for NGOs like the NDI (National Democratic Institute), NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and IRI (International Republican Institute).
NGOs boost democracy activists, who will someday form political parties that will challenge the socialist government. “That’s how campaigns start.”
Claver-Carone is also an admirer of the young Cuban bloggers who oppose the socialist government.
“They are getting their feet wet. Our role is to make sure that they have the resources to put out their views. I think there’s a real opportunity for the Cuban people to start with a clean slate. We don’t want to impose anything on them. We want to help the Cuban people.”
Cuban exiles are financially strong and ready to pour resources into Cuba to repair and improve the infrastructure in the post-Castro era.
“Miami was a swamp until Cubans got there. Cubans are very entrepreneurial. The future of Cuba is economically secure. Politically, it’s a process."
And change will take time.
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