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Interview with Daniel T. Griswold and Ambassador Dennis K. Hays - 2002-05-22


MR. BORGIDA:
And now joining us for our pro and con debate, Ambassador Dennis Hays of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute.

Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.

Certainly a controversial topic. Ambassador Hays, I'll give you the first shot. Why are you opposed to lifting the embargo?

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
First off, I think the President provided a clarity to this issue that is very necessary.

MR. BORGIDA:
It's not fair to lean on the President so early. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
The issue and the problem here is that Fidel Castro, for 43 years, has denied his people the basic rights that you and I and most of the people in the world now take for granted. And that is that people have a right to choose their own destiny and their own future.

What we have, I believe, is a policy which combines both denying resources to a repressive regime -- this would be through our embargo -- but also what the President added here, which is very important, is that we intend to reach out, past the regime, to reach the Cuban people, to help the independent journalists, the economists, the people who are running libraries, to have a chance to get their voice heard in that country.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Griswold, a rebuttal?

MR. GRISWOLD:
I think Dennis and I can agree that Fidel Castro is a tyrant and the world will be better off when he exits the stage. But we have had this policy in place for 40 years. It has failed to change the nature of the Cuban regime. If anything, it has strengthened the hand of Fidel Castro by giving him a handy excuse for the failures of his socialist system.

Cuba is not a national security threat to the United States. That ceased with the end of the Cold War. The U.S. Defense Department has attested to that. So I think it is a hollow argument. We don't have sanctions against other countries because of their human rights records. I think it is time for a change. I think trade with the United States and dollars and tourism would help to undermine Fidel Castro.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
The trouble with that argument, quite frankly, is this is exactly what many of our allies and neighbors have been doing. The Canadians, the Europeans, many of the Latin countries, have gone into Cuba, I think with the very best of intentions, and with an expectation that through trade and investment they could change that regime.

What they've discovered, I think, if you ask the average Canadian or European at this point, is that the Castro regime works very hard to make sure that, what you and I would agree is a good event, does not happen. There has been no progress on human rights in Cuba.

MR. GRISWOLD:
There has been very little progress, but the Cuban people are somewhat better off because they can interact with foreigners. And the United States is in a unique position. We have the Cuban American community -- and, by the way, most of the dollars that do go to Cuba today come from Cuban Americans, $800 million a year in remittances, 100,000 or more Cuban Americans going to Cuba each year under emergency legislation, which happens at around Christmas time, so most of the dollars going there -- I think all Americans should have that same freedom. And I think it will speed the demise of Fidel Castro.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
That figure of remittances is a little high, but you are correct, there is a lot of money that goes there. But it is important to remember that it is possible to hate Fidel Castro and what he stands for and at the same time to love and care about your grandmother or your cousin or the people you grew up with.

So the choice that people have to make -- and it's a difficult one -- is if they can send money, and they know now that it can get directly to the people that they care about and their loved ones, then they are prepared to do that, even though, in some small measure, it reinforces the regime.

But the key here, the secret, is how do we get rid of that regime so that we can have a normal relationship and the Cuban people can decide what their own future will be.

MR. BORGIDA:
Gentlemen, I'm going to jump in for a moment, because I want to introduce that topic that we heard in the earlier report; that is, the U.S. domestic card, as it were, Jeb Bush running for Governor in Florida. As many of our viewers know, Florida was the state that decided the U.S. presidential election, in effect. Ambassador, what is the domestic political card here, the element that turns this issue one way or the other? Talk about that for us.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
I think what we see here is democracy in action. I'm not Cuban. I happen to be of sort of Irish-Scottish-German descent, but no one ever questions my ability to discuss issues on any of those countries. Or, likewise, Americans of Jewish or black or Armenian or Polish descent, quite appropriately have a voice in the activities and the policies with respect to those countries.

The Cuban American experience is not unique, but it is a success story. It's a success story of people who came literally with nothing on their backs and, through freedom and an economic system that gives them opportunities, they have created quite a functioning and a wonderful society. So that is what we are looking at when we see domestic politics. That's what America is. That's what democracy is.

MR. GRISWOLD:
It is all domestic politics, and in particular presidential politics. We are virtually alone in the world in trying to keep Cuba isolated. In fact, we have isolated ourselves in a sense. Most of the American people don't care about the embargo or favor removing it. There is a growing movement in Congress to lift the embargo, or at least parts of it. We have had majority votes in both chambers to extend credit for sales to Cuba. The House has voted twice now to lift the travel ban.

And there is a split within the Cuban American community. Older ones, who have a lot of legitimate resentments against Castro, favor the embargo, but the younger generation, I think rightly, is looking forward to a future of more engagement with the people of Cuba.

MR. BORGIDA:
Why is there that generational divide? I've heard that before in a number of polls. They've shown that younger Cuban Americans have one view and older ones have a different view.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
Always, who asks the question has a lot to do with what kind of answers you get. I think you go back to this question of people in the Cuban American community, and the American community at large, have no disagreement with the people of Cuba. What we have a disagreement with is a very small, tight group of individuals who, for their own power, have repressed the rights of their fellow citizens. But, Dan, I want to pick up on one thing you said. And that is this growing movement to try to engage Cuba. Leave the moral issue aside. We can disagree or agree on that. Let's look at it from an economic standpoint. Cuba is a bankrupt nation. Its economic policies have turned it into a pariah.

MR. GRISWOLD:
Because of Castro's policies.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
Exactly. And unless these policies are changed, Cuba cannot be a good trading partner. To my knowledge, everyone who has done business with Cuba has regretted it. Yes, some companies can make money off the backs of Cuban workers but, in general, anyone who has sold to Cuba has lost money.

MR. GRISWOLD:
Dennis, if we were to allow American farmers to sell goods to Cuba, like the way they can sell them anywhere around the world, we will take back some of those dollars. The U.S. Farm Bureau estimates we could be selling a billion dollars' worth of farm products to Cuba. Those are dollars that Castro couldn't go out and spend on the world for his mischief.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
He's actually more clever than that.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Griswold, Ambassador Hays, I'm going to jump in before you two continue the pro and con debate any further. Thanks so much for your time. It has been an engaging debate, pro and con.

Dennis Hays, of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Daniel Griswold, of the Cato Institute, thanks for joining us. An interesting discussion.

AMBASSADOR HAYS:
Thank you, David.

MR. GRISWOLD:
Thank you very much.

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