The issues that Cuba insists on--most hotly, the cases of the Cuban Five and Luis Posada Carriles, both of which have to do with terrorism directed against Cuba from the United States--are treated as very minor matters by the US press, whose readers remain largely unaware of them. The general thrust of embargo-era coverage of Cuba has been to reduce a country of 11 million people to the easily demonizable Bearded One. For decades, we have read of "Castro's Cuba," reflecting a journalistic tilt toward seeing the country as if its celebrity head of state owned it. Forbes lists him as one of the world's richest men--perhaps the single thing in the US press that has most offended him--by ascribing to him the island's assets.
Behind much of what we read is the same unexamined assumption underlying US policy: that the Cuban Revolution is the fantasy of a superannuated lunatic, and when he is gone it will blow down with the first strong wind. It is long past time to examine that assumption.
The people the US press calls experts were surprised to see that the Cuban government displayed considerable stability in August. The word some commentators are using to describe the present phenomenon is "institutionalization," as if Fidel and Raúl Castro, along with many others, had not dedicated much of their effort over the past five decades in Cuba to creating institutions and locking them into place.
Despite the difficulties imposed by the United States embargo, Cuba is not isolated. As of 2004, its hard-currency business has been conducted in euros instead of dollars. The Canadian company Pebercan is exploring Cuba's recently discovered offshore deposits of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. On September 10 India's ONCG Videsh signed a joint-venture oil exploration agreement, and there are oil deals with companies from Malaysia, Norway and Spain. Cuba exports cobalt, and, with the third-largest nickel reserves in the world at a time when the price has tripled, it has a joint venture for nickel mining with China. It is difficult to see how China, already Cuba's third-largest trade partner, will not play an important role as the Chinese economy continues to expand. The United States, meanwhile, continues to be frozen out of Cuba by its own policy, which affects some regions and sectors of the US economy more than others.
Especially isolated by the embargo of Cuba is the US Gulf Coast. Trade with Havana had been a cornerstone of New Orleans's economy since colonial days, and the Port of New Orleans, a key indicator of the city's viability, took a serious hit from the imposition of the trade embargo of Cuba by President Kennedy forty-four years ago.
Despite Washington's hostility, Havana has been cultivating relationships with individual states of the United States and in August signed a deal for farm products from the Navajo Nation. In March 2005, not six months before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco headed a three-day trade mission to Cuba. Congress in the last Clinton days passed a bipartisan measure permitting food and agricultural exports to Cuba, albeit for cash only, no credits. United States agricultural produce can be sold and shipped to Cuba much cheaper than Cubans can buy it elsewhere, so it's a good deal both for Cuba and for US farmers and the ports that handle the trade. Though the Bushists have sought to impede implementation of these exports, the Port of New Orleans was at the time of Blanco's visit to Cuba handling 56 percent of permitted shipments--nearly $200 million worth of goods a year, a fraction of what it could do if there were no embargo. Blanco and three state senators lunched for two hours with Fidel Castro and picked up $15 million worth of food-and-fiber business for Louisiana with the Cuban agency Alimport.
Scrapping the embargo of Cuba would help jump-start the Gulf Coast's crippled economy. But influential elements in Florida, including the President's baby brother--Dubya Lite, we could call him, inspired by the State Department's level of discourse--wouldn't like it.