Air Date: May 28, 1996 Program 9622


Teo Babun, President and CEO, T. Babun Group, Inc.
Guarione Diaz, Executive Director, Cuban-American National Planning Conference
Dario Moreno, Director, Graduate Program; Associate Professor of Political Science, Florida International University

DARIO MORENO: What I see happening with the increased repression and the closing down of Track II option by the United States is that more and more people in Cuba will see that there is no alternative but to stay quietly in their homes or to do something violent. That is the gamble the Cuban government is taking.

KEITH PORTER: The changing state of US-Cuban relations on this addition of Common Ground.

TEO BABUN: Where is the European union going to be on this? Where is the rest of the world going to be on this? There are going to be tremendous pressures coming from other places as Cuba increases their repression. So they're going to have to balance that.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.

In the most basic terms, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been frozen, unchanging and unwavering for over 30 years. Yet, closer examination shows the two nations lurching through a series of dramatic encounters over those decades often using economic, ideological, and sometimes military force against each other.

Today we talk with three Cuban Americans about the most recent developments in this relationship. Miami businessman, Teo Babun, first describes how the Cuban attack on planes belonging to the Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, affected US-Cuban relations.

BABUN: Without question, this has changed US politics toward Cuba by 180 degrees. What we have seen here is that the United States was arguably moving in a direction where we were beginning to respond slowly to movement and free markets that were being introduced in Cuba with countersteps such as our Track II programs allowing for further humanitarian assistance and other [assistance] to be going to Cuba, including the permission for the press to open offices in Cuba. All those in response to the movements that were taking place in Cuba. We could have taken that thing to the extreme, and we could argue that down the line the United States and Cuba would have found a resolution to their problem, I bid slowly, but moving toward a peaceful transition in the country.

What has happened since February 24 and March 12, the signing of the Helms-Burton Bill, is that the United States has no room for reaction anymore. We have framed our US policy toward Cuba pretty much in a box, whereby the US reaction and US policy toward Cuba have already been established. It's very clear what the United States will do and will not do, can do and cannot do, and under what parameters. Consequently, there is no other alternative except to create a pressure-cooker atmosphere in the country, which can only manifest itself into a violent transition of some type.

How has that affected the various groups in Cuba? It very simply has substantially strengthened the hard-liners in Cuba, the reformers in the country, and has strengthened the hard-liners in the Cuban exile community. Therefore, we can, the moderate groups in the United States.

MORENO: An interesting aspect of the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue airplanes is that it wasn't an isolated incident. It came at a moment where there was a shift in Cuba's policy, both internationally and internally.

PORTER: This is Dario Moreno, a professor of Political Science at Florida International University in Miami.

MORENO: The week before the Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down, the Cuban government began a campaign against Cuban human rights advocates. This was surprising to most people, because Cuba was engaged in very important negotiations with the European economic community on trade issues. The crackdown on the dissidents and the shooting down of the planes led to a freezing of that process.

The next week Raul Castro gives a very, very hard-line speech regarding how far the economic reforms are going to go. Then Fidel Castro gives a hard-line speech criticizing some of the private restaurants that have opened up in Havana. So I don't think you can put this down as a single event. I think the Cuban government had a pretty good idea of what the US reaction was going to be, in terms of passing Helms-Burton. I don't think they miscalculated, like some analysts predicted.

I think that this is a return to a very, very difficult period inside of Cuba for the dissidents, and probably a slowdown (if not a reversal) of the privatization effort. Mr. Babun might disagree with me, but I'd be interested to hear his perspective.

BABUN: No. I generally agree with what you're saying. I don't think it was an event, it was a process. It includes other things such as the European Union coming up with some restrictions on assistance to Cuba. I think there was a number of social problems that the Cuban government was seeing develop within the country. They were losing control. The only thing I would sort of disagree with you on is that, whereas they did expect Helms-Burton to pass, I don't think they expected Helms-Burton to be the Helms-Burton that it became. Consequently, it did backfire a little bit on them in that they, for the life of them, didn't anticipate that the president would yield, for example, his power to Congress, which is such an unusual act. In some ways, it backfired.

MORENO: For clarification, some of our audience may not be too familiar with the Helms-Burton legislation, but one of its most bizarre aspects is that the president cannot normalize relations with Cuba or lift the embargo without the approval of Congress, which is a major surrender of executive powers to the legislature.

GUARIONE DIAZ: As far as the United States is concerned, the passage of Helms-Burton [Act] would mean a freeze in any kind of development that affects the relations between the United States and Cuba, certainly until after the general election in November. So for all practical purposes, nothing much will probably happen during the balance of this year.

PORTER: Guarione Diaz is executive director of the Cuban-American National Planning Conference.

DIAZ: Depending on how the election goes, there is a number of scenarios that could take place. But we can expect also, as those scenarios develop or even as they begin to develop before the election, that we still need interpretation of certain clauses in Helms-Burton that some of it is left to the discretion of the president. Some of it needs to be clarified in light of international agreements and other commitments. So that, to some extent, would condition the application of Helms-Burton.

As far as what will happen inside Cuba, I certainly agree with the points that my colleagues have just made. I would just like to add one comment to it. I think that the downing of the civilian planes by Cuba will have somewhat the equivalent effect in Cuba of what Tiananmen had for China. That is to say that we will see an exhilaration, in my view, of the opening of the economy, certainly from the inside and even more preferences for foreign investment and facilities and so forth and some liberalization of the economic activity inside Cuba (as far as Cubans themselves)—that is being allowed to do more things than they did in the past. I believe that will happen out of necessity, not because the Cuban government would like it to, but in light of less foreign investment (which is to be anticipated after Helms-Burton) and more closing of international resources. Then they will have the generating inside resources. The only way that the economy or society can do that is by freeing the energy of Cuban workers and potential entrepreneurs.

At the same time this happens, obviously there's going to be a continuation and increase in the repression by the government of any kind of dissidence. That has already been made very clear by Raul Castro's speeches and in [Fidel] Castro's speech, as well as very recently in Cuba and by all the government leaders. There will be very little room for any kind of dissidence in the media by nongovernmental organizations or by anybody else there.

In that sense the Cuban model will become a little closer perhaps in a more accelerating way to the Chinese and Vietnamese model. The repression politically and socially and more openness in terms of the economic activity. Finally, as far as the Cuban-American community is concerned, I think one of the effects of Helms-Burton will be to create a sort of waiting period by the political leadership and by many organizations that until now had followed a different path and tried to implement different actions—some in terms of support of Track II legislation, some in terms in a more open dialogue with the Cuban government, and some in terms of a harder and more military-like, political-like opposition to Castro. Because of Helms-Burton, I think there will be a tendency for awhile for many groups to wait and see what is going to happen—what implications it will have inside Cuba, how it will affect dissidents inside Cuba, and what the role will be in light of Helms-Burton that many Cuban-Americans (particularly those involved in Cuba, fears can play in the future.

PORTER: Alright. Now we have sort of opened up two different areas here. First of all, we were talking about Helms-Burton. Dario you made a good point that some of our listeners may not understand the full complexities of this. You mentioned the fact that it takes that power of normalization away from the executive branch and gives it to the legislative branch. Why don't you give us a quick summary of the more important points that you see in the Helms-Burton law.

MORENO: The Helms-Burton law was done for two reasons. One is to tighten the loopholes that some of the hard-liners saw in the Cuban embargo and to remove the threat that a president might come in and lift the embargo. The second aspect was to attempt to internationalize the embargo. So the other more prominent aspects of Helms-Burton are that it prevents any businessman who is trafficking in confiscated properties—in other words if a French company buys a hotel in Cuba and that hotel was once confiscated from an American citizen, that individual, the president of that French company, is barred from traveling in the United States. That is one important aspect.

The second important aspect is made to reduce foreign investment. Basically it says that if Cuban Americans who weren't US citizens when their property was confiscated now have standing in US courts to sue for those properties. Using the example of the French hotel, if that French hotel company has hotels in the United States, the Cuban businessman who once owned that property could then sue in US court that French company for the value of his assets.

Those are the attempts to internationalize the bill. There is major attempt to prevent foreign investment in Cuba. Basically congressman Lincoln Diaz-Ballard, one of the proponents of Helms-Burton, said it is to give people a choice between investing in the United States or investing in Cuba.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground about recent dramatic changes in the US-Cuban relationship.

Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

BABUN: Even the internationalization of the embargo, which brings up some questions as to the validity of whether it meets some of the requirements of NAFTA and GATT and the like, even if they're challenged by foreign countries, it would take two or three years before they're finally settled. Consequently, the impact this bill will have is the fear or the perception of concern by foreign investors. Therefore, the stoppage, if you will, of foreign investors going into Cuba and the reduction of foreign investment into Cuba, which is the real objective of the bill as Dario had mentioned, will be accomplished.

PORTER: This, again, is Teo Babun.

BABUN: If it isn't accomplished and if it takes too long, this is where I may differ a little bit with Mr. Diaz. I don't think the wild cards (I'm calling the wild cards those that are out of control both in the United States and Cuba who are expecting a quick reaction to Helms-Burton and who are expecting a manifestation that would be relatively quick—I mean within six months or a year) will have patience. The mere fact that they are wild cards indicates that they could do things and may do things that would instigate that violent reaction.

Keep in mind that this bill has four different titles. There is a title one, which is the issue of the tightening of the embargo. That includes everything from not allowing products that have Cuban sugar to enter the United States and that includes penalizing companies that buy sugar from Cuba and that also import sugar to the United States. It penalizes Russia for attempting to finish a nuclear power plant in Cuba or listening to a nuclear plant that they have in the country and on and on and on. I say on and on and on because there are just so many on that.

The second part, which is the internalization of the embargo that deals with specific requirements by the US State Department to take the embargo to the United Nations, prohibiting the international monetary fund from participating in Cuba and not allowing the World Bank from participating in Cuba and on and on and on and on. A number of those kinds of things.

Then, of course, title three is the one that deals with allowing US companies to sue in the United States against foreign companies who are investing in Cuba in expropriated properties.

And then title four, which is the one that doesn't permit foreigners or their families to travel to the United States. By the way, that one is the most interesting and is causing most of the concern on the foreign companies and shareholders. They are very concerned that their family would go to Disney World, for example, and they would be turned around and sent back. That part of the bill cannot be modified by the president at any time. The president has some leeway here and some issues that will come up August 1 where he'll be able to wave the part about the suing and the part about lending money to Russia, for example. But he cannot wave the part about traveling to Disney World.

DIAZ: Incidentally, I think that one of the interesting things about the impact of Helms-Burton and Cuba is that which has to do with the possibility of violence inside Cuba—violent resolution. In that respect, I'm not exactly sure that violence would be more likely after Helms-Burton than it was before. In other words, Helms-Burton would have as one of its consequences the facilitation or problem of violence solution in Cuba. By that we mean, for example, mass uprising and those kinds of things in which large parts of the population are involved. Of course there is violence between factions and among factions. There are a lot of dead, people that are dead or wounded. Those kinds of catalysts. That is what is generally understood by violence.

I'm not sure that Helms-Burton makes that more likely than it was before Helms-Burton. I say this for the following reason. As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the immediate consequences (and we've already seen that in Cuba of Helms-Burton) is that it has increased the repression by the government. It has narrowed the space that the Cuban government and security forces have given for the last two or three years to dissident groups, nongovernment organizations, and others to operate inside Cuba to publish newsletters or to meet in houses or to meet with diplomates and foreign visitors, etc.

The little space that had been provided in the last year or two has been practically closed for all intents and purposes. Which means in practical terms that it will be harder for anybody to organize any kind of violent opposition to the government, or even any kind of activity that is prohibited by the government. That is why, if there's any opposition to the government at least, and of course, in Cuba everything changes suddenly and unexpectedly, Cuba has been unpredictable in many ways for forty years. It is likely to continue being unpredictable. If there is one word to try to anticipate some scenarios, I would say that more than a widespread violence scenario, we would be looking into this enchantment by members of the army and some others in Cuba because of the economic situation have lost privileges, for example.

MORENO: I think we should be clear though that the repression that is occurring now occurred before Helms-Burton was signed. It seemed to me that it was a well calibrated policy change on the part of the Cuban government. I'm not sure if I agree with you, Guarione, that Helms-Burton reduces the possibility of a violent takeover. I see that if Fidel and Raul are intent on going through the course that it looks like they are outlining, which is greater internal repression and less economic liberty (you're right), they might be forced by necessity to reconsider that.

BABUN: What I meant, if I could explain it a little bit, is what Professor Robert Martin (a well-known sociologist and author) defines as unanticipated or unintended consequences in sociology and social sciences. By that you mean that you do things expecting that they may have a certain effect or certainly not anticipating that they're going to have X or Y effect, but because in a number of circumstances they do after all. Obviously, Helms-Burton did not, or Toricelli for that matter did not, anticipate and did not mean to increase repression, including Cuba. I think that is absolutely clear. No question about that.

The Cuban government takes that, as it took the downing of the planes of Brothers to the Rescue, as an excuse to say now we're going to be more repressive, etc., as it has done in other scenarios over the last forty years. It happens every now and then as a normal practice in Cuba. You're right in the sense that this intensification of repression did not occur exactly with Helms-Burton. In fact, there were some indications of it before the planes were down.

MORENO: What I see happening with the increased repression and the closing down of the Track II option by the United States is that more and more people in Cuba will see that there is no alternative but to stay quietly in their homes or to do something violent. That is the gamble the Cuban government is taking.

BABUN: Can I jump in?

PORTER: Yes. Mr. Babun, we haven't heard from you yet on the impact inside Cuba.

BABUN: I think maybe the way we analyze it is this way. Over the last couple of years the Cuban government, because of their economic problems and because of the tremendous pressure that they have seen, partially because of their economic problems over the last two years, have been making a number of decisions which appear to be making decisions singularly under a vacuum situation. That is, making a decision and anticipating that that decision in itself will resolve a problem without looking at the consequences of what that decision would be.

I think that the downing of the plane is a prime example of that. The same thing is going to happen now with the Cubans. They're already announcing an increase in repression. I think we saw it coming even before the downing of the plane. However, now that the hard-liners being stronger are beginning to take steps toward that, they're looking at it (in my opinion) under a vacuum process. Whereby, if we repress stronger than the people, then we'll have greater control and the people won't have any opportunity to rebel. However, where is the European Union going to be on this? Where is the rest of the world going to be on this? There are going to be tremendous pressures coming from other places as Cuba increases their repression. So they're going to have to balance that.

Also, they're saying we're going to slow down the economic reform now. We're going to look at it more closely. Wait a minute, you have 500,000 people that you have to lay off. Where are you going to put them to work? Hey, you have economic problems occurring all over the country. That means you need to increase your economic reforms. Are the people going to be happy with that? Probably not. So, what's happening is that they are looking at specific issues under a vacuum. I don't think it is sustainable. I think that the only manifestation of that is, in fact, a violent response of some type down the line. I don't know if it's six months from now; I don't know if it's three years from now. I can't visualize any other reaction except a violent response.

However, having said that I will tell you that there is absolutely no US policy nor US plan to deal with the issue of a violent uprising in Cuba. US policy strictly calls for a peaceful transition in Cuba. Yet, US policy, which is now the Helms-Burton Act, in effect creates a pressure cooker in the country. I'm saying that I don't see any other alternative except the manifestation through a violent uprising. We need to find a solution. We need to find a formula whereby if that takes place it will have the least amount of impact in the hemisphere.

PORTER: That is Teo Babun, he is president and CEO of the Teo Babun Group. Our other guests have been Guarione Diaz, executive director of the Cuban-American National Planning Conference and Dario Moreno, a professor of Political Science at Florida International University.

For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free, and the cassettes cost $5.00. To order a tape or a transcript or if you'd like to share your thoughts about the program, please write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Suite 500, Muscatine, Iowa, 52761. Be sure to refer to program number 9622. To order by credit card you can call us at 319-264-1500.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Liederman.

Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1996, The Stanley Foundation