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Patrick Manteiga’s Opening Speech on Ending the Cuban Embargo

Below is a transcript of Patrick Manteiga’s opening speech before his debate over ending the Cuban Embargo on Tuesday, June 30, at the Poynter Institute. (published in La Gaceta on July 3.)

“I believe most Americans don’t even understand the embargo.
“One of the big issues to address is the language used by embargo supporters. What is commonly called an embargo here is labeled by the Cubans as a blockade. An embargo is ‘an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a country,’ while a blockade is ‘the act of sealing off a place to prevent goods and people from entering or leaving a place.’
“If U.S. policy was just focused on our trade activity with Cuba, embargo would be an accurate description, but years of study and listening to people in the U.S. and Cuba have led me to believe blockade is a more accurate word to describe U.S. policy.
“The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Torricelli Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, in combination with placing Cuba on the list of terrorist nations and a host other policies, legislation and rules have combined to stifle trade and travel by U.S. companies and citizens. This spider web of sanctions was also designed to intimidate foreign countries, foreign banks and foreign companies from trading with Cuba, hence the blockade.
“A provision of Helms-Burton requires our trading partners to certify the products they sell to the U.S. don’t contain Cuban raw materials or intermediates. This trade sanction discourages countries from buying anything from Cuba. Why risk the ability to sell goods to the United States, one of the largest consuming countries in the world, by buying anything from Cuba?
“Another brick in our blockade is a rule that allows U.S. companies and individuals to sue, in U.S. courts, foreign entities that have profited from the use of confiscated U.S. property in Cuba. Of course, this confiscated property dates back to the early 1960s. So it’s really unclear to foreign countries and companies if trade or investment in Cuba could somehow be linked to these ‘confiscated properties.’ The goal of this provision is the same as the last, to scare foreigners from doing anything with Cuba.
“Our laws even prohibit foreigners from entering this country if their companies have somehow trafficked in U.S. property confiscated by Cuba. An example is the Toronto-based Sherritt Corporation. Its officers, executives and their families are not allowed a vacation at Busch Gardens or a visit anywhere in America because part of its nickel mining operations in Cuba is located at an old U.S. owned mine.
“Part of our blockade, dating back to the 1960s, is a rule that requires ships that visit Cuban ports to stay out of U.S. ports for six months after that visit. Imagine the extra fees charged by shipping companies to Cuba because of this. Your ship is 90 miles from the largest importer in the world, yet you can’t continue to a U.S. port.
“Until just recently, the U.S. falsely placed Cuba on the list of terrorist nations. That placement caused foreign and U.S. banks that handled Cuban transactions to prove that the Cuban money in their banks wasn’t linked to terrorist activities. How do you prove that? The chilling effect of this rule was recently demonstrated in February of 2014 when M&T Bank stopped handling the banking for Cuba’s UN office and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. Only in the last few weeks did a US bank agree to take Cuba as a client.
“Our efforts raised the price of goods, shipping and banking for anything Cuba imported, resulting in Cuba paying more for everything compared to its island neighbors. These laws also hurt Cuba’s exports, handicapping this poor country in building its economy. The U.S. has made a concerted effort to slow foreign investment.
“Our superpower of a nation has squeezed this small country of 11 and a half million people. The U.S. has tried to destabilize and remove the Cuban government at every opportunity. We twisted the arms of allies to back us in our efforts to crush the Cubans but after more than 55 years, they can no longer stomach our failed, vengeful and ugly policies. For 18 years, the U.N. has overwhelmingly voted for the U.S. to end our disastrous policy. The world wants us to drop this blockade. They know, as I do, that Cuba is poor not just for its economic decisions but because of the U.S. blockade and sanctions.
“Our policy has been to starve the Cuban people until their level of dissatisfaction and discomfort is so great that they overthrow their government and replace it with one of which we approve. Besides the fact this policy hasn’t worked, its cruelty should compel our great nation to end it. America is better than this.
“A small and ever-shrinking number of the self proclaimed Cuban exile community and their political friends still support the embargo-blockade but have run out of ways to defend it. They are now only left with telling you that Fidel Castro is too evil to trade with; that he is an absolute dictator who will somehow become more absolute if we sell him Florida strawberries, milk, tomatoes and orange juice. Don’t they know Fidel Castro hasn’t led Cuba since 2008?
“For decades, this group has controlled the information disseminated in America regarding Cuba. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba was no longer our natural political enemy, yet our Cuba policy became more draconian. Americans were told that Cuba’s human rights record was so miserable compared to everywhere else in the world that we had to punish them. We were led to believe that Cuba kept its people in line with machine guns and tanks. Cuba was sponsoring worldwide terrorism. They were our enemy.
“The deception required that U.S. citizens couldn’t travel to Cuba. Cubans who immigrated here for economic reasons had to swear the reasons were political. People who questioned these intricate fabrications were attacked, shunned, politically challenged and were always called communists. Even our media was afraid to challenge this story line.
“Thousands of U.S. citizens have now been to Cuba and the genie is out of the bottle. The reality of Cuba is not what we were told. Cuba’s human rights record is better than many of our good international friends. Women and Afro-Cubans are treated as equals to light-skinned men.
“Gays are not persecuted. Religious diversity is allowed. Education and health care are offered for free to everyone. Does Cuba offer an independent press, no; freedom of political expression as we know it, no. Do we blockade other countries that have these deficiencies, no.
“After visiting Cuba, who comes away believing it is worse than Saudi Arabia, China or El Salvador?
“Cuba’s inclusion on the list of terrorist nations was due to the extremists in the Cuban-American community exercising totalitarian control on U.S. policy on Cuba. Now that the president is no longer following the lead of these extremists, Cuba has been removed from the list.
“I have met the Cuban government from Fidel Castro to the head of the Cuba National Assembly. I’ve listened to ministers from foreign affairs, tourism, healthcare, imports and the economy. I’ve met with all of the head diplomats assigned to the U.S. since 1999.
“I can tell you these people aren’t our enemy, even though current U.S. policy is to remove them from power. These people want to be America’s friend. They also want America’s acceptance that Cuba is a sovereign nation that will make its own future.
“The benefits of trade, travel and normalized relations with Cuba are big for America and the Bay Area. Cooperation on issues of drug interdiction, the ecology of the gulf and Florida Straits and oil exploration will help safeguard Florida’s shores.
“The poor condition of Cuba’s infrastructure offers opportunities for Florida businesses to help build a new electrical grid, cell towers and port facilities. Florida agriculture will benefit. Our construction industry will be able to compete to develop new hotels, condos and golf courses.
“Travel to Cuba adds many more flights out of Bay Area airports. More cruise ships will call Tampa home as they add Cuba as a port of call. Container traffic will increase
“Best of all is that our area will reunite with its closest foreign neighbor. We have been separated for so long that few really remember just how important and special that relationship was.”

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