Clinton faces another test of his great principles presently when he
will be forced to decide on the provision in Helms-Burton which would allow
U.S. companies and citizens to sue foreign companies which are operating
in Cuba and currently using American properties confiscated in 1959. Were
it not for the mobilizing international outcry from the EU, the Group of
Seven and the OAS -- and the considerable impact of Canadian tourists threatening
to boycott Florida -- Clinton's political truckling would surely result
in a cave-in to Jorge Mas Canosa and his exile band. The less tremulous
course would be to avoid such a messy showdown with our trading partners
and temporarily refuse to genuflect to Mas Canosa despite the electoral
importance of Florida. The considered bet is that Clinton will do exactly
that, commit the right deed for the wrong reason, and take advantage of
the provision's six-month waiver clause.
Because the waiver is renewable, the issue will assume operatic urgency in Miami, adding a suitably rheumy sheen to the U.S.' Cuban American albatross. What Cold War bipolar significance Cuba once had is now only the concern of archivists, but the mucky irony is that the old Soviet-Cuban arrangement -- unquestionably driven by the client, not the superpower -- is now ours to simulate in perpetual, if unintended, parody. No faction of the American plutocracy dares ignore the braying of Mas Canosa and his merry gang of pretenders.
This ground has been tilled endlessly, but deserves another pass: It remains a real stretch to view the exile leadership in any other light than that of arrant illegitimacy (I'm tending toward politeness here, I know). They numbered 150,000 strong in the pre-Castro era, distinguishing themselves by effortless cultural and economic fealty to the North American stranglehold on all aspects of Cuban life. No surprise that this abiding posture should find tidy congruence with contemporary capital's blatant non-allegiance to national borders and the lives of workers. (Do you suppose Cuban American operatives masquerading as "sports agents" promise "exploited" Cuban athlete defectors meetings with Michael Jordan and Phil Knight at the Nike compound?) Just as the exiles play the client card to effect a return on their own terms to the nominal homestead, once they're reestablished it's safe to assume the greeting they extend to their old colonial overlords will be most complaisant.
Since 1990 Washington has thought it could fashion such a change on the cheap, under the presumption that Castro was tottering. It brought the exiles out of the pantry and into the front parlor, and has let them do the cachet-by-default paseo. Until fairly recently the shared vision of a fantasy island where plundered holdings had been reclaimed and all had been made safe for Starbucks and Kmart seemed imminently corporeal.
American businessmen have been far less clairvoyant regarding such a
turnabout. And of late they've become overtly vocal about the stupidity
and obstinacy of the permanent government's bipartisan attitude. As a practical
matter, the Torricelli and Helms bills, added to the embargo, have cemented
European and Latin American investment in Cuba. That $2 billion in European
investments alone since the early 1990s, U.S. businesses realize, could
just as readily have been proffered by American firms. Subject to El
Jefe's terms, of course, but better than nothing.
Electoral concerns of our twin-headed Party of Fear warrant that U.S. policy stay hostage to Mas Canosa's provocations and intransigence. The insistence on a symbolic final solution to the Cold War thus picks up ancillary baggage as well, with a trade war invoking echoes of Reaganite anger over European aid to Nicaragua and the suggestion of "third way" social democracy. Take it another step back, and the Monroe Doctrine is reborn. Sure, there's a choice: Jettison these Miami troglodytes, or keep running the flag up the pole and rename it Old Hoary.