Anti-Castro lobby keeps embargo in place

Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the US imposed an embargo on all trade, investment and travel with Cuba in an attempt to weaken the communist government of Fidel Castro.

On August 13, Castro celebrated his 85th birthday and critics say that the embargo designed to oust him as instead hurt average Cubans for decades.

Cubans who fled the island after Castro’s revolution landed in the US and pushed to keep the fight against Castro alive — and so the anti-Castro lobby was born.

“They give a lot of money, and US elections are in fact privately financed, and so they've been able to figure out how to play the game. Even though they are a small percentage of the population, they play very big in a swing state,” said Frank Sharry, founder of America’s Voice.

Polls consistently show that two thirds of Americans favor ending the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba — and several members of Congress have come out in agreement.

“This whole idea of sanctions, all these pretend free traders, they’re the ones who put on these trade sanctions. This is why we still don’t have trade relationships with Cuba. It’s about time we talked to Cuba and stopped fighting these wars that are about 30 or 40 years old,” said Ron Paul, presidential candidate and Republican congressman from Texas.

Anti-Castro political action committees have given a total of $1,798,124 in donations to House and Senate candidates from 2004 to 2010. Anti-Castro PACs gave more than half a million dollars to both Republicans and Democrats in 2010 alone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than 1% of Americans are of Cuban origin — and the majority emigrated before the end of the Cold War, like Center for a Free Cuba Director Frank Calzon. Calzon has pushed for an end to the Castro regime through a variety of organizations, including the Cuban American National Foundation and Freedom House.

Calzon’s work has been partly funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is financed by Congress.

“We are a think tank, we gather and disseminate information about Cuba to opinion makers and decision makers around the world,” said Calzon.

Luis Rumbaut, an attorney with the Cuban American Alliance Education Fund, said it’s a circular flow of political donations from Anti-Castro PACs and grants for “Cuba after Castro” research.

“Congress appropriates tens of millions of dollars for purposes of overthrowing the cuban government every year. A lot of that is supposed to be going to the dissidents in Cuba but it never gets there,” said Rumbaut. “Instead, it goes mostly to Southern Florida and other parts of the country where there's a whole industry of people, a whole industry of counterrevolution, that is maintained by this. And it’s a living. This has been going on for 50 years. This is a lifetime career for some of these people.”

Unlike the rest of the Hispanic population in the US, 58 percent of Cubans are US citizens, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Cubans that arrive and set foot on beaches in Florida are on their way to citizenship. Haitians that arrive and set foot on the beaches of Miami are on their way to a detention center and deportation,” Sharry said.

Cuban Americans are also a force to be reckoned with in Congress, where two Cuban-American senators, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), serve alongside four Cuban American representatives in the House.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is also Cuban-American. In an interview for Channel 4’s documentary “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” Ros-Lehtinen told interviewers: “I welcome the opportunity to have anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.”

The US Cuba Democracy PAC was the number one campaign donor in 2006 with $569,624 in donations. Mauricio Claver-Carone is one of the PAC’s directors.

“US Cuba Democracy PAC is a political action committee that advocates for an unconditional transition in Cuba towards democracy, free market and the rule of law. We educate members of congress and we support people who support the people who share the same political agenda as we do,” said Claver-Carone.

“We do not have the luxury as the Jewish community does of being in every state. It is very focused and concentrated in New Jersey and Florida, and so we have to make an effort to get out there and get out our agenda,” Claver-Carone added.  

The Anti-Castro PAC agenda has been known to change many politicians’ minds about the embargo, including President Barack Obama’s. As a Senator from Illinois in 2004, Obama opposed the embargo. In 2008, while campaigning before the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, Obama then said he favored keeping it in place.