April 10, 2012

It’s Not Just Ozzie Guillen: How The Cuba Lobby Paralyzes U.S. Policy

It's Not Just Ozzie Guillen: How The Cuba Lobby Paralyzes U.S. Policy
Ozzie Guillen

This morning it was abruptly announced that Ozzie Guillen, the  first-year manager of the Miami Marlins, would be suspended for five games following comments he made where he offered some mild praise for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Guillen was forced to take the unpaid suspension after he came under intense verbal attack from area interest groups. The barrage that the Miami Marlins manager is an example of a powerful interest group that has virtually paralyzed US-Cuba relations in the nation’s capital.

Informally referred to by leading writers as the “Cuba Lobby,” this tight-knit group of Political Action Committees (PACs), social organizations, and the lawmakers allied to them have successfully maintained a failed diplomatic freeze, travel ban, and embargo between the United States and Cuba for decades.

By exerting its influence, this lobby forces Washington politicians to ignore American public opinion at large. A 2009 Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of Americans favor restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and a majority of Americans wanted to see an end to the embargo as well. Figures and political groups with as varying politics as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pope, and former president Jimmy Carter have all called for ending the unilateral sanctions.

The powerful Cuba lobby, based in the crucial political swing state of Florida, exerts its influence largely through being a powerful political spender. The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, for example PAC spent a million dollars in 2008, and has already spent a quarter of a million dollars during this election cycle. In 2008 and 2010, the majority of the PAC’s funds went to Democrats, but during the 2012 cycle the organization is spending more heavily in favor of Republicans. It’s treasurer is Gus Machado, a Floridan wealthy auto dealer who regularly raises millions of dollars for charities in the area.

At a fancy gala in 2010, the organization brought together leading congressional Democrats and Republicans to support the US-Cuba embargo. “When it comes to the topic of Cuba, first comes Cuba and then comes the party,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a leading embargo proponent, at the event. The PAC is the largest foreign policy-related PAC spender according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Although it is frequently referred to as the “Cuba Lobby,” there is little evidence that the policies that the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and related organizations and individuals help the Cuban people or advance U.S. interests in Cuba.  Their hard line has not ended the Castro regime and its abuses, or helped advance the welfare of Cubans. Instead, through campaign donations and campaigns of intimidation, this lobby has effectively paralyzed U.S. policy.