The Miami Herald
Wed, Apr. 26, 2006

Scholars, artists rip embargo

Some Cuban-American scholars and artists have united to criticize the U.S. embargo of Cuba as a failure that should be changed to allow more trade and travel.


Prominent Cuban-American scholars and artists, calling U.S. policy toward Cuba a ''political and moral failure,'' are pressing the Bush administration to open travel to the island.

The group, named Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists for Change in U.S.-Cuba Policy, or ENCASA, is launching a publicity campaign against the U.S. trade embargo and Cuba travel ban. Current U.S. policy bars American tourists from traveling to Cuba but allows Cuban exiles to visit direct family -- but not aunts, uncles or cousins -- once every three years.

ENCASA's bold attack on U.S. Cuba policy comes just weeks before the administration's Cuba commission will recommend to President Bush ways to help speed up a democratic transition in Cuba. It also comes at a time when some scholars and activists have expressed concerns that an escalating atmosphere of intolerance in Miami is curtailing discourse over Cuba.

''We have organized ourselves to voice our outrage at a policy that is inhumane, unjust, ill-conceived, hypocritical, and contrary to American ideals,'' states a letter that the group plans to publish Thursday in a full-page advertisement in The Miami Herald.

``We are determined that no longer will others in our community speak for us as they continue to insist on taking this country down a misguided path that has served neither the best interests of the United States nor those of the Cuban people.''

ENCASA is comprised mostly of academics who condemn Cuba's government for human rights abuses and who study Cuba and the exile community. It includes Lisandro Perez, who once headed Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute; Cornell University history and Latino studies Professor Maria Cristina Garcia, and Princeton University Professor Alejandro Portes. The group's partial list of about 100 members includes six academics from the University of Miami and five from FIU.

''For a long time, I believed in the embargo and U.S. strategy and what they were trying to accomplish,'' said Garcia, 45. ``The older I get, the less I believe in militaristic policies that cause war and division and separation . . . There are steps we can take to bring about a positive change in Cuba.''

Other scholars, though, counter that more travel to Cuba will do nothing to bring democracy to the island and could even delay it. University of Miami professor Jaime Suchlicki, who heads the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said ENCASA is expounding ``worn-out slogans espoused by the left for more than 40 years.''

``For the past 20 years we've had tourists from Latin America and Europe going to Cuba, and they haven't brought democracy. Do we expect that Americans have a magic wand that is going to bring democracy?''


Suchlicki did say, however, that he believes Cuban exiles and Cuban Americans should be allowed more travel to Cuba, because unlike American tourists, they have a track record of relaying democratic ideas when they visit the island.

ENCASA also takes aim at the U.S. trade embargo, the centerpiece of U.S. policy toward Cuba for 45 years.

''The U.S. embargo inflicts economic hardship on the Cuban people while denying opportunities to American farmers and business,'' the group said. ``Increasingly, hard-line U.S. policies have done nothing but reinforce hard-line tendencies on the island.''

FIU international relations Professor Antonio Jorge, a Cuban exile, said ENCASA doesn't offer a strategy that shows how lifting the sanctions would hasten a democratic transition. He said the embargo is not meant to topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but, rather, to deny his communist government critical resources. ''Lifting these sanctions would mean that the regime has finally attained what it has wanted for so long: validation in the eyes of the international community, and this regime doesn't deserve that,'' Jorge said.

ENCASA members anticipate that the commission will advise Bush to tighten travel restrictions even more.

''In Washington and other places there is a notion that Cuban Americans speak with a unified voice on this, and we don't,'' Perez said, referring to Cuban-American politicians, who are strong embargo advocates in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart said in a written statement: ``I just wish that these people who criticize U.S. policy would, for once, lift a finger or spend a dollar to try to help a political prisoner or the family of a political prisoner in Cuba.''

Even though ENCASA acknowledges ''violations of basic freedoms and rights in Cuba,'' the group also condemns what it views as an atmosphere of intolerance in the exile community.

''The only beneficiaries of this culture of intransigence are certain enterprises, politicians, and media personalities who have built careers and fortunes manipulating the pain of our community,'' the letter states.


ENCASA plans to send a delegation to Washington in May to lobby Congress and the White House. Among its local members are independent scholar Max Castro, lawyer Alfredo Duran and Elizabeth Cerejido, curator at FIU's Frost Museum.

To pay for the $11,000-plus ad, the group took up a collection from members and got a donation from the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, said Puentes Cubanos director Silvia Wilhelm, who is part of ENCASA. According to its website, the foundation issues grants promoting world peace and in recent years has been concentrating on U.S.-Cuban relations.

''For the first time, the great Cuban-American intellectuals throughout the nation are taking an active role in the political landscape,'' Wilhelm said. ``We truly believe that changing policy on this side will have repercussions on the other side.''