Former President Carter's recent trip to Cuba ignited debate in the media over US sanctions on the nation. In late May, the media overwhelmingly recommended that President Bush bring free trade to Cuba. Critics from human rights activists to big business chastised Bush for pandering to a Cuban-American lobby that itself is no longer solidly pro-embargo.
Nearly three-quarters of the opinions and editorials researched by CARMA International hinted or blatantly stated that Bush's hard line on Cuba had nothing to do with what's right for the US or Cuba, and everything to do with his chances for reelection in 2004 and his brother Jeb's chances for reelection as governor of Florida. "Even if we must wait for President Bush's brother to be safely reelected as governor of Florida before we can move to a more sensible policy, the debate must start now, wrote Micho Spring in The Boston Globe (May 21). A few stories additionally noted that public opinion among Cuban exiles is shifting, based on a new study that reports half of Cuban Americans support replacing the embargo with other measures.
Most critics of US policy towards Cuba stated that the embargo hasn't worked, calling Bush's stance antiquated and outdated. The Sun-Sentinel (May 21) called it a "rehash of 40 years of failed US policy, while Newsday (May 20) named the embargo a "creaky Cold War artifact. After 43 years, the media stated, Castro is still in charge, and Cuban citizens are still denied basic human rights such as freedom of speech and association.
Some reports went further to stress that the embargo hasn't toppled Castro because free trade is necessary to catalyze Cubans to fight for other freedoms, through the free exchange of goods and ideas.
Many reports used comments by the Bush administration to advance this cause, noting that we employ free trade with many other countries as a way to advance democracy in their lands. The New York Times (May 21) pointed out that Bush approved normalizing trade with China in 2000 because "this measure will help open markets to American products and help export American values, especially freedom and entrepreneurship." The Times quickly noted that Cuba is a different matter due to domestic political pressure.
Further, Castro uses the embargo as a scapegoat for the ills of Cuba, calling the US the Goliath to Castro's David. (A few reports even went so far as to agree with Castro on this, questioning why the US was picking on its southern neighbor when Cuba could teach us a thing or two about achieving low infant mortality and high literacy rates.)
Using this evidence of how the embargo has not helped Cubans, many in the media started to discuss how lifting the sanctions would help US businesses.
Journalists noted that farmers to big businessmen were in favor of increased trade with Cuba, and that this position is gaining more attention in the media. "All sorts of groups are beginning to see the Cuban embargo from an 'America first' perspective, and that's what's new, said Sally Grooms Cowal, head of the Cuba Policy Foundation (Fortune, May 27).
While President Bush obviously has well-founded concerns about the Cuban-American lobby's strength, it seems to be in the interest of both big business and human rights crusaders to lift the embargo. If this position continues to gain steam in the media, Bush may need to pander to a more formidable lobby than Florida voters.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.