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Democracy or oligarchy?

by Follow the Money Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003 at 7:29 PM

Cuba's government is the only one in the world today that is publicly standing up to the neoconservative ideology of the New World Order. Although many Third World governments apparently agree with and support the Cubans, they seem unwilling at this point to risk the capital disinvestment which would follow taking an independent path to development. There are enormous natural resources in the Third World and billions of possible workers and consumers.

Democracy or oligarchy?

By Tom Crumpacker

Online Journal Contributing Writer

November 19, 2003—The removal of the Cuba travel amendment from the transportation budget bill by party leaders is quite disheartening for those of us who still want to believe we live in a democracy rather than an oligarchy.

The unconstitutional Cuba travel restrictions were first written into law in the fall of 2000 by Senator Trent Lott (Senate majority leader) and Congressmen Tom Delay (then majority whip, now majority leader) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R., Miami). In a stacked Conference Committee on the approved bills allowing sales of medicine and nutritional food to Cuba, they added a provision codifying the travel restrictions, which had nothing to do with medicine or food and had not been debated or voted on. At the time Congressman Mark Sanford (R., SC) said his leadership had "behaved shamefully" and Senator Max Baucus (D., MT) called the maneuver "a travesty of our democracy."

Every year since then the party leaders, who determine when and how bills are voted on, have prevented proposed bills repealing the restrictions (supported by substantial majorities) from reaching the floor or being debated or voted on. Meanwhile the administration's annual requests for enforcement money for the restrictions have been turned down each year by 55–60 percent majorities in the House. The restrictions (before 2000 that were administrative regulations only) have not been enforced since the Soviet Union dissolved and the Defense Department in 1993 certified that Cuba constitutes no security risk. Now for the first time in 10 years, Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control somehow has the money to hire administrative judges who are starting to fine and prosecute unlicensed Cuba travelers (there were an estimated 100,000 in 2002).

This despite the fact that this fall both House and Senate, by substantial majorities (227–188 and 59–38), passed an amendment to the administration's transportation budget bill which denied the requested enforcement money for the Cuba travel restrictions, and forbade the use of public money for enforcement. The party leaders have now quietly removed the passed amendments from the bills they amended, presumably at the desire of the White House. Since the amendments were in identical language the Transportation Conference Committee had no jurisdiction under the rules to do anything, therefore the leaders acted on their own.

The corporate press indicates that the purpose of this maneuver was to save George W. Bush the embarrassment of his threatened veto, which might make him appear to be pandering to Florida's Cuban-Americans. But the pandering is not to Cuban-American voters (9 percent of Florida's registered voters). Polls over the past two years (which Bush is clearly aware of) show 70 percent of Florida's Cuban-Americans want the restrictions repealed, about the same as the polls show for all Americans. Rather the pandering is to the powerful commercial interests and wealthy Cuba "hard-liners" who fund his national campaigns, most of whom are not Cuban-Americans and come from Wall Street or Washington rather than Florida.

Cuba's government is the only one in the world today that is publicly standing up to the neoconservative ideology of the New World Order. Although many Third World governments apparently agree with and support the Cubans, they seem unwilling at this point to risk the capital disinvestment which would follow taking an independent path to development. There are enormous natural resources in the Third World and billions of possible workers and consumers. The Cuban revolution is a significant danger to the commercial exploitation of these resources and people, not only in the "battle of ideas," but also as a practical alternative, should the revolution continue to survive.   

Although many congressmen and senators who voted for the Cuba travel amendment are saying it has become law, it seems the transportation bill will be sent Bush for signature without it. Once again a very few powerful "leaders" have overruled the clearly expressed will of Congress by modifying a law on their own. It appears Congress is no longer a legislative body, rather it has become some kind of advisory board whose suggestions can be accepted or rejected at will by an imperial presidency. The big questions remaining are: (1) Why have our so-called representatives allowed this to happen? (2) How can we continue to accuse Cuba of being undemocratic? (3) Do we live in a democracy or a commercial oligarchy? Only if we face reality can we change it.

Tom Crumpacker is a retired attorney and a member of the Miami Coalition to End US Embargo of Cuba.

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