Cuban émigré support for embargo dwindles

Paquito D’Rivera achieved his American Dream with a Cuban twist—by combining jazz and traditional Cuban music.

His New Jersey living room is filled with awards, including a line of Latin Grammy trophies, but despite his status as a cultural icon, his hatred for the Castro regime remains as robust as when he left his homeland 31 years ago.

Each autumn, he curses the call by Cuba at the United Nations General Assembly for the U.S. to lift its embargo. He detests the Cubans here who want to end sanctions.

The General Assembly will hold a debate Oct. 25 on a draft resolution presented by Cuba. The resolution contends that the 51-year-old embargo has caused suffering in Cuba. It also outlines political and economic reforms undertaken by the Castro regime.

D’Rivera, who grew up in Havana, now finds himself part of a shrinking minority of diehards. A 2009 poll revealed that 40 percent of Cuban Americans support the embargo, down from 80 percent in 1992.

“I am very happy to be in the group that opposes the lifting of the embargo because I think it’s absurd to talk about lifting the embargo against the dictatorship while this dictatorship is oppressing the people more and more,” D’Rivera said.

In September, after President Barack Obama renewed the trade ban for one year, Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodríguez told the General Assembly the embargo has cost his country $975 billion since 1960.

Critics call the embargo a failed policy–a relic of the Cold War that needs to be lifted to prevent further damage to the island’s economy. Proponents, however, argue that Cuba’s human rights abuses far outweigh any economic repercussions.

They maintain that it has done nothing to push the Castro regime into improving its human rights record.

“Economic sanctions have proven to be ineffective because they don’t bring about the intended results and never affect the people that the sanctions are aimed at, like the rulers,” contends Dan Griswold, director of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute

The waning support for the embargo, as shown in the poll, reflects a deep divide in the Cuban community in the United States, with support and opposition to the embargo evenly split. The division reflects a realization that the policy is no longer effective, said Fernand Amandi, whose firm Bendixen & Amandi International conducted the poll.

“It would in essence starve the regime from being able to prosper and that hasn’t materialized,” he said.

D’Rivera represents the older generation that remains adamant about the embargo. His sister, Rosie D’Rivera, says those who want the policy to end don’t understand what her generation went through under the Castro regime.

“We had our roots there, we had our families there, and we had homes there,” she said. “It’s not just ‘lift the embargo and it’s going to be fine.’ There are people who lost everything and some people just don’t understand that.”

When it began in 1960 the embargo was seen as a way to combat expanding Communism, but it has since become an effort to force Cuba to implement widespread economic and democratic reforms.

Last year, Fidel’s younger brother Raul announced a program that includes layoffs of 500,000 state employees, legalization of small real estate ventures and the creation of other small businesses.

The White House contends those reforms haven’t been extensive enough.

But the international community has shown its opposition to the embargo. “In 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received a total of 142 statements from member states and 26 from UN agencies, funds and programs criticizing the continued blockade against Cuba,” according to a Gulf Times article.

D’Rivera doesn’t expect much from the upcoming debate. He thinks the General Assembly is focusing on the wrong issue.

“They talk about the embargo and they don’t talk about those dissidents that they have killed and put in jail,” D’Rivera said.

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