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Muse: Unraveling embargo not so easy
CubaNews / November 2007

By Larry Luxner

Washington attorney Robert Muse, who specializes in Cuba-related issues, predicts that even if the Democrats take back the White House in 2008 and retain control of Congress, any significant relaxation of the embargo would face a mountain of legislative and bureaucratic hurdles.

“The first problem with embargo reform in Congress is that it’s become truly bipartisan. That’s a factor of PAC contributions,” he said. “If a Cuban-American Democrat is elected to Congress, there’s no guarantee he’d vote against the embargo anymore than a Republican.”

More than that, said Muse, “it’s just unrealistic to think that Congress at this point will begin lifting the embargo. [Supporting the embargo] is a bit like kids learning how to play tic-tac-toe. By putting an ‘X’ in the middle, you can never lose. You may not win, but you will never lose.”

On the other hand, Muse says it’s “immensely important” who’s elected president in 2008. The best formula, he thinks, is “to revert to carefully calibrated positive reactions to developments in Cuba.”

At the moment, Muse pointed out, U.S.-Cuba relations can’t possibly get any worse.

“We can only go upward, but this requires a change, and we’re not going to see it in this administration. But if we have a president elected in 2008 who wants to set about normalizing relations with Cuba, a number of things can be done.”

For starters, there must be some disposition of claims against Cuba. Without that, there’ll be endless litigation, he warned.

“Secondly, there has to be a repeal of all embargo legislation in all its myriad forms. There has to be some kind of trade agreement with Cuba, and finally an investment protection agreement. This is then taken to the Hill and put to a vote.”

The problem, said Muse, is getting to that point — but it may not be all that complicated if the will is there.

Muse said the Office of Foreign Assets Control has 12 approved categories of travel to Cuba; everything else is considered tourism. One possibility: allowing “people-to-people” travel.

“This was an enormous loophole,” he said. “It quickly developed into a point where you could find ads for a $3,000, five-day tour of Cuba in between a photo safari in Kenya and a voyage through the Aleutian Islands. It was, in fact, an unenforced aspect of the embargo; that’s why they eliminated it. But that could be brought back by a president, notwithstanding technical regulations. OFAC could recreate that category.”

In addition, the director of OFAC also has the authority to expand the list of products allowed in from Cuba under a general license. It could start with value-added products like cigars, but could be expanded to melons, citrus products and other imports desired by U.S. consumers.

“It would be hard to close the door once people start smoking Cuban cigars,” he quipped.

Realistically, said Muse, “it would take a president in the second term — maybe a Republican free of re-election pressures — sort of like Nixon in China. It would take quite a bold individual. But if one exists and is elected, I think it’s quite possible.”

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