Wednesday, May 23, 2007
On this day:

Alabama Democrats headed to Havana

A group of Alabama state legislators are headed to Cuba later this week to discuss trade. This might not be so troubling were it not for the fact that the delegation is made up entirely of Democrats - who tend to be a bit more sympathetic towards Fidel Castro's regime than I think is warranted. From the Associated Press:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Another Alabama trade mission is scheduled to arrive in Cuba on Friday with several legislators planning to accompany officials from the state Department of Agriculture and Industries.

Department spokeswoman Christy Rhodes Kirk said the state-funded delegation will assist Alabama companies in negotiations for the sale of a variety of products, including poultry, lumber, utility poles, cotton, peanuts, fish and snack foods.

Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks has led some trade missions in the past, but Kirk said this one will be led by the department's director of international trade, John Key.

She said several legislators are planning to attend, although the list is subject to change due to last-minute developments in the Legislature. The legislators are Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, and Sens. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; Kim Benefield, D-Woodland; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Pat Lindsey, D-Butler; Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne; and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

The legislators plan to return to Alabama on Monday to attend to their legislative duties, but the remainder of the delegation will remain in Cuba until June 1.

Trade with Cuba is a thorny issue among conservatives and libertarians. While there are lots of sub-issues underlying this debate, they mostly boil down to this: "What is the best way to promote Cuba's transition into a free and freedom-loving society?" Some on the right contend that continued isolation of the Castro regime - including the current bans on trade and travel - is the correct answer to this question; others say that the embargo hinders Cuba's transition to democracy more than it helps.

I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that the U.S. should gradually ease the 46-year-old trade embargo - not because Fidel Castro and his Communist government have become any less loathsome, but because I believe the embargo no longer serves the national interests of the United States.

I'm not suggesting that unrestricted trade with Cuba is possible or even desirable at present; there are a whole host of hurdles to overcome before that can happen. I just think that with the end of the Cold War and the decimation of Cuba as a strategic threat, it would be more productive to bombard the island with capitalism than to continue enforcing an embargo that Castro has seized upon as an excuse for his own failures.

Here are two items that illustrate the nature of the debate on the right: 1) The Cato Institute has an excellent article in favor of ending the embargo here. 2) The late Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) argues that lifting the embargo would be a futile endeavor here.

Sad to say, there is very little meaningful debate about trade with Cuba among liberals; they are practically unanimous in their support for an immediate end to the embargo. I can only presume that this is because they don't have the same qualms - both moral and practical - about dealing with Communists that more rational people do. Maybe that's why the prospect of a herd of Alabama Democrats hopscotching about the streets of Havana is so worrisome.