Sunday, August 30, 2009

A look at the embargo from every angle

Posted on Sunday, 08.30.09
A look at the embargo from every angle
Miami Herald Senior Editor

A Boeing 767 ferries passengers for Cubana de Aviación. Red Bull is sold
in vending machines in Havana. A street vendor peddles designer
sunglasses from a box on the sidewalk.

Each scene from Cuba represents a facet of the Cuban embargo -- the
sanctioned, the gray market and the outright illegal.

On today's front page, we begin a five-part series that examines the
United States' nearly 50-year-old embargo on Cuba. In April, the Obama
administration announced plans to lift family-travel restrictions to the
island and allow U.S. telecommunications firms wide range to do business
there. The announcement sparked national and international debate on
future relations between the two countries.

In the newsroom, it begged a question: What is the state of the Cuban
embargo? What is happening behind the scenes between the two countries?
And who may stand to gain if some of the limits on commercial trade with
Cuba are lifted?

We tasked a team from across the newsroom to delve into the issue:
business writers Martha Brannigan, John Dorschner and Jim Wyss; local
reporters Alfonso Chardy and Luisa Yanez; Cuba reporter Frances Robles
and Washington correspondent Lesley Clark; El Nuevo reporters Wilfredo
Cancio Isla and Rui Ferreira; and photographers Lilly Echeverria, Robert
Koltun, Emily Michot and John Vanbeekum. We also reported and
photographed from Cuba, but we have withheld the journalists' names
because they lacked the required journalist visa. The Cuban government
has consistently denied The Miami Herald reporting visas.

We learned that the answers are complex, nuanced, sometimes colored by
the pain of a forced exodus and families divided. As both countries
stand at arms' length, relatives and commercial interests on both sides
of the straits are chipping away at many of the prohibitions of the embargo.

You may be surprised to learn that the United States is the top exporter
of agricultural products to Cuba -- more than $700 million last year.
One staffer who traveled to Cuba was struck by the quantity of American
products available.

``It's pretty amazing. So much is available but so little is affordable.
These things are outrageously expensive. There is an entire class of
people who can afford it but a lot more who can't. It really highlights
the social division the Cuban government claims it doesn't have.''

Today's installment looks at the push and pull politics in the current
debate in Washington over the embargo, as well as the products that are
getting into Cuba and how. In the coming weeks, our reporters will
examine legal exports, the impact of the easing of travel restrictions,
and a look at one company that is already shipping agricultural products
to the island in hopes of positioning itself for broader trade. We'll
learn about the subtle changes in relations -- and how so much remains
the same.

We know this is an important issue that can be a hot-button topic for
many of our readers. As always, tell us what you think and what else
you'd like to know. We invite you to join the online discussion at the
bottom of the stories on

A look at the embargo from every angle - Issues & Ideas - (30 August 2009)

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