Why does the Cuban embargo persist when the Vietnam embargo ended? by mattsteinglass
March 5, 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: United States, Vietnam

Kevin Drum asks why Cuban-Americans like Sen. Bob Menendez persist in demanding that the US maintain its thoroughly crazy policy of a total economic embargo of Cuba. Drum: “It’s a different kind of crazy from most exile communities.  What accounts for it?”

I actually don’t think the political dynamics of the Cuba embargo within the Cuban community are all that different from the way such issues work in other exile communities. The closest parallel is probably the Vietnamese-American community: the two communities are about the same size (1.5 million people) and both coalesce around continued opposition to Communist regimes in their countries of origin. Like Cuban-Americans, most Vietnamese-Americans have moderated their opposition to their ancestral homeland’s current government over time, but the community’s organized political representatives still demand utter fealty to a hard-line position of vandalizing buildings that host community art displays including photographs that contain the Communist Vietnamese flag and so forth. This has to do with internal community political dynamics rather than any rational policy approaches to the outside world. Within the community, the members who are most likely to participate in intracommunal politics need to have ethnic-exclusivist issues on which to define themselves. These oppositional issues become the community’s way of asserting and reproducing its political identity. The Vietnamese-American community, for example, demands of Rep. Lydia Sanchez that she visit Vietnam and protest the arrests of democracy activists here, an entirely symbolic action that accomplishes almost nothing concrete for anyone, but that signals her loyalty to Vietnamese-American political organizers. The same dynamic explains why AIPAC is vastly more Likudnik and anti-Palestinian than most American Jews and forces legislators to support policies on Israel-Palestine that harm the US, Israel, and Palestine.

The main question is why the US doesn’t have an embargo on Vietnam anymore. I would venture three answers. The first is that the Cuban-American community is much more politically powerful and organized than the Vietnamese-American community, which just elected its first Vietnamese-American Representative, Joseph Anh Cao (R – La.), this year. This is in part because Cuban exiles were much richer than Vietnamese exiles, and in part because of the long pre-revolutionary intertwining of the US and Cuban elites. The second reason is the difference between the policies pursued by Hanoi and Havana: Vietnam introduced doi moi in the late ’80s, went gradually capitalist, and made clear overtures towards the US, so it was easier for Clinton to open that door in 1994 than it was with Cuba. And the third reason is the legacy of the Vietnam War in the US, which left most Americans with a tremendous desire for a reconciliation with our erstwhile enemies and with a bunch of senators like McCain and Kerry who had an explicit personal mission to end the embargo rather than continue it.

1 Comment so far
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Probably for the same reason there is still an embargo on Burma: Politics.

Comment by Frank

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