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The G7 leaders succeeded in extricating from the U.S. its signature on a communique that reinforced international commitments to multilateral trade liberalization, but failed to convince the U.S. to repeal the extraterritorial reach of the Helms-Burton Act.
As explained by U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, "there will be from time to time, for us and for every other country, issues that need to be dealt with outside that [multilateral trade] framework." That is not the point, however.
The complaint voiced by the U.S.'s partners is that no matter how that country chooses to manage its relations with other countries, it should not unilaterally impose its view on the rest of the world.
Debate about the effectiveness of economic sanctions in Cuba and elsewhere remains controversial.
Many will argue that more than 30 years of sanctions have hardly had an impact on Cuba's domestic and international politics. Yet, a rather convincing argument can be made that sanctions have only truly affected Cuba for the past five or six years. Prior to this, massive Soviet subsidies insulated Cuba's economy from U.S. pressures. Since the implosion of the Soviet Union, Cuba's economy has been badly shaken, to the point where the country has begun to be more welcoming of foreign investment. Those Americans who favor sanctions would argue that now is not the time to make concessions to a weakened Castro.
Proponents of a more stringent approach toward Cuba will also point out that, contrary to other regimes such as Vietnam or China, Cuba has barely endorsed economic reform. Cuba remains committed to centralized planning and state control and allows virtually no real competition and private ownership. So, with whom might the U.S. government or private investors attempt to engage besides the Castro regime?
The counter-argument, of course, is that the increased presence of foreign investors will inevitably, over time, sow the seeds for more private involvement in commercial ventures.
Without foreign ties there is less likelihood that pressures for economic reform will emerge, unless of course, the hardliners are correct in arguing that only dire economic hardship will sway Castro.
This internal U.S. debate notwithstanding, the international community is aggrieved at the extraterritorial application of U.S. law. Whether or not the U.S. Congress and administration feel the U.S. must harden its own position toward Cuba, they should not force other countries to adopt a similar stance. Domestic political tensions vary from one country to another and the world cannot be governed by the Cuban-American lobby.
Besides this objection on principle, some specific provisions of the Helms-Burton bill are clearly objectionable.
For example, the act as it is now drafted, applies not only to investors doing business in Cuba and supposedly benefiting from confiscated property, it also includes spouses and children.
Since when should children be legally penalized for the actions of their parents, presuming these actions are reproachable? Does the U.S. jail the children of drug offenders, murderers or thieves?
President Bill Clinton can waive some of the more damaging and objectionable provisions of the Helms-Burton Act as early as next month.
His G7 colleagues gave him a clear message of their view on the matter and on multilateral co-operation in general.
We will soon find out if purely domestic electoral considerations win the day or if the U.S. president decides to maintain his hardline attitude toward Cuba without requiring the rest of the world to subscribe to every restriction of the Helms-Burton Act.
After all, the president will need allies for his upcoming battle about UN leadership.
(Ed. note) Marie-Josee Drouin is a fellow of the Hudson Institute Inc.
This information is provided by the Financial Post.
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Revised: July 22, 1996
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