A Facebook group aimed at ending U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba has quickly gained more than 100,000 followers without spending a penny of advertising.
The No Embargo Movement, or NEMO, describes itself as a humanitarian project, not a political group, and it has supporters on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Below is a Q&A with Manuel Tejeda. He is a Miami consultant, marketer and anti-poverty advocate who administers the group.
Cuba Money Project: Why did you decide to start NEMO, the No Embargo Movement?
Manuel Tejeda: The embargo on Cuba has been in effect for more than six decades. The damage it has caused is enormous, but right now, in the midst of a fierce pandemic, the Cuban people are suffering like never before. There are hundreds of thousands of elderly without drugs and thousands of children with cancer without access to treatment, all because of the embargo. Those sanctions do not correspond to the famous compassion of the American people. The embargo kills. And it must end now. That is why we decided to create NEMO.
Cuba Money Project: The group now has more than 100,000 members. Has the group’s rapid growth surprised you?
Tejeda: NEMO reached 100k members in just 100 days, accumulating almost 700,000 comments and 36,000 posts. That shows the support that exists in the real world and on social media for the cause of ending the embargo. And yes, we were a bit surprised. We knew that we would grow fast but we did not imagine that without investing a single penny in advertising and without sponsorship from anyone we would reach that goal in such a short time.
Cuba Money Project: Is there any way of knowing the demographics of the 100,000-plus members? Are they mostly Cuban-Americans? Spanish speakers? How many are based in Cuba and how many in the United States and other countries?
Tejeda: In quick numbers, just over 60% are in Cuba, almost 20% reside in the US (between Americans and Cuban Americans) and 20% come from more than 130 countries in the world. Our next goal is to grow more among American voters, who cannot be ignored by Congressmen and Senators. That is why we created, also on Facebook, the Group “NEMO USA: Americans for Ending the Embargo on Cuba”.
Cuba Money Project: Why do you think Biden administration officials have said that Cuba policy is not a priority?
Tejeda: Biden inherited from Trump a strongly divided and polarized country, with multiple social problems and a terrible performance in the fight against the Covid pandemic. If we add to that the small minority in the Senate and House, it is not difficult to understand that Biden / Harris have more important and urgent things to do than confront the still powerful Cuban-American lobby to improve relations with the island. We understand that for this Administration the life and suffering of our brothers in Cuba is not a priority, but it is for us, so we will continue in this fight until we manage to lift the cruel, unjust and illegal sanctions against Cuba.
Cuba Money Project: Barack Obama waited until his second term to seek renewed diplomatic ties with Cuba. Some analysts believe he waited because he didn’t want to suffer political consequences during his re-election campaign. Does Joe Biden face the same political landscape?
Tejeda: Without a doubt. However, Biden’s advisers must evaluate the only two possible options in this case: 1) if Biden acts in favor of the improvement of relations with Cuba and the lifting of all or part of the sanctions, the Trumpist Cuban-Americans who did not vote for him in 2020, anyway they will not vote for him in 2024 or for the Democrats in 2022. 2) If he does not act positively towards Cuba, the Cuban-Americans who do vote for them (approximately the other half , if not a majority of Cubans residing in the United States), feeling offended by the breach of the Biden / Harris campaign promises and the lack of humanity regarding the suffering of our people, we will have to show our discontent through the Negative vote. Any smart analyst would say the second option would be worse for Biden and the Democratic Party. We do not want this to be seen as a threat, but it is a reality that cannot be ignored.
Cuba Money Project: My suspicion is that Cuba became an even more polarized and difficult issue during the Trump administration. Socialism has become demonized even though such nations as China and Vietnam have shown that their socialist models can produce economic growth. Why is the Cuba case different? Is there any way to loosen U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba without attracting accusations that one is a communist sympathizer? Or does it even matter?
Tejeda: The only thing that makes the case of Cuba different from China or Vietnam is the existence within the United States of a strong Cuban-American, conservative and far-right lobby, which will never be satisfied with any way out of this conflict that does not lead to their recovery of the political power they lost 60 years ago. The majority of the Cuban people who live on the island and to a greater or lesser extent support their social project won’t allow it. Most of the Cubans that live in the US and other countries in the world won’t not allow it. So whatever is done, whatever solution is found will lead to accusations of “communists”. At once, we must erase that factor from the equation if we want to eliminate something that for 60 years has done a lot of damage to the Cuban people and to the American people as well.
Cuba Money Project: Will removing sanctions help improve the human rights situation in Cuba? If so, how?
Tejeda: The issue of human rights is very complex, taking into account that the determination of what constitutes a “violation” and what does not, passes through the political prism of those who express their opinion. In almost all countries there are human rights violations, and the fact that there are many in the US does not justify those in Cuba or vice versa. If we want to resolve this conflict, and I want to suppose that we do, we have to postpone that aspect for a second rapprochement in relations between the two countries, once the blockade does not exist. It is very hypocritical to attack a poor and small country with the enormous force of a super power like the US and then demand that government not defend itself and accept with crossed arms any provocation exported, or even genuinely generated within the island. When Obama improved relations, we saw very positive changes on the island, and we are sure that when the embargo ends, Cuban civil society will be strengthened, but that is something that we have not experienced. The only thing we have seen to this day is a society attacked and blocked for 62 years that tries to defend itself, not always with the most appropriate methods, perhaps, but always with the support of the majority of its people, otherwise they would not have lasted so many years in power.
Cuba Money Project: Obama was forced to use executive orders to lessen U.S. sanctions against Cuba. He knew he couldn’t get any measures passed in Congress to normalize relations with Cuba. Is the situation the same today? Or is it even worse?
Tejeda: In fact, the situation is better today, because for his last 6 years Obama did not have a majority in the Senate and Biden does, even if it is minimal. Senator Amy Klobuchar has just introduced a bipartisan Bill to end the last symbol of the cold war: the embargo on Cuba. Cuba has shown its capacity to carry out changes (still limited by the embargo itself and the country’s economic crisis), which are manifested in the strengthening and expansion of the private sector of the economy; the possibility that Cubans residing outside the country can invest in Cuba; greater facilities for Cubans, even those who do not agree with the government, to travel outside the island and express themselves freely in Miami and other places; and above all, there is a generational change in the leadership of the government, who have claimed to be “continuity”, but not that they are going to do things exactly like their predecessors. All of this makes it easier, not harder, for Biden / Harris to end the embargo.
Cuba Money Project: Helms-Burton requires a transitional government to be in place before many sanctions can be dropped. Is there any chance on earth that U.S. lawmakers will repeal Helms-Burton during the Biden/Harris administration?
Tejeda: According to Robert L. Muse, one of the lawyers who has studied the issue of embargo the most from the constitutional point of view, the President has the constitutional power to unilaterally terminate the embargo on Cuba. This power exists notwithstanding Congress’s attempted “codification” of the U.S. Treasury Department regulations that constitute that embargo. That power exists despite a provision of the Helms-Burton Act that imposes political conditions on Cuba that must be met before the embargo can be lifted by presidential action. In summary, the authority to unilaterally terminate the embargo on Cuba is based upon the constitutional primacy of the president’s office in managing U.S. foreign relations.
Despite that fact, we all know the political cost of a decision of such magnitude, so the possible scenarios can be only two: 1) that it has to go through Congress and that US legislators, after a huge fight that We will be supporting you, you get to pass the Klobuchar bipartisan bill. Or 2) that Biden does not sign in September the Law of Trading with the Enemy, which must be ratified every year, with which the embargo could die a natural death.
Cuba Money Project: Have you suffered any reprisals for taking on this initiative? How have people responded to you on Facebook and other social media sites?
Tejeda: On the part of the US authorities, we have not found any type of action aimed at stopping or hindering our activity. To the usual veiled threats from the Cuban-American ultra-right this time we must point to the limitations in the scope and reach of our Group imposed by Facebook, but we cannot affirm that they are the product of political convictions. Now, the support from the people has been extraordinary. Several thousand Americans, Cuban-Americans, and US residents have joined us and embraced our cause. We are confident that from now on this support will only grow.
Cuba Money Project: How are you financing NEMO? Do you have any financial backers you’d like to mention?
Tejeda: NEMO is not subordinate to, nor is it financed or sponsored by any governmental, political or social organization of Cuba or any other country. So far, we have financed our group growth and our Digital Platform NoEmbargoCuba.com (the 66,000 most popular website in the US in just 60 days) with our own money, and right now we are running a modest GoFundMe campaign that already have 38 small donors. We are in the process of registering our legal entity and requesting the “non-profit” status from the IRS, so we can have access to a highest level of fundraising an can open and begin operation an office in Washington DC, from where to plan and conduct several rounds of interviews with Federal Representatives, US Senators, Secretaries (ministers) from the executive branch of government, and many other personalities from the country’s political and public spheres, who may influence or play a role in the decision process to end the embargo.
Cuba Money Project: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Tejeda: People are suffering and with the support of the American people we will win this battle. We need to win. There is not Plan B.