As of late November, the newly Democratic Congress had already begun its long overdue assault on the irrational embargo against Cuba, with the travel ban as the first target.
Although in the past four years our Congress voted repeatedly, in bipartisan fashion, to ease the embargo, the Republican leadership protected President George W. Bush from having to veto anything. Tom DeLay and friends simply chopped embargo-easing amendments off bigger bills behind closed doors.
Not anymore. We'll likely witness such amendments making it to the president's desk for the first time. Any bets how often our lame-duck president can afford to veto them?
So much for the good news.
Now the bad news. How successful and sustained this assault on the embargo will be depends, to a large degree, on the freshmen in the U.S. Congress. And I'm not very hopeful about our delegation.
Although Havana is just a half-hour flight away and Sarasota-Manatee has a lot of economic interest at stake in the dissolution of the embargo, neither our representative nor our senators are likely to vote to end the embargo.
Neither of the two proclaimed winners of the District 13 House seat, for that matter, bothered to lay out any substantial foreign policy ideas during their campaigns. After seeing them whack each other during the race while simultaneously trying to appeal to voters as Mrs. and Mr. Apple Pie, respectively, I don't expect either Christine Jennings or Vern Buchanan to pay this next-door market of 11 million untapped consumers the respect it deserves.
Senator Bill Nelson impressively demonstrated last year how wacky Congressional trading games get when it comes to Cuba. In a nutshell, our Democrat in the Senate (ab)used Cuba as a trading good with the Miami House delegation to achieve his goal of stopping offshore drilling in Florida Gulf waters. To lure Miami's anti-Castrista House trio, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart-and his older brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart-and Florida's other senator into the anti-drilling fold, Nelson sponsored a bill that would have essentially prohibited foreign companies to drill for oil¬-in Cuban national waters. Never mind that, short of sending in the Marines, Washington wouldn't have had an ounce of leverage to actually enforce this ban. Never mind that Nelson's little Cuba bill would have thrown a three-decades-old maritime border agreement with Mexico, with billions of dollars of offshore oil interests at stake, on the scrap heap of history. Never mind that-while most Americans snored through this little episode-the rest of the world took notice. Of course, not even Sen. Nelson seriously thought that his nutty bill would ever make it to a floor vote. But it achieved his tactical goal of adding three Miami House votes to his anti-drilling caucus.
With Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martínez it's a different story. His top political priority is using Uncle Sam to eliminate anyone from Cuba's government whose last name starts with a "C" and ends on "O." But at least Sen. Martinez has an honest opinion on what needs to be done with respect to Cuba, and he is willing to use his power to achieve these goals. I can appreciate that, in a way.
>>HOW HIGH? A German biochem lab has come up with a genial method that is raising estimates as to how big the drug industry really is. That's "drug" as in coke and crack, by the way.
According to der Spiegel, a Nuremberg-based IBMP developed a method to distill from river, lake or seawater a substance produced by the human body in the consumption of cocaine.
European drug policy experts have called IBMP's analysis tool "a highly interesting method" with "a lot of potential."
A first headline-making study that used the IBMP method last year concluded that people living along the Rhine River in Düsseldorf, Germany's No. 2 financial center, consumed an estimated 11 metric tons of cocaine per year. That's a street value of nearly $2 billion.
Recently, researchers have begun using IBMP method to test major American cities. First, they zeroed in on New York City. The result: The 3.4 million people living along the Hudson River in Manhattan and New Jersey consume 16.4 million tons of cocaine per year. That's about five times as much per capita as previously assumed, making New York the cocaine capital of the world.
Along Washington's Potomac, they only found evidence of a per-capita consumption of less than half the size of New York's. And in San Francisco Bay, the evidence showed a per-capita consumption about one-fourth that of the Big Apple's.
We should try this test along the Gulf Coast. Due to oversupply, cocaine prices have dropped about 20 percent in Europe recently, according to police estimates. That, according to experts, is leading to changes in consumption patterns. Crack cocaine-the super-cheap but quick-acting brain-killer-is out, and the slower-killing cocaine, once considered a luxury drug, is on its way to becoming a mass product.
Johannes Werner is a Sarasota-based business journalist who has worked in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States. He is the editor of Cuba Trade & Investment News and hosts the Florida-Caribe radio show on WSLR 96.5 FM.