Michael Moore might have a problem related to a recent trip he took to Cuba for his film “Sicko”, which documents the struggles of 9/11 first responders with medical issues who have not had access to health care. The film’s targets are the Bush Administration and the health care industry. What a challenge it must have been for Moore to portray those two entities in a bad light!
Part of the movie details Moore’s trip to Cuba to obtain health care for some of the 9/11 workers who couldn’t get the care here in the U.S., and therein lies what could be a significant issue for Moore. Travel to Cuba requires authorization from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), an agency I work with a fair amount in my day job.
The way the process works is you have to file for a license from OFAC to travel to Cuba. Licenses are granted for a variety of reasons, journalism being one of them. Moore was aware of this, because he filed for the appropriate license back in October of 2006. But you have to actually obtain the OFAC’s approval prior to going, which Moore did not do. Simply notifying OFAC that you plan to go and then showing up in Havana without hearing back from OFAC is, as we say in the business, a Giant Fucking Problem. Now, OFAC has notified Moore that it is investigating his trip. The nerve!
Moore, naturally, sees OFAC’s investigation as the long arm of the Bush Administration trying to silence him. And although it’s certainly possible the White House made some calls to OFAC regarding Moore’s application, Moore’s overall story doesn’t jibe, nor does it matter. I speak from experience when I say OFAC can take many months to approve the most innocuous of activities, which I think it’s fair to say does not describe Moore’s Cuba travel.
Now, I think the Cuba laws are bogus, hurt Cubans, hurt U.S. industry and foreign policy, and so on. And I am a fan of Moore’s general body of work, though the righteousness and ego get tiresome after awhile. But Moore’s just dead wrong here; if he went in March, 2007, it’s entirely appropriate that OFAC would have notified him of it’s own investigation into the matter in early May. As with a lot of government agencies, they are a lot faster on the investigation side than they are on the license approval side. That’s true for Moore as well as any other entity that goes through the OFAC process.
Moore’s justification really breaks down when he equates OFAC with the Bush Administration. Of course, we all know the unfortunate realities involved with the way many agencies have been politicized since 2000. And again, it’s entirely possible that the White House was putting the breaks on Moore’s original October license application, something that is their statutory right to do as a part of the inter-agency review process. But OFAC has been prosecuting people for violations of the Cuba embargo for many years, in a bi-partisan way.
Why? Because that’s the law. It might be a misguided, destructive law, but it’s been the law for a long time for all U.S. citizens, Michael Moore included. For Moore to act like it’s all just a Bush Administration vendetta for merely investigating his trip is insulting to the people who have to deal with this particular area of the bureaucracy every day. I wonder what he’ll say if they actually charge him? And make no mistake, if the facts are as detailed in the linked story above, they will. He’ll probably only have to pay a fine, although it could be hefty, and if he decides to get real belligerent he could be looking at criminal charges down the road.
My guess is that he probably had a good idea of what he was doing, knew it would result in a fine he could easily pay, and saw the opportunity to both finish his shooting on time and provoke more PR from the Bush Administration. Hey, I support making fools look foolish, generally speaking. But Moore should probably save the persecution complex for a situation where he’s actually being persecuted; to me, this looks like a case of a guy so full of himself he thinks he’s above the law.