Michael Moore’s Cuba Problem

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.

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4 Responses to Michael Moore’s Cuba Problem

  1. Jeff says:

    I agree. I rolled my eyes when I saw that story. It’s a stunt, of course, and he’ll get what he signed up for.

    I find Michael Moore entertaining at times, but he’s at his best when delivering mocking editorials based on a foundation of uncontroversial facts. As soon as he tries to take himself too seriously, his credibility hits its limit. And he was a crappy Bond.

  2. kelly says:

    I am both full of myself and above the law. And so I am naturally sympathetic to Moore. But sheesh…. if you are doing it to expose a problem for the heroes of 911, stick to f_n high ground that allows for his public acceptance of his high-handed style. His publicity should be less about Bush and more about how he is willing to suffer jail time and or financial loss to get this story out.

    Bush did not know what his federal agencies were doing when Katrina struck, what is he going to know about travel permits? Even he can not really believe in this, his own Hubris will be his end.

  3. schmelly says:

    MM (like eminem) gets a lot from seeming persectued… i’m sure the movie will be subtle as a sledge hammer, but better it happens then not I reckon… maybe it will get some non Michael more peeps to at least realize that a lot of 911 resuers are honkin pissed at Rudy. Is his 911 heroism about the biggest pile of poop ever? Sure he looked good compared to our prez, but my cat handled 911 better then our comander in chief.

  4. pipelineblog says:

    I certainly agree that Moore tackles issues that need to be tackled, and I like his chutzpah when so many other people in a position of influence have just laid down and taken the last eight years.

    It’s just that I think Moore sets back some of the good he does because of his own issues and style. In the end, whether Moore has a Cuba problem or not will have no bearing on the fact that there is a lot of the 9/11 hagiography and narrative that still needs to be exposed, and it probably takes somebody like Moore to really bring that issue to public consciousness. I hope he does so by sticking to the fact, which should be far damning enough, without stretching the facts to pack more of a narrative punch.

    I also want to draw a distinction between what I think about Moore’s trip to Cuba itself vs. his reaction to being investigated. Moore’s movie could do more to expose the hypocrisy and folly of our Cuba policy for the U.S. public than any previous effort. If his unlicensed foray to Cuba results in a change in policy, or even just educates the U.S. about what our policy is there, that’s a good thing. And I certainly expect it will help to make our medical system look like a fraudulent, politically-connected cash cow, and that’s a good thing too.

    It’s quite likely Moore needed to take that illegal trip to Cuba to make all that happen, because OFAC wasn’t going to give him the authorization he required. But if that’s the case, then say that, Michael Moore. Don’t say you should be above the law, and it’s all a Bush persecution of an enemy. Say the law is unjust, you needed to go to Cuba to portray certain truths, you asked for permission, but when the time came you did what you thought was right and were willing to pay the consequences.

    Say that.

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