There are few better examples of failed American foreign policy than our trade embargo against Cuba.
Cuba is back in the news after President Obama caused quite the stir yesterday when it came out that he shook hands with Raoul Castro, brother of Fidel and now official leader of Cuba, at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Followers of the politics surrounding the United States’ relationship with Cuba would not be surprised by the reaction from many conservatives. Republican Congresswoman from Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen pronounced the hand shake, “nauseating.” While Republican Senator John McCain went so far as to compare Obama to Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler.
Partisan chest-thumping aside, one of the more frustrating things about these lines of attack is how they completely ignore questions about if America’s five decade long policy of sanctions and non-engagement with Cuba is in fact working. In no small part because if we do ask these questions, the only reasonable answer is a pretty resounding “no.”
Yes it’s true that Cuba is an authoritarian Communist society with little regard for human rights, and yes this on the whole is a bad thing. But there are lots of authoritarian societies in the world that America doesn’t impose sanctions on. I’d agree that putting human rights activists in jail for criticizing the government is bad, and the world would be a better place if governments didn’t do that sort of thing. But I think it’s bad when it happens in Cuba and also when it happens in an American ally like Qatar. And if shaking the, “bloody hand of a ruthless dictator” as Representative Ros-Lehtinen put it, is some great sin why isn’t she publicly scourging Donald Rumsfeld?
I’m not asking Raoul Castro’s critics to label him a nice guy, but I would like them to at least be consistent in their policy prescriptions. If we should respond to human rights abuses by cutting off all trade then there are a lot of Middle Eastern countries we need to impose embargoes on as well. The funny thing is I don’t see Ros-Lehtinen (or anyone else for that matter) introducing legislation to end trade with Qatar anytime soon.
The United States broke off diplomatic relations and imposed economic sanctions on Cuba over 50 years ago in direct response to Cuba becoming a Communist society and allying itself with the Soviet Union. In the resulting five decades a lot of things have changed. In fact Communism has disappeared from Eastern Europe and China has transitioned to a market economy without the use of comprehensive economic embargoes. Meanwhile our policy of criminalizing American tourism in Cuba and outlawing trade between our two countries has completely failed to bring about democratic reforms, respect for human rights or any other social changes we claim we support.
If the definition of insanity really is, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” we’ve being going crazy over Cuba for over half a century now. It’s probably time we try something new, it might even get us different results.