Lifting the failed embargo on Cuba could stimulate two economies. The ball is in President Obama’s court.
The Cold War ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but Cuba has never been able to fully move past its ruinous legacy. That’s because the United States in the post-Cold War world has maintained a fifty-year-old embargo, the longest in modern history, against Cuba, a former client state of the USSR. In the 1990s, the embargo was actually strengthened rather than weakened; the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 required a democratically elected government be installed in Havana for the embargo to be lifted and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 prevented any company doing business in Cuba from doing business in the US.
The continuation of the embargo was meant to weaken Fidel Castro’s communist regime and make the lives of Cubans so unbearable that the government would have no choice but to respond to the pressure of the United States and the Cuban people to liberalize their economy and democratize their politics. The embargo has failed miserably to achieve this objective.
In fact, the embargo has likely strengthened the Castro regime, by providing an easy scapegoat for state propaganda to blame all of Cuba’s ills on. The embargo has served to validate Castro’s portrayal of the United States as the neocolonial hegemony of the region: determined to subjugate the people of Cuba and Latin America and reincarnate the tyranny of Batista, the pre-revolutionary tyrant backed by the United States because of his friendly relations with American business. Cubans don’t blame their own government for the stranglehold placed on them by the most powerful country in the world.
The embargo has also served to aimlessly punish the Cuban people, even complicating, with its archaic rules, the availability of medical supplies in the country. Although American medical exports are permitted, the red tape—designed to thwart a nonexistent military threat—has proven insurmountable for the hospitals, clinics, and offices where they are most needed. This undermines America’s reputation as a humanitarian nation.
The only thing that the embargo has done successfully is cost the American economy $1.2 billion every year in lost sales and exports. With the economy still struggling, it is unacceptable for American companies to lose the chance to create jobs and expand business with a country ninety miles from Florida. What’s more, with men having lost a disproportionate number of the jobs in the present recession, ending the embargo would encourage trade, helping shore up the manufacturing and shipping sectors, traditionally male jobs that have suffered severe cutbacks. Every year since 1992,The United Nations General Assembly has condemned the embargo as illegal, with the only two nations regularly voting against such a condemnation being America and Israel. Doesn’t this annual denunciation complicate our country’s reputation as one run by the rule of law?
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, an ally of Cuba and a leading figure in left-wing Latin American politics, reflected on this in a 2009 statement. “If President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce and the U.S. empire will be alive and well, threatening us.” As long as the embargo against Cuba remains intact, the United States will be viewed with suspicion by many Latin American countries, which will affect trade deals and diplomatic relations.
Now is the perfect time to seek movement on this issue. Whereas the Bush administration strictly enforced the embargo, President Obama has shown a willingness to engage with Cuba in a constructive way by lifting travel and remittance restrictions. In addition, Raul Castro has proven to be a more moderate leader than his brother. Important reforms have been undertaken since he was handed the reins of power in 2008, such as the implementation of capitalistic measures that have legalized hundreds of thousands of small businesses in Cuba, businesses that need American supplies. We should respond to this step forward not by isolating these Cuban entrepreneurs with an embargo, denying them vital materials and inhibiting their growth, but by encouraging the businesses through investment and trade.
The Cuban people are hurting, and so are the American people. In both nations, the economic dislocation and injustice has been falling more heavily on men, and it is up to men like Raul Castro and Barack Obama to end this long-failed impasse.
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