I tend to be against economic embargoes and economic sanctions regimes in general. They all to often punish the general population for the actions of their rulers, and in the process weaken domestic opposition to said rulers. The US embargo with Cuba has been in effect since 1960 and has not only failed to force democratic reforms in Cuba, but it likely has strengthened the Castro regime.
For those who don’t know, Fidel Castro has successfully maintained power of Cuba for decades, making him one of longest serving world leaders, who is not a monarch. Fidel officially retired and handed over power to his brother Raul in 2008. Raul is also, way up there in the years and what happens when he dies is still a mystery. The US embargo began as a response to the Fidel Castro’s revolution, which among other things nationalized the asserts of U.S. corporations in Cuba. It limits the ability individuals to travel to the island, as well as the ability of American companies to trade with Cuban enterprises. In 1996 the Helms-Burton Act strengthened the embargo, by penalizing foreign companies that do business with Cuban enterprises.
A 2009 U.S. poll indicated that the American public generally favors ending the embargo (51% said end and to 36% said continue), despite Americans still holding a strong dislike of Castro 83% unfavorable vs 5% favorable). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo, cost our economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government states that it cost it’s people $685 million annually. Additionally the U.S. government wasted over $500 million by continuing broadcasting anti-Castro programing to the island. This programing is of course blocked by the Cuban government and is viewed by practically no one.
Humanitarians have criticized the embargo for limiting the access to food, clean water, soaps and medicine. The shortages have been linked to outbreaks of infectious disease as well as blindness caused by poor nutrition. Of course the people heavily impacted by these negative effects of the embargo are the island’s poorest resident’s. The Castro regime is safe from this in it’s mansions and has access to all the best things the island has to offer. It is the parts of the population most likely to resist Castro’s limits on freedoms that are being hurt the most, by the embargo. These parts of the population being lacking other options are made more dependent on Castro are out in a weaker position to resists.
The cold war has been over for more than two decades now, and as best as I can tell the threat of Global communism is a thing of the past. The chief rational for the embargo is long since extinct, and yet the embargo has only been strengthened with the fall of the USSR. This is not to say, that I have any love for the Castro brothers or their regime. They are tyrannical totalitarians who have happily used murder, violence, dishonesty and huge restrictions on personal freedom to maintain their power. When their regime collapses it will be a good thing, but punishing their population seems like a horrible way to do this.
During much of the time this embargo has been in place, the US has routinely supported dictatorships in Latin America that have killed dissenters and crushed human rights. For example the U.S. was backing Pinochet’s regime in Chile within a decade of Castro’s revolution. Humanitarian concerns hardly then, seem to be the reason for the embargo. It is far more likely that the U.S. government has long sought to punish the Cuban government for wanting to run it’s economy on it’s own terms, and to prevent it from becoming an example for others. This may have made sense in a cold war context of containing communism, but now it seems more like a case of bullying a country for refusing to be a US sponsored banana republic.
I also, am largely of the opinion that the type of economic policy a foreign country adopts should be up to it’s population, rather than the US government. I find it ironic that many people who favor a small US government at home favor a such huge interventionist government internationally. It always seemed to me that the best way to bring the world into our economic sphere of influence was to lead by example rather than force. China for example, while still officially communist has been a US trade partner for decades and has seen huge increases in standards of living an economic growth. It has also, become increasingly more capitalistic since.
Trade, tourism and free immigration, would make for development of a Cuban business class, that would be resistant to Castro’s totalitarianism. Additionally, it would expose the general population to life outside the island and encourage them to demand reforms, while supplying them the resources needed to mount effective resistance campaigns.
Unfortunately, U.S. policy towards Cuba seems dominated by Cuban exiles who want to punish the Castro regime, but overlook the fact that their policies of choice have only strengthened it. Maybe it is time to rethink the approach and develop one more consistent with promoting freedom and suited for a post-cold war political climate.
1. “Polling Report on Cuba, AP/Ipsos Poll, Jan 30 – Feb 1, 2007”. Pollingreport.com.
2. Pepper, Margot (March/April 2009). “The Costs of the Embargo: The 47-year-old blockade now costs the United States far more than it costs Cuba.”. Dollars & Sense.
3. “Radio and TV Martí: Washington Guns after Castro at Any Cost”. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. March 29 2006.