It’s Time To End The U.S. Embargo Of Cuba
Responding to a piece by Carlos Alberto Montaner arguing for the continuance of the status quo when it comes to U.S.. policy toward Cuba, Daniel Larison argues quite persuasively in the opposite direction that it’s long past time for the United States to rethink its policy toward a nation just 90 miles off its shores:
[There is] truly no merit to continuing the embargo. This is a policy that has achieved nothing except to provide the Castro regime with some ready-made propaganda and to deprive the people of Cuba of the benefits of a closer economic relationship with the United States. Bringing the embargo to an end and resuming normal relations with Cuba are steps that are long overdue, and neither the administration nor members of Congress should be concerned with what a few unrepresentative politicians think about it.
It’s very important to get past the idea that having normal diplomatic relations with another state implies some sort of approval or “reward” for their treatment of their own people. Establishing normal relations with another government is an acknowledgment of political reality that the regime in question is well-established and not going anywhere, and it is a means to exercise influence that would otherwise not be possible. The U.S. has full diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam. The U.S. fought both in major wars, and no one would pretend that their governments are anything but authoritarian and abusive, but none of this was a compelling reason to oppose normalization in those cases. There is even less reason to oppose establishing normal relations with Cuba.
Larison is correct. To the extent that there ever was a rationale for the embargo and not establishing normal diplomatic relations, it was rooted in the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union and the fact that, for the better part of the 1960’s the United States continued to consider plans that would result in the overthrow of the Castro regime, including the assassination of Castro himself through various CIA plots that sometimes bordered on the ridiculous. After the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis, of course, the idea that we were going to actively overthrow the Havana government was largely a pipe dream that was dragged out by politicians catering to the Cuban-American population in South Florida in elsewhere but which was never considered realistic policy largely because of the impact that it would have had on relations with the Soviet Union. Of course, the fact that we had a diplomatic relationship with the Soviets, and by the 1970s with the Chinese, and continued to pretend that the Cuban Government didn’t exist was really quite absurd. The economic embargo, in the meantime, was based on the same logic that other economic sanctions are based on; the idea that punishing the people of a country that we are adversaries with will somehow create the political conditions that will lead to the downfall of that government. There’s never been any real evidence that such a strategy can work, of course, and in fact it has failed every other time it has been tried. Even in the context of the Cold War then, the embargo and diplomatic isolation of the Cuba never made any sense whatsoever and seemed to exist more for domestic political consumption than for any rational policy reason.
If the embargo and diplomatic isolation made no sense during the Cold War, then these policies obviously make no sense today, more than two decades after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. Yes, Cuba is still ruled by the Castro brothers and there are still human rights issues to be concerned about, but there are plenty of nations that we have normal diplomatic and economic relationships with that have issues like this, Saudi Arabia comes to mind for example. We also have diplomatic relationships with nations that we consider adversaries, most of them far more serious adversaries than Cuba is at this point. As for the economic embargo, its potentcy as made far less relevant in the years after the Cold War as much of Europe and other American allies such as Canada expanded their economic contacts with Cuba and began investing there. At this point, the people being hurt by the Cuban economic embargo, in addition to the Cuban people of course, are Americans who are losing out on business opportunities to competitors from other parts of the world who recognize the potential that Cuba represents, if not immediately today then someday in the future. The fact that we’re talking about a nation that is only 90 miles off the Florida coastline, which would seem to make it a natural market for American goods and tourists, just makes the entire policy even more absurd.
At this point, of course, what’s keeping the policy alive is politics. Republicans aren’t going to let the embargo be lifted any more than it already has been for ideological reasons that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and even politicians on the right who recognize the absurdity of the embargo aren’t going to say anything for fear of offending what’s left of that portion of the Cuban-American population in Florida that still sees the nation as rightfully theirs even though they haven’t lived their in generations now. That kind of politics is no way to run a country or international economic policy, of course, but it would appear to be what we’re stuck with. Just once, though, I’d like to see a politician with the guts to call our 50 year policy toward Cuba out for the stupidity on stilts that it actually is.