More Evidence of the Silliness of US Policy Towards Cuba

Via the BBC:  Beyonce and Jay-Z visit to Cuba queried in US Congress

A visit to Cuba by US pop singer Beyonce and her rap star husband Jay-Z is coming under scrutiny in connection with the US economic embargo.


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both members of Congress from Florida, asked the US treasury department to clarify what licence the two stars had obtained to travel to Cuba.

"Cuba’s tourism industry is wholly state-controlled; therefore, US dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people," they wrote.


Americans are not allowed to visit Cuba and spend money there unless they have special US government permission, according to guidance on the US treasury website.

Granted:  it terms of the letter of the law, the Representatives have a point.  However, this just underscored the silliness of said law.

US policy towards Cuba is one remarkable mix of counter-productiveness and pettiness.

Counter-productive because lifting the embargo would hasten liberalization in Cuba (so, we are helping perpetuate the repressive government in question) and petty because the Cold War ended over two decades ago and the Cuban Missile Crisis was half a century ago.

FILED UNDER: Latin America, US Politics, World Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Tran says:

    Cuba has relatively high standards of living, in some categories even surpassing the US. But the political system is rife with abuse, free speech is sharply curtailed and dissidents in constant danger of facing punishment. Journalists and the Internet are tightly controlled.

    It is very similar to China, but one of the two countries has normal relations with the US, the other doesn’t. Any reason why there is an embargo on Cuba, but not on China?

  2. JKB says:

    Hmm? Isn’t there one guy, a good friend of these two celebrities I believe, who has foreign policy in his mandate? So could therefore, seek to alter the US Cuban policy?

    But it will be interesting to see if these individuals willfully violated US law and will be prosecuted when Treasury has prosecuted religious missions who mistakenly took a tour one afternoon.

    Please tell me they took their own plane to Cuba. A plane that would now be banned from US airspace for, is it 6 or 12 months.

  3. Tony W says:

    US policy towards Cuba is one remarkable mix of counter-productiveness and pettiness.

    Which makes US policy toward Cuba, and its brother Israel, perfect examples of policies designed to appeal to a narrow, but crucial voting block domestically.

    Broadly, one of the great weaknesses of democracy is that it encourages a divide-and-conquer political strategy. We see it leveraged in many other ways around race, income, religion – any way folks can identify somebody else as an ‘other’. And it preys on weak minds, which are always plentiful in any society.

    The only solution I can really offer is to encourage in our youth a strong liberal arts education ethic, a confident and sustained middle class which cuts across historical societal boundaries, and an independent free press.

    Ironically those very liberal solutions are the most conservative and sustainable way to address our problems for the long term.

  4. Anderson says:

    Treasury approved the visit, it’s said.

    I think letting Cubans see what they’re missing is an effective tactic.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    To some extent it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. And there are dichotomies between and interrelated components to the politics of this issue and the economics of it all.

    Would the US political left have supported free trade with Argentina during the “dirty war” period? Um, no. Obviously not. The same would hold true for any economic measure that potentially would boost any militant right-wing government. It’s only natural, on the other hand, for the left to support normalizing relations with a communist dictatorship. Liberals are like weather vanes.

    Putting aside the politics, and focusing strictly on the economics, the embargo with Cuba for us is self-defeating, on multiple levels. No question. From the standpoint of poli-economics there’s a strong argument that boosting Cuba’s economy with free trade would increase the chances there of democratization, although the Castro regime is brutal even by communism standards and that’s not entirely such a cut-and-dried scenario.

    At certain levels free trade can’t be an absolute mandate, even for those who normally are focused entirely on the economic side of things. Would we have entered into a free trade pact with Pol Pot’s Cambodia? With the Afghan Taliban? There are shades of gray out there in Realityville, even for those of us who normally look at things in terms of black and white.

    Of course given the political realities of Florida it’s nigh impossible to separate completely the politics of the Cuban embargo from the economics. For people like Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart anything that remotely could be considered weakness or appeasement towards the Castro dictatorship could be a direct threat to their respective job security. And as Republicans they don’t have the benefit of lock step voting strictly by racial and tribal identities.

    Ultimately what’s “silly” for some is pretty f’n complex for others. Depends on where you sit.

  6. Tony W says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: A remarkably lucid post, then we see this crap:

    And as Republicans they don’t have the benefit of lock step voting strictly by racial and tribal identities.

    Which is, funny enough, exactly what you had just said the Republicans (among others) are doing in Florida.

  7. john personna says:


    I believe Cuba has had some back-handed “successes.”

    Because there was not enough to eat, the entire population endured caloric restriction, and it turns out that caloric restriction does shield from some health issues (fewer heart attacks).

    That is not really the same as a higher standard of living. Or put more simply, given free tickets from Miami to Havana and vis-versa, we know which way the flow would be.

    (On topic, I agree that we should totally free trade and travel to Cuba, and that this would trigger rapid change in that nation. Perhaps they’d be a little more Chinese, and call it “communism with Cuban characteristics,” but it would be more humane and prosperous, no question.)

  8. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The better parallel is apartheid South Africa, but the key there is certainly probability of success. If SA had endured 50 years of sanction, with no sign of change, then it might indeed be time to try another tack.

  9. stonetools says:

    Nothing to add, really. Good post. The first generation of anti-Castro Cubans are dying off, and both Castros will soon be gone. Maybe at that point, we’ll have a sane Cuba policy.

  10. Rafer Janders says:


    Any reason why there is an embargo on Cuba, but not on China?

    China has lots of money and customers and US companies want do do business with it. Simple as that.

  11. Franklin says:

    @stonetools: Heh. Maybe our higher-up’s understand all this, but don’t want Fidel to live to see the day!

  12. JKB says:


    I agree, we should run tours in the US. Take the Cubans to a convenience store, buy them a 44 oz. soda, then show them the exact same level of merchandise for sale a mile down the road.

    But no party members, them we send to Detroit.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Granted: it terms of the letter of the law, the Representatives have a point. However, this just underscored the silliness of said law.

    What is really funny is that it is so easy for an American to get to Cuba no matter what the law says. I don’t know the particulars of how it is done (something like “Fly to Mexico, then fly to Havana. No visa needed.”) but I do know a couple of guys who have done it.