A Chance to Change the Course in Cuba
Does change for America mean a change of course for U.S. policy on Cuba?
December 3, 2008
The new political landscape in Washington and Havana offers a long overdue opportunity to reverse a foreign policy decision that has been maintained for almost half a century and has caused considerable and unnecessary suffering — the embargo against Cuba.
Cuban President Raúl Castro, in an interview with the American actor Sean Penn published in The Nation magazine, expressed his willingness and desire to meet with President Barack Obama and discuss issues of common interest.
A critical component of these talks should be lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba and resuming normal trade relations.
Although lifting the embargo — or recognizing the Cuban regime — requires Congressional approval, President Obama with the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress should be able to move that motion forward, even taking into account members of Congress who would try to oppose it.
Remarkably, the embargo has benefited no one except its presumable target: Fidel Castro. It has allowed both Fidel and Raúl Castro to maintain a strong grip on power, to use it as a rallying point against the United States — and as a scapegoat for the deprivations Cubans have endured since the embargo was imposed in 1962.
The efforts of those supporting the embargo — mostly the Cuban exile community in Florida, as a way to undermine the Castros’ regime — have proven to be counterproductive. They have not weakened the Castros’ power nor turned the population against them.
In addition, the changing demographics have made the younger generation less obsessed with the regime — and more open to negotiation.
As a result of the embargo, there were severe restrictions in the export of medicines from the United States to Cuba. In 1995, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the autonomous branch of the Organization of American States) informed the U.S. government that such activities were a violation of international law, and requested that the United States take immediate action to exempt medicines from the embargo.
According to the Cuban delegation to the United Nations, the restrictions on medical products were “so extensive that they make such imports practically impossible.”
In spite of these difficulties, Cuba has one of the best public health care systems in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a U.S. non governmental organization that evaluated Cuba’s health care system in 2000-2001, described the island as “a shining example of the power of public health to transform the health of an entire country by a commitment to prevention and by careful management of its medical resources.”
The embargo has been roundly condemned worldwide through several United Nations General Assembly annual votes. In the 2008 vote, the motion to keep the embargo was defeated by 185 against three: the United States, Israel and Palau, a Pacific Island of 21,000 people.
George P. Schultz, who was Reagan’s Secretary of State, has called the continuous U.S. embargo “insane.”
As things stand now, it is improbable that the U.S. embargo will hurt Raúl more than it hurt Fidel. Now is the perfect time to try a diplomatic approach that could lead to lifting the embargo and establishing normal relations between both countries.
The process should consist of several steps to allow the development of trust, trade — and lead to the free movement of people between the United States and Cuba.
So far, those who stand to lose the most in this situation have been ordinary Cubans, who enjoy good health care and education — but none of the advantages of living in an open society with access to goods that people in other countries take for granted.
All the Cubans I spoke to on the island are eager for normal relations with the United States. They feel emotionally closer to the Americans than they were to the Russians at the time they were receiving considerable help from the Russian government.
One Cuban told me, half jokingly, “The Cuban regime will be more easily defeated by iPods and jeans than by an American army.”
Lifting the embargo on Cuba is a much less complex endeavor than ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — or solving what is rapidly becoming the Kashmir nightmare.
Ending this measure would create an atmosphere of goodwill worldwide — of unpredictable, but certainly good, consequences for world peace. Persisting on a course of action that has been proven to be wrong for almost half a century is to accept the tyranny of failed ideas.
Ordinary Cubans enjoy good health care and education — but none of the advantages of living in an open society.
"The Cuban regime will be more easily defeated by iPods and jeans than by an American army."
Remarkably, the U.S. embargo on Cuba has benefited no one except its presumable target: Fidel Castro.
The changing demographics have made the younger generation less obsessed with the regime — and more open to negotiation.