A Close Look at the Failed U.S. Policy toward Cuba

The United States should lift its decades-long embargo on Cuba to promote mutual economic growth and to boost its prestige in Latin America.

By Jean-Bernard Latortue
Contributing Writer
December 8, 2015

After an absence of more than 50 years, Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic visit to Havana last August should have been the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. Yet, Congress fell short. It did not seize on this successful diplomatic breakthrough. The United States has reopened its embassy, raising the American flag in Cuba once again, but it has still not reversed its ineffective Cold War policy. The more than five-decade long U.S. embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its goal of regime change. For a number of reasons, Congress must resume its role in the making of sensible U.S. foreign policy and lift the embargo.

First, the embargo primarily hurts the people of Cuba. This is the very same population that the U.S. government wants to liberate from the repressive Castro regime. Many international organizations, including the United Nations, have criticized the embargo’s detrimental effects on food, clean water, medicine and other economics needs of the Cuban population. For that reason, the embargo has been a point of contention between the United States and many Latin American and Caribbean countries. Considering that the embargo has done more to harm than to help the Cuban people, it is time for the United States to craft a new and smart policy that can contribute to much needed change in Cuba.

Furthermore, there is little evidence to suggest that the embargo will propel the Cuban government to cave in to the demands of the United States. Isolation has failed to push the Cuban government to embrace democratic principles. The embargo did not succeed in part because some of the closest U.S. allies, including Canada and Mexico, never ceased relations with Cuba. Even at the peak of the Cold War these nations resisted U.S. pressure to sever relations with the Castro regime. Today, Cuba continues to trade with many Western partners.

There are other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with non-democratic forms of government and worse human rights allegations than Cuba where Americans are allowed to travel with no restriction. The United States also maintains its economic ties with these states. Given that the United States has maintained its diplomatic and trade relations with these nations, it is impractical to continue to enforce the embargo against Cuba. The United States must advocate for change in Cuban politics through better means. Doing so would have tremendous benefits.

First, it would boost the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United States could generate approximately $1.2 billion dollars every year through exports to Cuba. Additionally, once economic restrictions are lifted, U.S.-based companies will have access to a new market. The associated investment and business opportunities could ultimately create more jobs for U.S. citizens.

Second, lifting the embargo would facilitate stronger relationships among countries in the Americas. Many Latin American and Caribbean countries are sympathetic to Cuba and do not support the U.S. embargo, which is pointed to as evidence of American hostility. A better relationship with Cuba would help change these nations’ perception of the United States in a positive direction.

Third, ending the embargo will heighten the likelihood of Cuban regime change. Through trade, tourism and newly restored diplomatic relations, the United States would have a better chance to promote democracy. Cuba is the only country where tourist travel is prohibited under U.S. laws. Lifting all travel restrictions would allow American tourists to expose the Cuban people to freedom and openness. This would be a significant development in a country where even internet access is still tightly controlled to non-existent in some areas. The presence of millions of American tourists would also diminish the Castro brothers’ ability to control the flow of information to the Cuban people.

Lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba should not be understood as an example of politics of appeasement. To the contrary, a new, open policy towards Cuba would have the potential to transform the state’s society much faster than the five decade-long, ineffective embargo. It would provide Cuban society with more access to the outside world and give the Cuban people greater ability to pursue change within their own government.
The United States should not buy into the illusion that this shift in policy would bring change to Cuba overnight. Yet, for the Cuban people that live under an authoritarian government, the United States can remain the beacon of light and hope.

Jean-Bernard is a first-year graduate student in the International Affairs master’s program at the Elliott School of International Affairs. He received a B.A. in History and Political Science from St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida in 2013. Before enrolling in the MA program, he interned on Capitol Hill and worked for a lobby group in Washington, DC. Jean-Bernard can be reached at Jlatortue@gwmail.gwu.edu.

Photo taken by Day Donaldson, is licensed under CC-BY-2.5.

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