US Embargo of Cuba, Half a Century Later

What purpose does the Cuban embargo serve?As a foreign policy instrument, the embargo has also failed. It has not done anything to make the Cuban people more free, and it has denied Americans of the right to travel freely as they see best. For American business interests, billions of dollars have been lost to exporters – from farmers in the Midwest to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

What purpose does the Cuban embargo serve?New America Media – Fifty years ago this week, on September 4, 1961, the US Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibited all aid to Cuba and authorized the President to declare a “total embargo upon all trade” with that Caribbean island nation.

Advocates heralded this bold move as a sure measure to “create the conditions” necessary for Fidel Castro to be removed from power “within one year.”

The American conceit was that, denied aid and trade with the United States, the Castro government would face an internal uprising, and that his days in power were numbered.

Fast forward half a century, and both Castro and the embargo remain.

The embargo, in many ways, represents the worse of the US, since it makes America seem like a petty, vindictive and irrational nation. And in both political and economic terms, the embargo has been a complete failure of US foreign policy.

The embargo, rather than weakening Castro, emboldened him. For decades he has been able to position himself as a champion against impossible odds. The Cuban nation has rallied around him, as much from their national pride as for their affection for this “David” who has stood firm against “Goliath”.

Around the world, enemies of the United States have been able to point to the embargo as proof of America’s vindictive nature, of its willingness to deliberately enact a policy to punish innocents and impoverish an entire nation. Castro has been welcomed by other Third World dictators as both an inspiring figure of resistance against American “imperialism,” and as an avuncular counsel on how to remain in power indefinitely.

As a foreign policy instrument, the embargo has also failed. It has not done anything to make the Cuban people more free, and it has denied Americans of the right to travel freely as they see best. For American business interests, billions of dollars have been lost to exporters – from farmers in the Midwest to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

In the eyes of the developed world, it has been a blemish on America’s standing. The United Nations routinely condemns the embargo as an instrument of cruelty and an abuse of power. The embargo has enhanced Castro’s prestige and standing – allowing him to maneuver vast foreign aid first from the Soviet Union, then from the European Union and now from China and Venezuela. It has also given him a ready excuse for all the dismal failures of his own economic mismanagement of his nation’s economy. The “Socialist Paradise,” Castro maintains, continues to be thwarted by relentless aggression from Washington.

Throughout Latin America, however reprehensible many nations find Castro, they feel compelled to defend his regime on the principle that no nation has the right to interfere in the internal affairs and socioeconomic evolution of another nation.

Mexico, for decades, has gone out of its way to extend every conceivable assistance to Havana precisely to remind Washington that it must act fairly with its neighbors. (When Washington demanded that the Organization of American States, the OAS, expel Cuba and that nations break off diplomatic relations with Havana, only Mexico stood firm, voting against expulsion and refusing to break diplomatic relations. Indeed, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the largest Cuban diplomatic presence in the world is in Mexico City.)

In the US, decades have worn down support for the embargo as well. In 2000, the US Congress enacted the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, simply to allow American farmers and pharmaceutical companies to resume sales of food and medical supplies on a cash-only basis. American exports of these products went from nothing in 2000 to almost $700 million by 2008. Officials estimate that total sales of American agricultural products to Havana could easily top $1 billion if financing were made available.

These figures are peanuts to those who advocate for a continuation of the embargo, of course. They argue that the money spent to purchase American agricultural products and medicines come from the proceeds of the foreign aid the European Union – particularly Spain – are foolish enough to squander on the Castro dictatorship. And they are enraged at the prospect that American tourists naïve enough to believe Castro’s socialist nonsense will squander money in Cuba, which will end up in the pockets of Castro and his cronies.

Others, on principle, object to the reality that Cuba is a nation of people of color, and Castro and his regime are comprised of white men whose parents and grandparents emigrated from Europe. The last time there was a dictatorship in which an elite of whites governed a nation comprised of people of color was South Africa under apartheid – and the entire world had boycotts and embargos against that reprehensible regime. The entire situation – liberal Americans objecting to an embargo designed to end white-minority rule in a nation 90 miles from America’s shores – makes the blood of Tea Party members boil with rage.

All that aside, a year ago this September President Barack Obama extended the embargo through September 14, 2011, arguing that the embargo “is in the national interest of the United States.”

It is not.

And it is time the US recognized a failed policy for the failure that it is, and simply let the embargo expire. This would not only be the wise and right thing to do, but would allow the US to turn a new page in its relations with the whole of Latin America.

Allowing the embargo to expire would be change Latin America can believe in.

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  • Mustafa

    US should normalize relations with Cuba! But it wont since they want Cuba to open up to CIA backed MNC’s and adopt neoliberal policy!

    I totally disagree with the author! It seems the author has been watching CNN, Fox News and BBC and reading New York Times, Washington Post and other CIA/Mossad mouthpieces and propoganda.

    When it comes to Cuba, everyone should do thier own research. Just because the media calls Ahmadinejad hitler dusnt mean he is so! Same with Fidel Castro!

    I know Fidel Castro is one of the best rulers of the 20th Century and all countries should learn from Cuba. Cuba’s social and economic indicators are awesome and even higher than Canada and America! It has free and awesome healthcare and education that puts it in better place than most Western Nations! It has stood up for its people against Imperialism!

    Fidel Castro suported Iran and Palestine , he always supports Palestine and bashes Israel! He is a kind soul, alongside Che Geuvera who both are very good people against Zionism. They really helped thier own people, who love them! They have 80% approval and Fidel Castro has been vocal on Global Affiars and a voice for justice!

  • Syed Moqtada

    Salaam, the previous commentor is correct in everything they say. The author seems to be trying to appease their conical master while mildly taking against them

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