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Will the Cuban Embargo ever end?

Regional 07 Apr, 2022 Follow News

Will the Cuban Embargo ever end?

Dr Livingston Smith

Who would have thought that when Fidel Castro descended the thickly forested Sierra Maestra Mountain range with his rag tag army, drove Batista from power and installed a communist state in Cuba, that an embargo inflicted on this country by President Kennedy in April 1960, would still be in place today? Maybe no one.

Six decades of the revolution but the embargo has survived the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet implosion and ‘The Special Period’, the end of the Cold War and with it the sidelining of leftist ideas and the solidifying of liberal democracy and economics. It survived the visits from Pope John Paul 11 in 1998 who declared during his visit ‘May Cuba with all its magnificent possibilities, open itself to the world, and may the world open itself to Cuba’, and that of the three day visit of President Obama in 2016 who took with him between 800 and 1200 businesspeople and congressional leaders.

The embargo which began with President Kennedy’s Proclamation 3447 disallowed all trade with Cuba. The aim was to weaken and isolate the Cuban economy and the country generally, so that the government would be overthrown, and the spread of Soviet communism slowed in line with the US policy of containment.

There was more than a glimmer of hope under President Obama when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba in December 2014 that moved away from a sanctions-based policy aimed at isolating Cuba toward a policy of engagement and a normalization of relations. So serious was the attempt to normalize relations, he visited himself and developed a relationship with then President Raul Castro. In retrospect, maybe if President Raul had known who would come next, he might have done much more to take advantage of that moment.

He might have gone beyond his series of gradual market-oriented economic policy changes to opening the economy far more to private-sector activity and scaling back Cuba’s largely state-controlled economy. Independent organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, have consistently raised concerns about press freedom and human rights and fundamental political freedoms. But they raise these concerns also for China which enjoys special trading relations with the United States. For example, in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, China placed 177 out of 180 countries.

The Trump administration increased sanctions from 2019-2021 overturning gains made under Obama. It restricted travel and remittances, imposed restrictions on Cuba’s medical missions and placed Cuba on the list of countries said to be promoting terrorism, among other measures.

Writing in the Guardian recently, David Adler notes the effects of the embargo on the Cuban economy and people. ‘The docks are half-empty: the US has banned all cruise ships, cultural exchange and educational delegations that once drove the largest industry on the island. The Western Union branches are shuttered: the US has banned all remittances through Cuban firms and their affiliates to the millions of Cuban families that rely on assistance from abroad. The hospitals are understocked: the US embargo has forbidden the export of medical technology with US components, leading to chronic shortages of over-the-counter medicine. Even the internet is a zone of isolation: the US embargo means that Cubans cannot use Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams to communicate with the outside world.’

On many occasions Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have told the United States that its decades-old trade and economic embargo against Cuba has “run its course” and should now be lifted, but to no avail. More recently for example In a July 26 letter sent to President Joe Biden, CARICOM chairman and Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that “strong and mutually beneficial relations” have been developed between Cuba and the Caribbean countries over a 49-year period and CARICOM regards “Cuba and its people as a valuable and respected member of our family of Caribbean nations”.

CARICOM and the vast majority of the world’s countries have been consistent in rejecting what Prime Minister Browne labelled ‘the anarchistic and failed policy’. Quoting the late Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams on this matter is always useful. He had explained the reason behind four Caribbean countries establishing diplomatic relations with Havana in 1972, “In the 1970s we should have learned the lesson that economic boycott is not the most realistic, nor indeed the most productive attitude to be adopted with a country whose economic and social system we do not share ... At all levels within the family of nations of the hemisphere, reconciliation with the estranged is the ineluctable choice, rather than ostracism.”

The embargo just does not make sense from an ideological or humanitarian perspective. It flies in the face of the thrust for a global free-market, free-trade system that the US is believed to be spearheading. A vibrant Cuban economy will not only be good for the Cuban people but for the region and the world.

By Dr. Livingston Smith

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme


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