A debate on American foreign policy in Cuba

Opinion by Matthew Cohen
April 20, 2015, 8:17 p.m.

Last December, President Obama announced that the United States would be ending its 54-year embargo against Cuba. For over half a century, the embargo against Cuba has sought to promote democratic regime change. Of course, this did not come to fruition; the Castro family still has a tight hold on Cuban politics and the Communist Party remains the only force in Cuba. Obama made the right decision to terminate the embargo, because it will end a policy that is arbitrary and ineffective by its very nature and, in doing so, promote economic growth that will benefit both Americans and Cubans.

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed that the United States was going to end all trade with Cuba. The main objective of the embargo was to make Cuba terminate its Soviet ties and adopt a government that would be more representative of the Cuban people. More than 50 years later, the political situation in Cuba has not changed substantially. Another member of the Castro family is in power, and the country is run by Communists. The primary difference between then and now is Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union. The embargo did not cause this change; the U.S.S.R. collapsed for reasons independent of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Since the embargo has not accomplished much change in the past 50 years, it is highly unlikely to expect any different outcome in the 50 years to come.

Additionally, Cuba does not pose the same threat to the United States that it did during the 1960s. As seen through the Cuban missile crisis, Cuba was critical to America’s national security. Less than 100 miles from the beaches of Florida, Cuba was in the position to cause serious damage to the United States if weapons of mass destruction were put on the island. Today, the likelihood of that happening is miniscule. Cuba poses close to no threat against the United States.

Secondly, by blocking trade with Cuba, the United States is fettering free enterprise and capitalism. Ending the embargo with Cuba will bring over 6,000 jobs to the United States, primarily in the areas of agriculture and telecommunications. Moreover, American companies will now have a new market that will generate over $1 billion annually — according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While these economic benefits may seem miniscule in comparison to the U.S. economy, they are still benefits nonetheless that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. Advocates for the Cuba embargo say that this is a cost worth incurring. However, excluding these economic costs, the embargo against Cuba does not make sense.

The biggest problem with the embargo is that it adversely affects the Cuban people. For example, as a result of this policy, Cubans have access to only 50 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs on the world market. The fact that it restricts the health options for regular Cubans underscores the embargo’s failure, because the embargo should be targeting Castro and compelling him to change his policies — not asking the powerless to change Cuban policy. Furthermore, if the United States is truly seeking regime change, the government should not be enforcing a policy that alienates the same people that the government wants to use as a vehicle for democratic regime change in Cuba.

Finally, the embargo is petty. It is clear that the United States has disagreements with many countries around the world. In close to all of these cases, the United States does not react to policy differences by simply ending trade with the country. If we did, there would be no trade with China, Saudi Arabia or Russia. The United States cannot punish other countries with an embargo because they have a government type that we do not support. America should try to fight the world image that the U.S. is a “school bully.” The embargo against Cuba only reinforces this negative perception.

Governor George Ryan of Illinois noted, “I think we ought to treat Cuba like we do any other country in the world … our biggest commodity is democracy, and we ought to be spreading that any place we can.” President Obama made the right decision to end the petty, ineffective embargo in exchange for a new policy that will promote growth and increase the probability of democratic regime change in Cuba.

The United States should not be waging an assault on the Cuban people. They have done little, if anything, to harm the U.S. To achieve our goal, which is to promote democracy, we must empower the Cuban people to rise up and create their own change. Democracy will come from within.

Contact Matthew Cohen at mcohen18 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

There is a reason that tension and discord have filled the last 55 years of Cuba’s relationship with the United States. At its core, the Castro regime is one of repression and brutality that directly conflicts with the vision of freedom the United States purports to espouse.

The Castro regime began with a revolution against the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, who treated Cuba as his personal bank while working to repress its people. But though the ideology of the Castro brothers (and the third member of their triumvirate, Che Guevara) officially opposes the simple caudillismo of Batista, their history of repression has only differed in terms of its scale. The Castro regime has spent the last several decades curtailing the freedoms of the Cuban people and killing those who have stood in their way, from those killed by Guevara himself to those surreptitiously murdered by the regime, like outspoken advocate for democracy Oswaldo Payá.

This core fact about the Castro brothers’ dictatorship over Cuba has not changed since December 17, when President Obama announced the policy shift negotiated behind the scenes with Raul Castro to the peoples of our two nations. And until the Castros relinquish their power over the island, through either their deaths or their abdications, there can be no hope of that change happening.

Until such a change happens, we as the United States should not engage with the government of Cuba. Doing so helps neither us nor the Cuban people; it helps the Castros, and the Castros alone.

In fairness, removing the Castros’ Cuba from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (as Obama has begun working to do since December 17) is the best idea for change that has come from the Obama administration — though the best in a group of terrible ideas can only be as good as mediocre. It makes some sense, for instance, to recognize that the Castros have shifted when it comes to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), the terrorist group that has been waging war against the Colombian people and government for nearly as long as the Castros have held power over Cuba. Though the brothers have had military ties with the group for decades, Cuba has played host to the recent series of peace talks between the Colombian government and the leadership of FARC. Beyond FARC, the Castros have also worked to distance themselves from the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a Basque terrorist group that tormented the people of Spain and France from 1959 to their most recent ceasefire in 2011.

Technically speaking, this shift on the part of the Castros (and their promise not to revert back to their old ways with those terrorist groups) does mean that their dictatorial regime no longer operates as a state sponsor of terror. And despite the fact that domestic terrorist Joanne Chesimard (aka Assata Shakur) now calls Cuba home, the Castro regime has not supported any attacks from her since her defection. If we see the integrity of that list as something worth upholding, then it logically follows that the State Department would remove Cuba from its blacklist.

But what message does doing so send to the world, and to the Castros specifically? After all, we have no guarantees that the dictators will not fall into some old habits once their influence over Washington grows. Should the now multi-year negotiations between FARC and the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos fall apart, for instance, the Castro regime may again start supporting its ideological brethren in fighting against capitalist democracy. This worry becomes unfortunately relevant, given that the regime seems to have a cozy relationship with the similarly repressive dictatorship of Kim Jong-un in North Korea, even to the point of supplying it with Cuban weapons as recently as last year, in violation of international sanctions. If Cuba can try to sneak under the world’s radar with a country on the opposite side of the planet, doing so with a group like FARC is comparatively easy — and perhaps easier still without our State Department’s censure impeding “diplomacy” across the 90-mile Straits of Florida.

Beyond the issue of the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, however, things get worse. No matter what the Obama administration says or does in its attempts to appease the Castros and pad an abysmal record on foreign policy, the situation in Cuba has changed very little since December of last year. Even as some people on the island have had grandiose thoughts of what U.S. capital might bring to their lives under the regime — or even developed a fervent love for Obama rivaling that of his supporters in 2008 — the first few months of the new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has witnessed hundreds of pro-democracy activists jailed simply for disagreeing with the Castros. Nothing that Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry or anyone else in their administration has done has changed this fundamental fact about Cuban socialism and the state that enforces it.

These first months have proved telling when it comes to how the Castros view the new era Obama hopes to usher in for the U.S. and Cuba. They have shown just how little Raul and Fidel Castro care about our attempts to meet them halfway — a disregard rivaled only by how little they care for the people they claim to represent.

Contact Johnathan Bowes at jbowes ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Matthew Cohen is an opinions fellow for The Stanford Daily. Originally from Orange County, Matthew is interested in politics and plans to declare a major in political science. In his leisure time, he enjoys playing piano, running, and watching Netflix. Contact him at mcohen18 'at' stanford.edu

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