President Obama should immediately end the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. It makes no economic or political sense. Indeed, I am surprised that he is hesitant about making such an obviously popular move. He has already gone part of the way by removing restrictions on family travel and money transfers to their homeland by Cubans in the United States. Why not go the rest of the way?
At last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad (photo at right), Latin American leaders made the embargo a key issue. Pressure to lift the 47-year-old trade blockade came not only from leaders on the left, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, but also from moderates such as Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
And the U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly passed a non-binding resolution condemning the U.S. embargo. In a recent session, only the United States, Israel and Palau voted against the resolution. Cuba has formal relations with 160 nations, and provides aid – principally medical – to more than 20 poor countries. America’s two closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, have maintained uninterrupted diplomatic relations with Cuba for more than a century. (Cuba is the fifth most popular vacation destination for Canadians – after the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and France.)
The Cuban trade embargo was imposed after Fidel Castro took power half a century ago, seizing private property and killing (or imprisoning) large numbers of wealthy and middle-class Cubans. (A major reason for Castro’s rise to power was the fact that American-based organized crime had colonized Havana, inflicting unspeakable degradation on the Cuban people.) Hundreds of thousands of political refugees fled to America, leaving their careers and property behind. And, naturally, there is intense hatred of Castro among the Cuban American population. But this bitterness is waning. A recent poll conducted by Florida International University shows 55 percent of Cuban-Americans favored ending the embargo, while 65 percent said they wanted Washington to re-establish diplomatic relations with Havana.
The Cuban government is unarguably despotic, permitting no dissent and relentlessly imprisoning political opponents. This is the main reason that President Obama gives for his reluctance to end the trade blockade. Speaking at the Summit’s opening ceremony, he said:
I am prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues – from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform to drugs, migration and economic issues.
The statement followed Cuban President Raul Castro’s comment a day earlier expressing willingness to discuss traditionally off-limit topics, including human rights. But what has all this got to do with trade?
Surely, Cuba’s government is no more despotic than China’s? Yet the United States has not made China’s civil rights abuses an issue in the vast amount of commerce between the two countries. If the United States made domestic human rights a condition of trade for all countries, Americans would have very few trading partners.
UPDATE: Watching CSPAN Wednesday night, I learned from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the President cannot end the Cuban trade blockade because it was imposed by law and only Congress has the power to make or change laws. With the Democratic Party infiltrated by conservatives who are Democrats in name only, I now understand why it is so difficult to revoke the law. Members of Congress who call themselves Democrats but act like Republicans should be targeted in the Democratic primaries next year and replaced by candidates who truly represent the Democratic Party’s platform.