A Cuba With America

Why the Cuban Embargo Should Be Lifted

Sam Clark

Opposing Opinions

Photo: Carlos Latuff, Progreso Weekly

A Regime Undeserving of Change

Why the Cuban Embargo Should Stay

Will Merritt

November 4th, 2017

In the warm waters of the Caribbean sits a historical relic, a misfit country locked out of the international community. Cuba stands as one of the last true communist states, the final standing domino in the Cold War’s power struggle. While other countries crashed and burned after the USSR’s sphere of influence collapsed, Cuba trundled on. As an undemocratic country with rampant human rights abuses, Cuba nonetheless remains the final frontier for American foreign policy.


Enacted with the intention of strangling Castro’s regime, the Cuban embargo failed to bring about any significant change. Instead, the embargo hurt those it meant to aid: the Cuban people. Daniel Griswold, senior research fellow at George Mason University, states that the Cuban embargo “means less independence for Cuban workers and entrepreneurs, who could be earning dollars from American tourists and fueling private-sector growth.” When President Obama began to increase ties with Cuba, freer markets grew significantly. In 2010, regulations governing entrepreneurship became more liberal, allowing the hiring of employees. The number of Cubans employed in this way increased 145 percent, from 157,371 in October 2010 to 385,775 today. The lack of American business cripples such growth, and the reforms which follow. CBS estimates that “the U.S. embargo (cost Cuba) nearly a trillion dollars in losses to the island's economy since it was imposed by President Kennedy in 1962.” These economic losses forced the Cuban government to turn to indirect sourcing of goods, repurposing money from policies beneficial to the Cuban people. Lifting the embargo would reduce this indirect sourcing, freeing money to aid Cubans.


The Cuban embargo also stagnates medical development in Cuba. According to Elizabeth Ernest, “[Cuba] still faces a number of health problems rarely seen in developed countries owing to a lack of access to food, medicine and equipment.” The Cuban embargo harms the Cuban people; 90% of implemented sanctions target food and medicine. Between 1992 and 1993 alone, medicine shortages caused a 48% increase in tuberculosis deaths. The Cuban people blame America for the nation’s economic and medical problems. If we remove the scapegoat, we turn the blame to where it lies: the Castro regime.     


At such a pivotal time in world history, of paramount importance should be America’s legitimacy as a world power. The American embargo on Cuba creates a black spot on American worldwide cooperation. The United Nations General Assembly voted for the past ten consecutive years to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Last year, 191 countries condemned U.S. actions, with Israel as the lone exception. The international community deplores the Cuban embargo because of its unfair impact on the Cuban people, undermining other American diplomatic efforts. Indeed, America’s foreign policy operates on the conclusion that economic exchange-not cold-war isolationism - brings change. “[Lifting the Cuban embargo] would be an overdue acknowledgement that the four-and-a-half decade embargo has failed, and that commercial engagement is the best way to encourage more open societies abroad,” writes Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute. Michael Holmes of Georgetown University concurs: “It is difficult to imagine that the benefits of lifting the embargo will not be immediate and substantial in regards to the United States reputation in the world.” Lifting the Cuban embargo shows America’s willingness to answer to its mistakes and change, something the Trump administration needs.


 Though Cuba remains underdeveloped, recent times have seen Cuban gravitation towards less democratic countries for financial support. Both Russia and China-two countries with questionable democratic and human rights records - currently court Cuba. The Washington Post writes that, “Moscow signed off on $1.4 billion in loans for a massive upgrade at two Cuban power plants. Russian cultural officials announced plans to build an art museum in the center of Havana. And Cuba's state media cheered Russian airstrikes in Syria.” In concert with increased economic involvement, Russia plans also to increase its military presence in Cuba. Reuters reports that “Russia is considering plans to restore military bases in...Cuba that had served as pivots of Soviet global military power during the Cold War, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov.” China, too, is increasing involvement in Cuba , in 2015, trade between the two nations increased by 57 percent, reaching 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. “Chinese influence is felt in all areas,” says Richard Feinberg, a former U.S. diplomat and expert on the Cuban economy at the University of California.


Lifting economic sanctions gives America a crucial bargaining chip when negotiating with Cuba, counterbalancing Russian and Chinese influence. Indeed, many scholars estimate that American economic investment could overshadow Chinese and Russian loans. Even if Cuban reforms are improbable, the Cuban embargo limits what America, the preeminent democratic power, can do. A Cuba with America is better than a Cuba without.

Despite gains made over the past decade, the Cuban government remains oppressive, tyrannical, and unsupportive of change. It is in this dark environment where we must evaluate the consequences of lifting the Cuban embargo. “Most of the Cuban economy is owned by the Castro government and all foreign trade is channeled through agencies that support the regime,” writes noted journalist Jorge Benitez. “All foreign companies must pay wages in hard currency...to the Cuban government, and from those wages the state pays in local currency a small percentage to the individual employees.” The Cuban government is also notorious for defaulting on its trade debt, receiving a rating of “substantial risk” from Moody's Investors Service. In fact, Cuba still refuses to pay the Paris Club of Nations outstanding debt and defaulted on loans from Mexico and Russia. “The Castro government and the military, not the Cuban people, will be the main beneficiary of the lifting of the embargo,” writes Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami. “The Castro regime will use this newly-acquired wealth to strengthen its hold on the Cuban people, to rebuild its military apparatus, and to engage again in supporting anti-American terrorist… groups.” Lifting the Cuban embargo may actually “lead to greater repression and control since (Cuban) leadership will fear that U.S. influence will subvert the revolution and weaken the Communist party’s hold on the Cuban people,” according to Jaime Suchlicki of Miami University. By lifting the Cuban embargo, America will funnel money into a regime which has continually violated human rights.  


Throughout the past fifty years, the Castro regime has remained a constant in Cuban society due to its ability to thrive off its citizens’ suffering. Government control of industry, exploitation of workers, and abuse of human rights continue despite Cuba’s warming relations with other countries. “Currently over 190 nations engage economically and politically with Cuba, while the United States remains alone in enforcing economic sanctions,” writes Jose Azel, Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. He continues, “If the embargo is deemed a failure in changing the nature of the Cuban government, there are 190 cases of failure on the alternative policy of engagement.” Cuban trading with Canada, Spain, Britain, and Germany has had no effect on encouraging reform, and instead enriches the Castro regime.

Cuba’s economy currently functions around two currencies: the Cuban Peso and the Cuban dollar. The Cuban Peso, used by the majority of Cubans, is virtually worthless; equal to about four cents on the dollar. In contrast, the Cuban Dollar is used by foreign investors and is roughly equivalent to the American dollar. The Cuban government pays workers in Cuban Pesos, but the Economist reports that “nearly all consumer goods are priced in [the Cuban dollar].” This causes workers to go through Cuban exchange agencies which devalue the Peso to inflate government revenues. In other words, the government cuts the salaries of its people to line its pocketbook. Any American company which wished to work in Cuba would have to go through a similar system, undercutting gains to the people and enriching the Castro regime. Sean Davis,  economic policy investigator and expert on the Castro regime, puts it this way: “More dollars don’t mean more prosperity for the people of Cuba; more dollars means more wealth and power concentrated in the hands of Cuba’s communist regime.”


Though there have been recent gains in Cuba, massive human rights violations perpetuate. The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act stipulated that America can lift its embargo on Cuba only if the Cuban government


     1. has held free and fair elections conducted under internationally recognized observers,

     2. has permitted opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign for such elections, and

     3. is showing respect for the basic civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Cuba.


Cuba has met none of these conditions. Pelanosa writes that “The Cuban government has demonstrated a clear unwillingness to embrace free markets or incorporate judicial safeguards for business investments. The political opposition, fully cognizant that commerce without civil liberties is meaningless, seeks a restoration of their political rights and civil liberties.” The Human Rights Watch describes Cuba’s current government as “systematically repressive,” with dissidents languishing within state-controlled prisons. They continue, “The denial of basic civil and political rights is written into Cuban law. In the name of legality, armed security forces, aided by state-controlled mass organizations, silence dissent with heavy prison terms, threats of prosecution, harassment, or exile. Cuba uses these tools to restrict severely the exercise of fundamental human rights of expression, association, and assembly.” Clearly, Cuba remains an undemocratic and authoritarian nation, not fulfilling America’s conditions.