Ending the Cuban Embargo: Trading the Light of Freedom by Kelly Burke

Ending the Cuban Embargo: Trading the Light of Freedom

by Kelly Burke

(Note that this blog was originally written in response to another blog that has since been removed from the website and it does not necessarily represent the author’s actual opinions)

In 1959, Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba and proceeded to impose a harsh dictatorial rule.[1] By 1960 the Castro government taxed American imports so heavily that exports were halved and expanded trade with the Soviet Union.[2] On February 7, 1962 President Kennedy started the Cuban Embargo, which disallowed all trade with Cuba, except for medicine and food supplies.[3] The U.S. later strengthened its embargo rules with the Helms-Burton Act in response to the Castro government shooting down a civilian planes, applying the embargo to other foreign countries that still traded with Cuba.[4] The Helms-Burton Act specified strict conditions that the Castro regime must follow in order for the embargo to be lifted stating that Cuba must legalize all political activity, transition to a representative democracy, release political prisoners, recognize international human rights, confer freedom to the press, and allow labor unions.[5] Then in 2001 the U.S. allowed the sale of more food to Cuba after Cuba was hit by a devastating hurricane and the sale of food is still allowed today.[6] Recently the U.S. has entered into with Cuba to relax the embargo and allow more trade with the country.[7] The relaxation of the embargo is a decision that would sacrifice the incentive for Cuba to relax its tyrannical rule and even increase the power that the Castro government holds over Cuba.

The U.S. was correct in imposing the Cuban Embargo fifty years ago and should continue its resolve in enforcing the embargo. By lifting the embargo the U.S. would be putting money directly into the pocket of an oppressive government, it disincentives any action on the part of the Cuban government to provide their citizens with basic civil rights, and may solidify the Castro regime in a time of possible leadership change. Ending or relaxing the embargo could create more strife in Cuba and risks giving greater power to a tyrannical government.

To start with, ending the embargo will subsequently end any incentive the Castro regime would have towards improving human rights. According to the Congressional Research Service there are about 65,000 to 70,000 people incarcerated in Cuban prisons as of May 2012, making Cuba among the highest on a per capita basis in the world.[8] Many are detained for political reasons, including opposing the Castro regime and speaking out for better treatment of Cuban citizens.[9] Without the embargo encouraging Cuba to release its political prisoners, Cuba will have no reason to set free those people that have done nothing wrong except encourage freedom in their country. The embargo remains a pressure point for the U.S. to push, motivating the Cuban government to reexamine its oppressive policies and without it the Cuban government will have no motivation to recognize the basic civil rights of their people.

The next issue is that lifting the embargo will not benefit privately held businesses in Cuba and will instead put money into the Cuban government’s pockets. The Cuban government owns about 90% of the economy, making the Castro regime the beneficiaries of any trade that comes out of lifting the embargo.[10] All foreign companies in Cuba must pay wages in hard currency directly to the Cuban government which is then converted to Pesos and given to Cuban workers at a decreased value of about 4.2%.[11] This means that when a foreign firm that pays 500 U.S. dollars to the Cuban government, the government pockets about $479 and gives the worker 500 Pesos or about $21 a week.[12] From these numbers it is clear to see that opening up trade with Cuba will not benefit the payment of wage earners in Cuba at all, the workers will only get a miniscule percentage of the wages that are rightfully theirs and instead the U.S. would directly be funding the tyrannical regime that they have tried so hard to remove from power.

Finally, with all that cash lining their pockets from U.S. businesses, the current Cuban government will be more able to resist any type of political change. Both Castro brothers are nearing the end of their natural lives, and their old ages could mean significant political change towards a more democratic government. However, the U.S. putting significant amounts of money into the Castro regime from prematurely ending the embargo could spoil the chance at this transition. The current Cuban government will take advantage of the new trade entering into the country in order to solidify its control over the nation and keeping most of the profit from foreign trade in its control. The government will have more money at its disposal than what it has ever had before; creating a more powerful beast that is harder to bring down.

Lifting the embargo is likely to cause more harm than good to Cuban civil rights. Cuba has not changed it stance on human rights despite ongoing trade with other free countries like Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain.[13] One of the main argument of those that are in favor of lifting the embargo is that the influence of a free country like the U.S. could encourage more change than keeping to the no trade policy. However, other free countries have been trading with Cuba and no fortuitous change has been produced from their trade. It is clear then, that ending the embargo and hoping that it may do some good comes at the risk of the Cuban people becoming more oppressed. Lifting the embargo would create the appearance of the U.S. supporting Castro’s anti-humanitarian ideals and could lead to greater political strife in the country. In an interview, Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants defended his stance on keeping the embargo in place, stating, “That’s what they say. It is a relic of the Cold War, but our policy is not the relic. The relic is the Cuban government, that’s the relic. The relic is tyranny. The relic is communism.”[14] The U.S. remains a guiding light to freedom for Cuban citizens working for democracy and it is a light that will only dim if the U.S. decided to lift the embargo.

[1] Claire Suddath, U.S.-Cuba Relations Time, Inc. (Apr. 15, 2009), http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1891359,00.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Cuban Liberty & Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C.A. §§ 6021-91 (1996)

[6] Suddath, supra note1.

[7] Id.

[8] Mark P. Sullivan, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress, Congressional Research Service, (Nov. 6, 2012), http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/171377.pdf.

[9]  See Id.

[10] Crown. (May 2014) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/exporting-to-cuba/exporting-to-cuba.

[11]  Richard E. Feinberg, The New Cuban Economy: What Roles for Foreign Investment, The Brooking Inst. (Dec. 2012), http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/12/cuba-economy-feinberg.

[12] See Id.

[13] Highbeam Research, Inc. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Cuba.aspx.

[14] Jordan Fabian, Marco Rubio Rips U.S.-Cuba Travel: “Cuba is not a Zoo,” ABC News Internet Ventures, (Mar. 12, 2013), http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/marco-rubio-rips-us-cuba-travel-cuba-zoo/story?id=18712801.

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