Thursday, February 17, 2011

The continued failure of US-Cuba policy

A member of the US Chamber of Commerce spoke at the Brookings Institution the other day regarding US policy towards Cuba. Some highlights of his remarks:
  • The US trade embargo on Cuba is an anachronism that has "made a martyr out of a tyrant." Worse, the embargo has actually effectively served to prop up the country's regime, which likely would not have been able to withstand five decades of free trade with the US. Indeed, economic and political freedom tend to be closely linked. 
  • Prior to the imposition of the embargo, Cuba was the US's seventh largest export market. Absent US participation, countries such as Venezuela, China, Vietnam, Canada and Brazil are filling the void.
  • The US embargo on Cuba fits within a broader series of policy failures in the region including "Buy America" legislation that has angered Canada, a refusal to live up to NAFTA obligations regarding trade with Mexico and the failure to ratify outstanding free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. 
Ted Piccone of Brookings, meanwhile, makes some good points in a recent opinion piece:
We've all heard the stories about modern life in Cuba — menial wages, long lines for public services, fewer subsidies for basic necessities, restrictions on travel both on and off the island, vigilante committees that monitor and harass anyone who questions the regime. No doubt, life for the Cuban people is tough, and only getting tougher. 
So why should the United States make it even harder for them?

...It is hard to understand how a unilateral policy of isolation and punishment advances the cause of democracy and human rights in Cuba. Even in the bad days of the Cold War, the United States championed support to rights advocates behind the Iron Curtain while simultaneously conducting direct diplomacy with states in the Soviet sphere. When history eventually turns in Cuba, as it will, should we be on the side of the Cuban people who are fighting for a better future? Or will we be remembered for acts of aggression, denial and obstruction?
...At the end of the day, the future of Cuba rests in the hands of the Cuban people. Like oppressed peoples everywhere, they deserve the full support of the American people as expressed through acts of solidarity, dialogue, trust and direct assistance. That can happen only if both governments get out of the way and allow normal human discourse to flow between two peoples too long separated by history and mistrust.
Washington does absolutely nothing to draw Cuban democracy one day nearer by compounding the misery of its people. A United States confident in its ideals and compassionate towards others should not sever its ties with other countries, but expand them. The economic embargo and travel ban on Cuba are the definition of failed policies, and it is past time for them to end.

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