Time to End the Cuba Embargo
by Doug Bandow, Cato Institute
The U.S. government has waged economic war against the Castro regime for half a century. The policy may have been worth a try during the Cold War, but the embargo has failed to liberate the Cuban people. It is time to end sanctions against Havana.
Decades ago the Castro brothers lead a revolt against a nasty authoritarian, Fulgencio Batista. After coming to power in 1959, they created a police state, targeted U.S. commerce, nationalized American assets, and allied with the Soviet Union. Although Cuba was but a small island nation, the Cold War magnified its perceived importance.
Washington reduced Cuban sugar import quotas in July 1960. Subsequently U.S. exports were limited, diplomatic ties were severed, travel was restricted, Cuban imports were banned, Havana’s American assets were frozen, and almost all travel to Cuba was banned. Washington also pressed its allies to impose sanctions.
These various measures had no evident effect, other than to intensify Cuba’s reliance on the Soviet Union. Yet the collapse of the latter nation had no impact on U.S. policy. In 1992, Congress banned American subsidiaries from doing business in Cuba and in 1996, it penalized foreign firms that trafficked in expropriated U.S. property. Executives from such companies even were banned from traveling to America.
On occasion Washington relaxed one aspect or another of the embargo, but in general continued to tighten restrictions, even over Cuban Americans. Enforcement is not easy, but Uncle Sam tries his best. For instance, according to the Government Accountability Office, Customs and Border Protection increased its secondary inspection of passengers arriving from Cuba to reflect an increased risk of embargo violations after the 2004 rule changes, which, among other things, eliminated the allowance for travelers to import a small amount of Cuban products for personal consumption.
Three years ago, President Barack Obama loosened regulations on Cuban Americans, as well as telecommunications between the United States and Cuba. However, the law sharply constrains the president’s discretion. Moreover, UN Ambassador Susan Rice said that the embargo will continue until Cuba is free.
It is far past time to end the embargo.
During the Cold War, Cuba offered a potential advanced military outpost for the Soviet Union. Indeed, that role led to the Cuban missile crisis. With the failure of the U.S.-supported Bay of Pigs invasion, economic pressure appeared to be Washington’s best strategy for ousting the Castro dictatorship.
However, the end of the Cold War left Cuba strategically irrelevant. It is a poor country with little ability to harm the United States. In 1998, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region. Cuba has little motivation to engage in military activity beyond defense of its territory and political system.” The Castro regime might still encourage unrest, but its survival has no measurable impact on any important U.S. interest.(emphasis added)
Editor’s Note: Convicted spy Ana Belen Montes was the primary architect of the 1998 DIA assessment referenced above. Amazingly, 11 years into her prison sentence, Montes continues to influence think tanks and the US government. Are there any real “Cuba experts” left?
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