Time to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba
After five decades of sanctions, relations are beginning to thaw between the U.S. and Cuba
Across from the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, Cubans gather in a park they woefully call "the park of tears". Tears that the majority of them shed after standing in line for hours before getting declined the visa stamp to travel to the United States.
Many Cubans don't understand the logic behind the economic embargo that Washington imposed on the island in early 1960s in an attempt to pressure the Fidel Castro regime and “liberate” the people. What happened instead was the regime using the embargo to boost its anti-imperial credentials while the vast majority of Cubans suffer its consequences
Five decades into the longest sanction regime in recent history, it is evident for anyone who visits Cuba that the embargo has failed in reaching its objective of regime change in Cuba, and its sole victims have been the Cuban people.
The embargo failed by virtue that the Castro regime has survived and adjusted to the changing global and regional politics in the Western Hemisphere. Whereas it aligned itself closely with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and to avert what it perceived as U.S. attempts at regime change, Fidel Castro changed the trajectory following the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
The “special period” in the 1990s, as the Cubans call it, of economic hardship and near starvation that many Cubans still ache from, forced more openness from the regime, economically inside Cuba and towards Latin America and the European Union.
Cuba's participation in several regional summits starting with the Ibero-American summits in 1991 and normalizing ties with all of the countries in Latin America helped it gain acceptance regionally and put an end to any ambitions of “exporting the revolution.” Increasing trade with the EU and East Asia also helped Havana transition from the Soviet era while further undermining the impact of the U.S. embargo.
In old Havana, signature Western brands including United Colors of Benetton, Puma, and Adidas break with Cuba's past, while the one million tourists that embarked on the island this year, make the U.S. disconnect less sensible.
Punished the people
As the Obama administration turns the page on 55-year-old chapter of animosity with Cuba, removing it from State Sponsor of terror and upgrading the diplomatic presence to embassies and lifting the embargo by U.S. Congress is critical to the success of any future policy. Only by improving economic conditions will the Cuban people feel empowered.
The embargo has ironically helped the Castro regime in using it as a propaganda tool on street billboards and speeches to rally for the ailing revolution. It also made Cuban workers and families more dependent on the government that provides health and food services. The cigar farmers who are forced to sell 90% of their produce in low prices for the government could benefit from opening commerce with the United States. And the tourist industry, and the average shop keepers and vendors that crowd the Malecón sea wall stretching around Havana, will feel less dependent on limited food rations they get from their government.
Despite the long years of boycott with the United States, Cuba is not the Middle East and anti-Americanism is not prevalent in the social or political culture on the island. American shows such as "House" or "The Good Wife" have made their way into Cuban homes, and the Jazz music scene is one of the liveliest in Latin America. The generational shift among both Cuban-Americans and young Cubans away from the old toxic history also provides a key opportunity to improve relations.
The embargo that was tailored to isolate the Castro regime has hurt the Cuban people and spared the leaders. For reforms and civil society to be strengthened in Cuba, the average Cubans have to be empowered and the embargo has to be lifted.
Banning the imports of sugar cane, mango and rice, while blocking tourism is no way to liberate a people. After 55 years, it is clear that political stagnation and economic despair are neither equivalent to a sound policy in Cuba nor do they meet U.S.' interests or those of the Cuban people.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam