The US and Its Embargo on Cuba

In the past three weeks, The New York Times has published three editorials advocating the lifting of the American embargo on Cuba, and for the improvement of relations between the U.S. and the Castro dictatorship. The most important American newspaper thinks that relations between the U.S. and other Spanish-speaking countries will substantially improve by lifting the sanctions, and that likewise, by doing so, the U.S. would be better positioned to promote democracy on the island.

Is the White House changing its strategy? Yes, probably so. However, The New York Times is wrong about the impact this strategy would have on Cuba. What is right is that the sanctions have failed and need to be removed.

By sanctioning Cuba for 50 years, the U.S. has managed to neither defeat the brothers Castro nor democratize the country. These sanctions have been used by the Cuban regime to justify the food shortages, the economic standstill, and the low standard of living of its citizens instead. The fault is that of the empire to the north. If the sanctions were lifted, the truth would be clear: Cuban citizens are poor because of the regime and its repressive policies. There is no external justification.

The brothers Castro have never been interested in democracy or liberalizing the Cuban regime. On the contrary, their motto has been “socialism or death,” and it has become obvious that they only want to keep holding all the power. It is naive to believe that the U.S., a country with a poor history of democratizing, is going to achieve the democratization of Cuba.

The economic “reforms” undertaken by Raúl Castro in recent years have not really changed Cuban society, since they are “few, limited and late,” as the recently deceased economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe stated. One thing we have learned in the 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall is that countries which more quickly and coherently undertook market reforms (such as Estonia or Lithuania) achieved a successful transition to economic growth and democracy. It has even been successful for those that implemented fewer market reforms (such as Russia or Ukraine). Cuba is not even close to these last two countries.

Until deeper market reforms have been implemented by a post-Castro Cuba, we cannot expect the island to generate wealth or attract capitalist investment. So it is ironic that some conservatives and the American government are afraid that lifting sanctions will breathe life into socialism. It shows that they give too much credibility to that system.

However, lifting the U.S. embargo on travel would have an important and positive impact. An additional 1 million American tourists (or even more) would visit Cuba. While the Cuban regime would profit, this change would help in challenging the socialist system, since hundreds of thousands of American citizens would be able to meet Cuban citizens in an economy increasingly crowded with “cuentapropistas” (self-employed private entrepreneurs).

These businessmen would profit from such tourism. So would the nonprofit sector. Many more Cuban citizens would achieve an economic independence from the state. Given the American private generosity toward other countries (reported by the Hudson Institute), Cuban nongovernmental organizations could benefit from such a situation, leading to a future transition.

It is time to lift the embargo. Legislative changes by the Congress of the United States will be necessary. The lifting of the sanctions would not preserve socialism. Quite the opposite: The Cuban regime could not use it as an excuse anymore, and Cuban society would become more open. Removing the embargo will neither democratize Cuba nor prevent other Latin American countries from showing solidarity toward Cuba, as long as the brothers Castro are alive, though.

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