End the Cuban embargo, end an era of hostile relations
Recently, President Barack Obama announced a new turn in re-establishing relations with Cuba. Both nations made compromises; the Cuban government released USAID prisoner Alan Gross while the United States released the remaining three members of the Cuban Five spy ring. Alongside these developments, Obama announced that travel to the island would become much easier for Americans.
As long as the visit falls under one of 12 approved reasons for travel, ordinary citizens are permitted to go to Cuba without hassle. Additionally, American tourists may spend up to $400 on Cuban goods, $100 of which can include alcohol and tobacco purchases.
I participated in a study abroad program in the capital city of Havana last summer—it was crazy to be one of the few Americans there. It was even crazier to experience the culture and politics firsthand (albeit to a much, much lesser extent) and separate it from the negative stereotypes and assumptions many Americans hold of Cuba.
I’m thrilled that more Americans will be able to experience it and hopefully understand it as much more than a poor, totalitarian state with fancy cigars. I’m excited for people to see the intellectualism and artistry of Havana. I’m also glad that no one will have to sneak the famed Havana Club rum back to the U.S. in shampoo bottles (though if your Herbal Essences-to-rum ratio is relatively balanced, I’ve heard it’s not too bad).
Granted, the tourist experience is wildly different from everyday life. I’m not claiming to be an expert on foreign policy. That being said, the one thing that I found to be loathed across the board was the embargo, which Obama called for Congress to lift in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Cubans—and Americans, for that matter—are sick of the embargo, and it needs to end.
The embargo was established at the beginning of Fidel Castro’s rule to pressure him out of office. It’s still in place, and conservatives like Jeb Bush want to strengthen it to further punish the Castro regime. I feel the pain of dear Jebbilicious (Jebby? Jebster? Jebba?). I, too, like to lovingly assert my hegemony over “inferior” nations and stick it to those pesky Commies. Unfortunately, it hasn’t removed Castro from power.
The embargo is especially awkward because it hasn’t worked for 50 years. Its target is misdirected—instead of harming the government, it damages the lives of ordinary civilians. The nearest, largest market is closed to them, making everyday items incredibly expensive. Many foods must be imported from Asia, which ends up costing much more than it would if America had just export them. Many Cubans rely heavily on money sent from relatives in the United States.
Funny enough, the embargo actually helps Cuba’s right-wing government by giving it a concrete source of blame for the nation’s troubles. That message was expressed to our group multiple times during class, which took place at a government-approved center of studies.
We listened to Cuban professors tell us about the detriments caused by the embargo, by American neocolonialism and by John F. Kennedy himself. We were taught that it was Fidel Castro’s duty to assume power and push out foreign, corporate interests. We would hear about the economic pressures of the embargo on everyday civilians and its futility. Essentially, we were taught exactly what we wanted to hear. Criticism of the regime was out of the question.
Some of these points are valid; as students who willingly visited America’s enemy, we had our own prevailing notions of American imperialism. Some of these qualms, however, diverted all blame from the failures of the regime, pointing at the embargo as the unequivocal source of discontent.
The embargo is counterproductive and actually complements the regime instead of tearing it down. So why keep it in place?
And then, there’s another issue: what gives the United States the right to “fix” the regime? As lovely as the values of “’Murica” are, they don’t need to be inflicted on Cuba, a nation with its own history and culture. Neocolonialism is like, so 1952.
While in Cuba, I tried to talk to as many people my age as I could. Despite my broken Spanglish and valley-girl-worthy declarations of “Um like, ¿que?,” I learned that the majority of them are frustrated with the lack of incentives, the ceiling that inhibits opportunities and the isolation from the U.S. Many of them don’t want to live in Cuba unless things change. And unless the embargo ends, many feel that Cuba’s future is hopeless.
If the U.S. ends the embargo, the current regime will likely lose its main support. That, supplemented with the increasing economic freedom involved with open relations, would empower the new generation of Cubans to demand a positive shift in politics.
I’m not saying that Cuba doesn’t need a change. It does. But this change doesn’t have to be forced by the U.S. It should happen organically, and given the fact that the younger generation is generally opposed to the regime, it probably will.