Lifting the unpopular Cuban embargo

Shannon Hays
Contributing Columnist

Spring break destinations may include Cuba for students this year. All that is needed is congressional approval to completely lift the embargo.

Last month, President Obama, along with Cuban president Raul Castro, unveiled a plan to loosen the US embargo on Cuba. Americans will now be able to travel to the country without approval from the government, use US credit cards, and bring back Cuban cigars for the first time since the 1960s.

Americans seem to have many misconceptions about the embargo. Even with the embargo in place, the US has been the second largest supplier of food to the Cuban people since 2008. Cuba has been able to purchase certain goods from the US using cash, but with the embargo lifted Cuba could use credit as well. This outdated policy has been sidestepped by the US for years, but President Obama has brought the embargo to Congress’s attention.

The continued rule of the Castro’s does not prove whether the embargo has worked or not, and I don’t think removing the embargo will do anything to change the structure of the Cuban government.

For my whole life, and all of the millennial generation, Cuba has been a distant thought even though it’s just off the Florida coast. It is difficult to trust the word of a government who denies its citizens basic rights that I practice every day. The White House gave a list of 53 political prisoners to be released as a term of easing the embargo. However, the strings attached to this deal have no guarantee of follow through on the Castro’s behalf. According to Sen. Bob Menendez and Fox New Latino, two of the 53 freed prisoners in Cuba have already been rearrested for meeting with other activists. I think this shows the lack of commitment of the Cuban government to the freedom of speech and expression.

Without the internet, political communication is next to impossible. The Cuban government controls almost all of the news outlets in the country, and anyone who speaks out against the government is arrested. CNN reported last week of the potential for Cuban people to finally receive internet access through American technology such as cell phones, because only those with close ties to the government have been successful with the embargo in effect. It is more likely that the Castro’s will keep the internet from its people in efforts to remain in power. If the people are given the access to the internet, who will hold the Cuban government accountable for censorship?

Socially, a majority of Americans are in favor of fixing relations with Cuba, but nobody wants to ask the difficult questions. The logistics and finances to support a democracy and free market are not figured out overnight. Many young Cuban Americans are supportive of President Obama’s efforts but older Cuban Americans are still opposed to the policy change, and I can’t help but wonder why. They lived through the history that we read about in classrooms. What are we missing? There seems to be a lack of evidence in support of the embargo. Could it be fear of too much US influence, or comfort with the embargo in place?

In Cuba’s case, the policy seems more related to the US isolation during World War I. Obviously, ignoring a problem does not fix it, but I don’t think jumping head first into the issue is the best course of action either. As the Obama Administration sends high ranking officials to begin talks of normalizing relations, I wonder why this could not have happened before adjusting the embargo. Using the policy change as a bargaining chip could encourage the Castro’s to change instead of trusting that they will do the right thing.

Foreign policy is often viewed skeptically, maybe for a good reason. However, the Obama administration has received a mixture of praise and criticism of  prisoner exchanges during his term. Consistent with most second-term presidencies, Obama is working on the legacy he will leave on our country and the world. It is no doubt that fixing relations with Cuba would be a huge addition to this legacy, but just because Obama has eased the embargo does not mean the Castro’s will change their policies and actions. This deal seems too optimistic of the potential, and too trusting of the other party involved.

Lifting the embargo will benefit the Castro regime more than the Cuban people, who will continue to suffer under the dictator’s rule. Free trade is worthless if there is no one that will hold the government accountable to its people. Only time will tell whether or not this is good for the Cuban people.

 

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