Ten Reasons to End the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

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A farm worker using cows to plow fields in Vinales, Cuba

Although diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States have gradually been improving, contrary to popular misconceptions, the United States embargo (el bloqueo) against Cuba is still in place. The president cannot remove the embargo, only an Act of Congress can. Below are ten critical reasons why the embargo should end:

1) The embargo is undemocratic

Every year since 1992, the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly has passed a resolution declaring the embargo to be a violation of the Charter of the U.N. and international law. In 2015, nearly every country except the United States and Israel voted to lift the embargo. This opposition is not just international. From 2008 to 2014, various polls concluded that the majority of Americas favor normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. There is, however, one notable exception: Cuban exiles. Most critical are the Cuban-Americans living in the swing state of Florida. Historical initiatives show that these pro-embargo Cuban-American exile’s votes are so crucial in Florida that they have swayed many politicians to adopt their stance. Such is the case with the Bacardi family member’s close ties to the American political elite. Bacardi’s lawyers played a critical role in the Helms-Burton Act to extend the embargo against Cuba. However, even among this demographic, polls show a declining support for the embargo especially with the younger generation.

2) The embargo is a human rights violation

Supporters of the embargo claim that it serves to pressure the Cuban government to stop committing human rights violations. However, the embargo itself is indisputably a human rights violation. The embargo hurts the average Cuban, not the people who the supporters of the embargo oppose. If the U.S government aims to free a country from oppression, then why punish the people it is supposedly trying to help?

An excerpt from a memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs:

Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba… [and to] make the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba - Infastructure
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba – Crumbling infrastructure in some parts of the country

3) Cuba is not a threat to the United States

On May 29, 2015, the Obama Administration removed Cuba from the state sponsored terrorism list.

The force behind the embargo partially originated from the Cold War-era fears that the Soviet-aligned government posed a security threat. These concerns were rational in 1962 during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But these fears no longer exist today. It has been decades since the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. Cuba, clearly, is no longer a threat.

4) Ending the blame game

Lifting the embargo could mean that the Cuban government would finally have to take full responsibility for inefficiencies. The embargo is currently used as a scapegoat for the Cuban government to blame all economic shortcomings. It is ironic that those who support the embargo, because they resent the Castro regime, support the one policy that many say sustains it.

5) Millions of U.S. citizens could see the real Cuba for themselves while promoting private entrepreneurship and the exchanging of ideas

Today, American tourism to Cuba is still strictly prohibited due to the embargo. This is stopping millions of Americans from seeing first hand what it is really like in Cuba rather than hearing conflicting narratives, many of which are from people who have not been to Cuba in decades, or worse, never been to Cuba at all. American tourism would help everyday Cubans exchange ideas and connect with Americans. Moreover, when Americans spend dollars in Cuba, some of it usually goes directly into the hands of Cubans. This is partially because Cubans are permitted to have private businesses such as hotels and restaurants in their homes, and operate taxis with their personal cars.

Baracoa, Cuba - Rickshaw bike cars
Baracoa, Cuba – Rickshaw bike cars

6) The embargo is bad for the U.S. economy

The Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs the island $685 million, annually. Money that could be invested into projects to help the Cuban people.

But did you know it costs the United States, even more money? The United States Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the American economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports and approximately 6,000 American jobs. And this is considering that the United States is already the island’s second-largest food supplier ($710 million in sales in 2008).

7)  The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) is a disaster

The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) is inextricably tied to the embargo.  It is the federal law that allows Cuban natives and citizens to enter the United States so long as they touch American soil. They are immediately granted the privilege to apply for government aid and a year later, they can apply for American residency. No other group of immigrants in the world is allowed this luxury.

This law has encouraged dangerous land and sea migration to the United States. Most of these perilous sea voyages can cost approximately $10,000 in Cuba, a country with an average salary of $25. This policy has been enticing Cubans to migrate to the United States, most of whom have resources they could invest in Cuba. Cuba will never fully prosper on its own if every Cuban with capital decides to invest it to migrate to the United States.

Furthermore, Cuba not only loses potential investment but also money spent in providing free healthcare and higher education. These migrants then compete with Americans for jobs while adding costs to the U.S. government when they receive food stamps, welfare, medicaid, and other forms of government aid.

Cuba has many issues to address. There are actually exiles who left Cuba out of fear for their lives. However, today, most of these migrants have more money than the average Cuban and arrive to the United States healthier and better educated than many Americans. This migration has promoted the popular misconception that circumstances must be particularly more atrocious in Cuba than in any other country, since Cubans more commonly risk their lives on dangerous voyages to escape. Sure, things are not glamorous for most Cubans. But Cubans do not die of hunger, they are not homeless, most do not pay rent, most do not pay for water or electricity, and no one pays for healthcare or education. There are far worse conditions in many other countries which we do not have an embargo against nor extend these immigration privileges to.

Did you know? Citizens of other countries are known to move to Cuba to study medicine for free. They then study in Cuba long enough to get Cuban residency and then flee to the United States as Cubans.

Moreover, recently, this policy has caused a disaster at the borders of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where several thousand Cubans are stranded. Many were flying into Ecuador, the only country connected by land to the United States which at the time did not have visa regulations for Cubans. Now almost every country in the world prohibits Cubans from entering their country without an expensive and complicated visa application, because they assume the ultimate goal is to reach the United States, thanks to the CAA.

8) It is inconsistent and discriminatory

Pretending the embargo is based on moral principles is hypocritical when the United States is known for keeping a country like Saudi Arabia as a close ally. In the 1980’s, Richard Nixon took measures to resume trade with Communist China which helped China lift millions of people out of poverty while lowering American costs for goods, among many other mutual benefits. The palpable, disturbing difference between China and Cuba was that the preceding administration in the People’s Republic of China, the Kuomintang, fled to Taiwan when its leaders lost the revolution. Conversely, the supporters of Fulgencio Bautista found haven in Miami, where many continue influencing American laws against Cuba.

9) It is a negotiation chip 

Removing the embargo could be a major negotiation chip to promote changes within the Cuban government to better the lives of the Cuban people. Perhaps by pressuring the Cuban government to allow more freedom of the press, better access to the Internet, and more private entrepreneurship, Cubans could better prosper. Different forms of progress have already been implemented since Raul Castro filled his brother, Fidel Castro’s, seat. These are positive signs that the Cuban government is open to further negotiations.

10) The Embargo has never worked

The, admittedly cliche, definition of insanity is said to be the act of doing the same thing over, and over again, while expecting a different result. It has been 56 years and the embargo and its related policies have done nothing but isolate 11 million people from the world economy.

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Generations of Cubans have sadly lived their entire lives under the conditions of the embargo. The Cuban embargo long ago outlived its historical significance. It is time to let go of a policy that punishes the innocent and antagonizes a potential business ally. It is time to allow Cuba the opportunity for prosperity through trade and save the sanctions for real enemies of the state. It is time to end the embargo.