David Mager Headshot

Time to End the Cuban Embargo

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"Hey Lucy!"
"Yes, Ricky."
"How come the U.S. embargo on Cuba that began just after our TV show I Love Lucy ended in 1960, is still going on 53 years later?"

Good question.

The United States' embargo against Cuba is a commercial, economic, and financial prohibition imposed on Cuba in October 1960. It was enacted after Cuba nationalized the properties of United States citizens and corporations. Titled the Cuban Democracy Act, the embargo has the stated purpose of maintaining sanctions on Cuba so long as the Cuban government continues to refuse to move toward "democratization and greater respect for human rights." The embargo restricts United States citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandates restrictions on giving public or private assistance unless and until certain claims against the Cuban government are met.

Cuba's confiscation of businesses and property, has resulted in $1.8 billion in certified claims according to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States. With accrued interest that total now stands at $6 billion. To get a perspective on this, US foreign aid presently totals $50 billion per year. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel each get $3-4 billion each year in US foreign aid.

In the intervening 53 years the Berlin Wall crumbled, the Iron Curtain rusted, the US has normalized relations with Vietnam, China and other former communist countries and dictatorships with current abysmal human rights records. While it is true that human rights are being violated in Cuba, much of these violations are taking place at the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It is estimated that at this point the embargo costs the U.S. more than it does Cuba. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce calculates that the embargo costs the US $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports. The Cuban Policy Foundation estimates it costs the U.S. economy $3.6 billion per year in economic output.

The embargo has only strengthened the resolve of the Cuban government and put the average Cuban citizens, who live only 90 miles from Florida, in severe economic hardship; denying them food, clean water, medicine, and cool American clothing, movies and cars.

The embargo devastated the local economy where I live in the Connecticut River (Pioneer) Valley Massachusetts which grew the wrapper leaf for these cigars. The reason why the Cuban wrapper leaf was grown here in the Connecticut River Valley is an interesting story.

The supercontinent Pangea, which consisted of what is now North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, Asia, India, Africa and Australia, began to split-up 200 million years ago. The site where it rifted off on the east coast of North America is now the Connecticut River Valley. Flash forward to the last ice age which lasted 2 million years to 20,000 years ago. When the glacier started to recede, after leaving behind what is now Long Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod, an ice, mud and rock dam formed in Rocky Hill Connecticut. The dam backed up the Connecticut River in what geologists retrospectively named Lake Hitchcock. The lake was 20 miles wide and 250 miles long going up to what is now the Canadian border. About 12,000 years ago, the ice, mud and rock dam broke, draining Lake Hitchcock and leaving behind 24 feet of flat-topped topsoil on the lake bottom.

According to the USDA this is the second richest farmland in the world. As a result, the farmers were able to grow the highest value added legal crop in the world - wrapper leaf for gourmet cigars. This crop made the European farmers who settled here incredibly wealthy. Smith College was founded by wealthy Connecticut River Valley tobacco heiress Sophia Smith. Her house is a few houses down from mine.

Continuing up until the embargo the bulk of the tobacco grown in Connecticut River Valley was shipped to Cuba to make cigars.

Fifty-three years later, it's time to admit that we screwed up with the Bay of Pigs invasion and that the embargo we erected out of our embarrassment has not worked.

But there is a more important reason to end the embargo. Baseball. The Cuban national baseball team has participated in every Summer Olympics Game since 1992. It has been the most successful team at the Olympics. In the last 5 Summer Olympics, they have won the gold medal three times and the silver twice.

The embargo has failed to bring Cuba to its knees and disempower the Castros. It is time to normalize relations with Cuba, stop punishing the Cuban people and get their national baseball team, which is ranked #1 by the International Baseball Federation playing baseball against the US teams. Batter Up! A much better way to settle a grudge.