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We Can Free Cuba Now

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The recent controversy surrounding a visa for Fidel Castro's daughter to visit the U.S. is another example of the obvious: the United States' embargo of communist Cuba is a failure.

Fifty-two years after U.S. policy first sought to break the communist dictatorship with an economic embargo, the Castro regime is still in power, lording over the Cuban people, enjoying trade and diplomatic relationships with countries across the globe.

Having turned what was once one of Latin America's richest countries into an island prison where basic foodstuffs are rationed, personal liberty is non-existent, and the economy lurches from existential crisis to crisis, the Castros and their allies are preparing for a long stay in power.

Why, then, are we pursuing a policy that not only has failed to achieve its stated goal of regime change, but is also derided and undermined by virtually every other country on earth, including some of America's closest allies in Europe and the Americas? Are we not really serious about pushing the Castro regime into the sea and liberating Cuba once and for all?

It's time to face reality. The embargo has been maximized. For some, the tactic (an embargo) has become more important than the strategy (use American economic pressure to break the regime). People emotionally invested with the embargo will howl, but it's time to let it go. In fact, it's time to be more aggressive in bringing down the communist regime.

American policy toward Cuba needs to lean forward.

Today, the Castro regime is getting ready for a staged "liberalization" that will disguise the abject failure of communism by offering limited economic liberties. Much like the strategy pursued by Deng Xiaoping in the transformation of Red China into an economic colossus, the Castro brothers and their flunkies have begun tentative economic reforms meant to unleash the natural entrepreneurial energy of the Cuban people, squashed but not extinguished by years of the ruthless application of orthodox Marxist-Leninist policies at the hands of Fidel.

But expect no similar political glasnost. Following the Chinese Communist Party's example, the Castros will retain their grim grip on all political power through the Communist Party apparatus and its muscular police state. Perpetuation of the regime is their No. 1 goal.

Yet the economic failure of the Castro regime is manifest and well documented. The dilapidated communist economy is the regime's greatest weakness, a totem to the failure of the revolution, and a glaring vulnerability with the people.

Whether life support now comes in the form of barrels of oil from Venezuela or the significant investments in the tourism and energy sectors undertaken by myriad companies from the Americas, Asia and Europe, Castro's Cuba is an economic basketcase that would not survive very long unless the country's friends in the world continue to pump money into Cuba's historically unproductive communist economy.

And while many of our allies from across the globe continue to trade and underwrite the Castros, we in the U.S. tinker at the margins of Soviet-era Cuban policies. Every couple of years, someone in the White House or Congress decides to let more exiles travel back to La Havana, or send more food, or less. Endless variations of tiny ideas are debated heatedly, as if they could alter the objective conditions of the Cuban regime, and the illusion of progress is maintained.

This is a clearly unacceptable situation. While America promotes democracy and civil rights in faraway lands, just a few miles from our shore flourishes the only dictatorship in the Americas.

By contrast, even as Fidel Castro continues to live the life of a semi-retired potentate, America has undertaken a massive - and by all reports - extremely effective sanctions campaign that is crippling the Iranian dictators.

Among the sanctions applied to Iran, the United States has prohibited any financial company doing business in the U.S. from working with the Iranian Central Bank - effectively choking the Iranians' ability to finance their dictatorship with oil sales. Combined with other measures, like the ending of shipping insurance for Iranian oil tankers, these sanctions have squeezed the ayatollahs, largely destroyed the Iranian currency, and now have forced Iran's dictators to the negotiating table.

And all this was achieved in a relatively short period of time -- not decades. By striking at the economic nerve centers of the Tehran dictatorship, the U.S. and its allies have created strategic leverage over Iran - something that had eluded American administrations since the 1990s.

So how to apply our successful sanction stranglehold of Iran to Cuba? In concept, it's much simpler than one would think. Forget the 1960s era embargo - it has outlived its usefulness.

Instead, the United States should sanction all companies that do business with the Cuban regime. Canadian, Spanish, and French companies, for example, that operate in Cuba thanks to European Union political and economic policies should have their trading privileges with the U.S. frozen until they pull out. This strategy is working in Iran; it should be even more effective in Cuba.

Banks that directly or indirectly process financial transactions for the Castro regime should be banned from operating in the American financial system. Again, this is a similar sanction applied to Iran that has devastated its critical energy sector.

Foreign airlines that fly European and Latin American tourists to Cuba's foreign-owned hotels should be prohibited from landing in any U.S. airport.

Lastly, suspend "most favored nation" trading status to any country that continues to trade with Cuba. This particular sanction would have the effect, among others, of quickly shutting off Cuba's trade with several Latin American countries that have used their support of Cuba as a metaphorical slap at U.S. claims of regional primacy - even as these countries are themselves critically dependent on access to America's vast market.

By shutting off the Castros' access to foreign capital and services, we will severely destabilize the regime. The Cuban communist aristocracy may have stolen billions of dollars over the decades, they may feel insulated from any sanctions, but a creaky economy being propped up by free Venezuelan oil and generous investments from abroad cannot withstand such a shock. Iran was no economic high flyer before the sanctions, but its much stronger economy has withered under American pressure. There is no reason that Cuba's barely functioning economic system would withstand similar pressure.

It's time to get serious about Cuba - and freeing the Cuban people. We must abandon our failed policies and effectively crack down on the Castros with a new, robust approach. It's time to finally liberate Cuba.