Just six days before our election, when the UN General Assembly votes to condemn the US embargo against Cuba, it will toss into the center of our political debate a powerful reminder that the next president must attend to America's debilitated global image.
Every president since Eisenhower has tried to kill or topple Fidel Castro and to replace Cuba's government and economic system with something more to our liking. But when Fidel Castro retired earlier this year, he left power in a peaceful succession, on his own timetable and without the violent upheaval that US policy makers had predicted since the 1960s.
Preventing this transition has always been the goal of the US embargo, which imposes sanctions more comprehensive than any we impose on Iran, Sudan, or Syria. But it didn't - and still, this flawed and futile embargo lives on.
UN Members are now digesting a report compiled by the Secretary-General that measures the impact of our sanctions in chilling detail.
The embargo hurts Cuba's health care system. Last year, it forced Cuban children with heart conditions to wait for needed operations because a US-based firm, Boston Scientific, has refused - as it must, under U.S. law - to sell needed devices to Cuba's William Soler Pediatric Hospital. It prevented the purchase of spare parts for diagnostic equipment used in cancer detection, and delayed the delivery of 3 million syringes for vaccinations against communicable diseases. It forced Cuban medical authorities to buy antiretroviral drugs from secondary suppliers in grey markets, at significantly higher prices - straining an already thin public health budget.
The embargo also takes food off the table in Cuban homes, by blocking the government's access to imported seeds, fertilizers, and spare parts for farm machinery, and by imposing exotic payment rules that add tens of millions of dollars to its bill for importing food from overseas.
In other words, the sanctions we aim at Cuba's government actually hit and hurt the health and diet of the Cuban people instead.
But the embargo is more than a bilateral matter between Cuba's government and ours. US law reaches companies and countries across the globe in an effort to bend their policy to our will, rallying the rest of the world to Cuba's side
Brazil calls our policy a violation of international law. Mexico condemns the embargo as an abandonment of diplomacy. Colombia, our closest ally in the region, says of the US embargo "this kind of action should stop." The European Union, now negotiating directly with Cuba on human rights, objects to the extra-territorial reach of our sanctions. China calls on us to negotiate our differences directly with Cuba. Russia - without a trace of irony - refers to the embargo as "a remnant of the cold war."
It is no wonder that last year's sanctions vote went against America 184-4. Only Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands stood with us. Every one of our European allies, Canada, Japan and Australia, and nearly all of Latin America (save El Salvador, which was absent) deserted us. It will happen again this year. Already, close to one-hundred fifty countries filed statements with the Secretary General for this year's debate that bear witness to our isolation.
This is where ten American presidents have left us - with an embargo that imposes cruel hardships on the Cuban people, a diplomacy that isolates the United States from the rest of the world, and a Cuban government proudly preparing to celebrate its fiftieth year in power.
Given the enormous diplomatic and domestic challenges the new administration will face, some might ask "why fix Cuba policy now"? In fact, no action would cost us less and do more to recapture our image and influence in Cuba and around the world than tearing down the embargo. The way forward is to legalize trade and travel, and to engage Cuba in areas like migration, drug interdiction, and academic exchange, all with an eye toward normalizing relations between the governments.
No matter who wins the election in November, the eleventh president of the Cuba embargo must also be the last.
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