After traveling on an educational tour to Havana last summer and following the political situation between Cuba and the United States, I've become aware that the embargo of Cuba is pointless. It has done little to hurt Fidel Castro who, according to Forbes, has a greater net worth than the Queen of England. Instead, it has hurt several generations of innocent Cuban people who remain poor and continues to limit the freedom of Americans who want to visit or do business with Cuba.
Officially, the embargo was put in place in 1960 during the Cold War to pressure the Cuban government to bring about democratic reforms. The United States doesn't have an embargo against communist China, Saudi Arabia or other countries that are on the Freedom House list of "World's Most Repressive Societies."
The world has changed dramatically since the fall of the USSR, and Cuba no longer poses a threat to the United States. There is no reason for Cuba to be on the U.S. government's list of "state sponsors of terrorism." In the past, Castro was a threat to the U.S. because he was trying to export communism and revolution to Latin America and Africa. But these days, Castro can't even feed his own people without ration cards, much less export terrorism. Last year, retired U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. John Adams went on an extensive research trip to Cuba and wrote in The Hill that "it is simply illogical and counterproductive to keep Cuba on the list. There is little, if any, evidence that Cuba provides support for terrorism, and the evidence further shows that they haven't for more than 20 years."
Additionally, the embargo hurts US businesses willing to sell their products to Cuba. It doesn't make sense during an economic slowdown to limit the customers that a business can sell to because of outdated politics. Duke Professor Phyllis Pomerantz recently wrote in the The Globe and Mail, "It's time to forget about old grudges and remember that the best way to convert an enemy into a friend is to embrace him. Instead of admiring Havana's old cars, Americans should be selling them new ones."
Cuba is a country with thousands of miles of arable land, but because communism has taken away people's incentive to work, the nation has to import most of its food. Removing the embargo would likely speed up the transition to a capitalist economy in Cuba. Since Fidel's brother has taken the helm, Raul has been allowing people to open small businesses and introducing elements of a free market economy. But many Cubans don't have access to goods they need because the Cuban government cannot produce and distribute these goods effectively.
A New York Times article in November stated that allowing American companies to trade with the Cuban people wouldn't only benefit American companies, but also Cuban citizens. In the piece, a Cuban mechanic said, "legalizing imports and investment would create a flood of the supplies that businesses needed, overwhelming the government's controls while lowering prices and creating more work apart from the state."
This would strengthen the developing private sector in Cuba. The Cuban government plans to remove more than one million government jobs. The people currently holding these jobs would be able to find jobs in the private sector, spurred on by the American capital that would flow in. Removing the embargo would also lead the Cuban people to demand better treatment from their government. Cubans would see that American tourists have a higher quality of life, and they'll want the same for themselves. Currently, the Castro brothers blame the poor conditions in Cuba on the embargo. Without this excuse, Cubans will find that their government is simply unable to take care of them, and demand a change.
Not only has the embargo been entirely ineffective in achieving its goals, but also it has hurt U.S. policy with other nations in the world. In November, the United Nations asked the U.S. to remove the embargo, with 188 countries out of 193 in the General Assembly supporting the movement. In fact, the United Nations has made this same request to the U.S. each year for the past 21 years. I hope that when the UN asks for the 22nd time, President Obama will give them a different answer.