Don’t Lift the Cuban Embargo

The AP reports that the Obama Administration is planning to lift family travel and financial restrictions on Cuba, a preliminary step to lifting the Cuban embargo.

Marc A. Thiesssen, Hoover Institute fellow and former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, writes in today’s Washington Post that such a move is especially ill-advised at this time:

. . . [A]s the competition to succeed Fidel and Raúl heats up, the coin of the realm will be who can bring about an end to the embargo. Cuba is one of the world’s most repressive nations — even within the regime, officials are afraid to speak to each other. With his news conference, Alarcón signaled the party cadres: I can sit down and have a “respectful dialogue” with the representatives of Jesse Helms. And if I can talk to the strongest supporters of the embargo, I’m the best person to negotiate an end to it.

The dumbest thing we could do today would be to enact legislation unilaterally lifting the embargo. Set aside questions about the embargo’s efficacy. Like it or not, it is our only leverage, aside from our military, to affect the transition in Cuba. Why would we fritter away that leverage just as time prepares to do what the embargo could not — bring about the end of the Castro regime? Fidel was never going to negotiate a loosening of repression in Cuba in exchange for a lifting of the travel ban and other trade restrictions. But those who succeed him will, and the Castro brothers will soon be gone. The question is: When that happens, what power will the United States have to encourage a democratic transition on the island? Instead of strengthening Raúl by lifting the embargo now, we should keep our powder dry and use it to strengthen democracy and influence his successor. The embargo has been in place for 47 years — at this point, it would be foolish not to wait a little longer.

Full article here.

Thiessen shares an interesting anecdote about longtime Cuban National Assembly “leader” Ricardo Alarcón’s disdain for acting “President” Raúl Castro. I put the words “leader” and “President” in quotes deliberately. The mainstream media reflexively uses the terms “leader” and “President” in reference to Castro and other dictators, despite the absence of free elections. The term “leader” implies that he has “followers,” i.e., people who voluntarily choose to follow him. Castro’s “followers” are people who don’t want to get shot.

Thiessen is absolutely correct; it makes no sense to lift the embargo now when the possibility of lifting the embargo is our biggest bargaining chip to force Cuba to accept real reforms.

Thiessen’s piece does not address the merits vel non of lifting the Cuban embargo outright. Since the Obama Administration seems to be preparing to do this, it makes sense to consider the ramifications.

Embargo opponents make three distinct claims: (1) First, they assert that the embargo has failed to achieve its purpose of effecting regime change in Cuba. (2) They claim that Cuban “leaders” are not personally injured by the embargo; only the Cuban people suffer from the embargo. (3) Finally, they contend that lifting the embargo will enable Cuban citizens to see the benefits of freedom and democracy and demand changes in their government.

None of these claims are supported by the facts.

(1) With respect to the embargo’s purpose, the media would have us believe that the embargo was imposed at the behest of those rabid anti-Communist Cubans in Miami as a means to overthrow Castro. This overlooks the simple fact that overthrowing Castro’s government was never the purpose of the embargo. (During the Cuban Missile crisis, President Kennedy agreed to abandon efforts to destabilize the Communist regime in exchange for Khrushchev agreeing to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.)

Rather, the United States imposed the embargo because Castro nationalized (i.e., confiscated/stole) hundreds of millions in assets belonging to American citizens and companies doing business in Cuba. It seems to me the Castro brothers should first return the properties they stole from us before we agree to let bygones be bygones.

(2) Whether Castro and other Cuban leaders personally “suffer” from the embargo depends on what we mean by “suffer.” If we means that Castro continues to eat while others starve, then clearly he will not go hungry as long as there’s enough food for one person. The real way the embargo makes the Communist government “suffer” is by inhibiting its ability to export revolution to other parts of the hemisphere.

When the Soviet Union subsidized Cuba with billions in foreign aid, Castro was able to do much mischief in Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador and elsewhere in our hemisphere. The collapse of the Soviet Union forced Castro to divert his meagre resources to ensure his own survival. In terms of curbing Castro’s ability to foment revolution throughout the hemisphere, the Cuban embargo has been a resounding success.

If the embargo has no effect on Castro and only hurts the Cuban people as embargo opponents claim, the question remains why would Castro want the embargo ended? Is he doing it “for the children”? Does anyone seriously believe that Castro wants the embargo lifted because he wants to help his suffering people? Such reasoning assumes that a dictator like Castro wants to help the people he’s enslaved for 50 years, while their relatives in the United States want them to continue to suffer. Occam’s Razor suggests otherwise.

The truth is the Cuban embargo is a RED herring (pun intended). Castro continually blames Cuba’s basket case economy on the U.S. embargo. Instead of accepting Castro’s preposterous claims at face value, we should ask if Castro has a motive to lie about the cause of Cuba’s economic problems. Clearly he does. Because if the embargo is not to blame, then the blame falls squarely on Castro and his destructive economic policies.

(3) Embargo opponents suggest that ending the embargo would remove the scapegoat for Castro’s failed policies, while giving ordinary Cubans a whiff of freedom. Presumably, the Cuban people would finally realize that Castro is to blame for their ills and overthrow his dictatorship. If that is the case, then why would Castro support and his enemies oppose a policy that can only hurt Castro. Castro may be a lot of things, but he isn’t dumb when it comes to self-preservation.

The notion that Castro would no longer have a scapegoat if the embargo is ended overlooks the simple fact that Communist dictators always find new scapegoats; anyone who disagrees with Castro’s interpretation ends up in jail or gets shot. If the embargo ended today, the Cuban economy will continue to tank. The only difference is, instead of blaming the U.S. for maintaining embargo, Castro would blame greedy U.S. capitalist businesses for exploiting his people. This was his scapegoat before we imposed the embargo.

When the US traded with Cuba, Castro accused American companies like United Fruit of “exploiting” them. Now he blames Cuba’s current economic woes on the U.S.’s refusal to trade with Cuba. In other words, he will say that we are exploiting them by not exploiting them.

The truth is Castro was lying both times. Prior to the 1959 revolution, Cuba enjoyed the second highest standard of living in the hemisphere. Today, Cuba has the lowest standard of living after Haiti. As a result or as a consequence of his failed policies, Castro has a history of never paying his debts. He will borrow money from anyone willing to extend loans, which he never repays. Despite this, a number of American companies are eager for the embargo to end so they can do business with Cuba. One wonders why.

What does Castro have to offer in exchange for American goods and services, except cheap (i.e., slave) labor? While I’m all for free trade, I do not believe free trade includes the right to enjoy the fruits of slave labor. Morality aside, don’t these firms chomping at the bit to do business with Castro realize that, whatever profits they gain from a revitalized 21st century slave trade, their properties and inventories will eventually be confiscated, as Castro did to other American businesses in the 60’s?

If American firms choose to do business with Castro under such terms, that’s their prerogative, so long as they don’t expect the U.S. taxpayers to bail them out when things go predictably wrong. But that’s the entire point. These firms are willing to do business with a deadbeat dictator, but only as long as the U.S. taxpayer guarantees their investment.

It’s the perfect racket where (almost) everybody wins. Castro gets all sorts of free stuff he doesn’t have to pay for; the American firms reap the profits (at least in the short run) of cheap labor supplied by Cuban slaves. Even the poor Cubans are marginally better off working 8 hour days in a modern factory, instead of toiling up to 12 hour per day harvesting the sugar cane crop for foreign export.

Everyone wins except us.

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One Response to Don’t Lift the Cuban Embargo

  1. […] the U.S. but headaches, terrorism, and, well, spies.  The status quo working well.  If anything, increasing sanctions and enforcing laws as intended should be the approach.  In the end, Cuba has already lost because […]

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