Cuba Embargo still makes sense

Last week former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba and chatted with Fidel Castro like “old friends” — in his words.

At a press conference before leaving Cuba, he urged the U.S. to “immediately end the trade embargo which [it] has imposed on the people of Cuba.”

Carter’s view is increasingly popular, but it’s also rather simplistic.  It advocates a broad and haphazard policy reversal where careful, focused measures would be most useful.

For a variety of reasons, many on the left and the right have come to see the 50-year-old embargo as outdated and counterproductive.

Ending the embargo is “the right thing to do,” said ASU Professor Lynn Stoner in a phone interview. Stoner teaches at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and has written extensively about Cuba.

She argues that the current policy has done nothing but create hardship for the Cuban people while allowing the government to blame all of its economic failure on the U.S.

“Their chess piece is bigger than ours,” she said.

True, both Fidel and Raul Castro have done their best to capitalize on our policies, but wouldn’t an unconditional concession that pumps billions of dollars into an economy they control also give them much to capitalize on?

A complete end to the trade embargo should only come after permanent democratic reforms are made. Otherwise we risk strengthening the dictator we intend to undermine.

That said, our policy is not perfect and certain reforms are needed for us to support and encourage Cuban pro-democracy forces.

The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), a non-profit organization that advocates for internal, non-violent change leading to a free and democratic Cuba, suggests many such reforms.

For one, we should reverse the restrictions the Bush administration placed on family remittances in 2004. Allowing Cuban-Americans to assist their family in Cuba serves an important humanitarian purpose and reduces dependence on the Cuban government.

We should also reverse the ban on cash aid to opposition groups in Cuba. This policy has caused millions of dollars intended to support Cuban dissidents to be filtered through non-government organizations in the U.S.

In a 2008 report, the CANF found that 80 percent of the grant money intended for pro-democracy groups in Cuba ended up spent on salaries and overhead in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should relax travel bans for certain people in certain situations. Academic exchanges along with humanitarian and family travel all promote the sharing of objective news and information.

The presence of supporters in their midst is also the best way of showing the Cuban people that they aren’t alone.

Targeted efforts like these are what our policy toward Cuba is really lacking. Of course it’s frustrating that our policy toward Cuba has reaped no rewards in its five decades of existence, but that’s no reason to hastily give up what still amounts to a very big bargaining chip — the economic blessings of free trade with the U.S.

Reach David at dcolthar@asu.edu