Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Flawed Embargo

It was a decent debate on the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. Last week, Phil Peters and Mauricio Claver-Carone, two experts on Cuba, debated the issue and made several interesting points. [Audio of debate available here.]

Opposed to the embargo was Phil Peters who, in my opinion, made two important points about the embargo: the U.S. government DOES NOT have an embargo on other dictatorships and human rights violators such as China or Saudi Arabia; and the embargo towards Cuba sends a hostile message to the Cuban government AND the Cuban people that it is an "enemy."

Peters believes that once the embargo is gone, the Cuban people will finally view the Cuban government as fully responsible for all faults concerning the economy, and eventually hold it responsible for those policies enacted.

Supporting the embargo, Mauricio Claver-Carone expressed SEVERAL reasons why it should remain. Let's begin with the first one.

According to Claver-Carone, the U.S. embargo "was codified into law in 1996" and, therefore, discussing the end of the embargo depends on what this law says. Claver-Carone is obviously talking about the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 [PDF] (also known as Helms-Burton), which in fact outlines EIGHT specific "requirements" before the embargo can be terminated (found in Section 205). But, Claver-Carone does not talk about these specific requirements. Instead, Claver-Carone strangely mentions "three essential conditions" before the U.S. can normalize its relations with Cuba.

Claver-Carone's "three essential conditions" hardly touch on all the specific and elaborate requirements that are expressed in Helms-Burton, and one should wonder if Claver-Carone is deliberately misleading the public, or has been terribly misinformed. In either case, Claver-Carone's statements supporting the embargo are flawed.

Claver-Carone's other arguments are mainly moral positions stating that normal economic relations with a dictatorial regime supports the brutal repression of those citizens and is therefore immoral. It would also be immoral to end the embargo because the embargo represents solidarity with all Cubans who desire democracy and human rights.

These are strong arguments, but the facts do not support a hard-line position. I've already mentioned before that it is very likely that the majority of dissidents inside Cuba oppose the embargo, and this also applies to the majority of Cubans who oppose the embargo and a significant number who view the U.S. as an "ideal partner" for trade.

Yet, Claver-Carone was adamant and insisted that tourists (or "spring-breakers" as he called them) to Cuba would not address political freedoms, or bring about the release of Cuba's many political prisoners. Instead, American tourism to Cuba would finance the brutal government to "beat the hell out of the Cuban people."

The political repression that occurs in Cuba is more complex than Claver-Carone describes because it is more a local government reaction, rather than one solely directed by its leadership, such as the military. While Claver-Carone insists (citing a 2004 article from the Economist) that tourism dollars will go directly to Gaviota, the military-run hotel company in Cuba (created for reasons reported here), there is no evidence that the military has been directing recent political repression. Instead, several cases have pointed to the local police or neighborhood committees committing acts of intimidation or repression.

Also, hard currency (American dollars) earned from tourism keeps many Cubans away from low standards of living. It is only natural for Cuba to become a tourist destination given its unique culture and environment, so why should Cubans (as employed or licensed, self-employed workers) be denied making a living from its visitors? In fact, the Cuban economy thrives from tourism as much as the economy of the Dominican Republic does, and Cuban tourism continues to show growth despite the global recession. Despite all this, the standards of living in Cuba are better than those in the Dominican Republic, according to the Human Development Index [Cuba's HDI; DR's HDI], and added American tourism would most certainly improve those conditions.

Increased numbers of visitors to Cuba may not lead to improved human rights and increased freedom for all Cubans, but neither has the embargo achieved this ultimate goal. Instead, travel restrictions deny Cubans and Americans from making beneficial reciprocal interactions (monetary or otherwise) and from forming long-lasting relationships, from which freedoms can eventually arise.

The challenges of democracy and human rights in Cuba (or in any other nation) shall not be solved with foreign policies, or pressures from foreign governments. They shall always be the problems of its direct citizens, and solved by their own organized efforts. Only people, not governments, can demonstrate their honest support and solidarity with such efforts.

The U.S. embargo towards Cuba has always been an obstacle in creating honest solidarity amongst the people of these two nations.

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