John F. Kennedy was president when the United States launched trade sanctions against Cuba. A total of nine presidents have upheld the restrictions without bringing about the desired result. Under President George W. Bush, the ban on trade was loosened when politicians, led by former Rep. George Nethercutt, made a strong case to allow trade between American exporters and the island nation.
As a result, the United States has become the leading supplier of food to Cuba. But total free trade has not resumed, because Cold Warriors haven’t been able to admit failure. Fortunately, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., is shining a spotlight on this failed strategy and pressuring the Obama administration to end the nearly half-century of fruitless posturing. As he writes in a report released this week:
“Economic sanctions are a legitimate tool of U.S. foreign policy, and they have sometimes achieved their aims, as in the case of apartheid South Africa. After 47 years, however, the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of ‘bringing democracy to the Cuban people,’ while it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba’s impoverished population.”
Indeed, Fidel Castro was able to pinpoint the sanctions and the hardships they caused as proof that the United States was a constant threat. In the meantime, other nations stepped in and supplied Cuba, which hurt American farmers, including those in the Inland Northwest. Thanks to the eased restrictions, farmers are able to sell more to Cuba, but those transactions are generally limited to cash payments before goods are received.
Unlike the situation with other trading partners, U.S. exporters are barred from accessing private financing or credit when dealing with Cuba. Plus, Cuban officials are routinely denied visas to the United States to explore prospective deals. The most recent missed opportunities came when Cuba was battered by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and was in desperate need of food and other supplies that could have been sent by nearby U.S. exporters.
Lugar’s analysis also identifies trade opportunities in the fields of medicine and alternative energy. Increased U.S. trade would also diminish the influence of Venezuela and Russia in the Caribbean and would undercut the influence of political leaders inside Cuba, who owe their popularity to their anti-American broadsides.
The Cuban embargo is as rusty as the old cars that rattle around the island. It has not brought about democracy, nor has it improved human rights. But it has effectively hurt innocent Cuban people and American farmers and other exporters.
The Obama administration should haul this policy to the junkyard.