The trade embargo with Cuba might be defensible, if it worked. But in the six decades of its existence, it never has. No reason to think it ever will.
Cuba continues its restrictive human rights policies, and merely imports food and other products from other countries, such as Canada, Brazil and the European Union.
It’s American exporters who have been punished, because the embargo has kept them largely shut of a market that’s a mere 90 miles from the United States, a distance shorter than Moses Lake to Spokane.
Trade was slightly liberalized in 2001 when Congress allowed cash-only transactions for food and medicine. Then-Rep. George Nethercutt and Sen. Maria Cantwell were instrumental in cracking that window.
After that, shipments of peas, lentils, cherries and apples steadily increased. But a trade crackdown in 2004 added exports costs, making it too expensive for Washington farmers. By 2012, Washington exports to Cuba totaled a mere $41,000.
President Barack Obama has called on Congress to lift the embargo and allow Cuba access to lines of credit. The island nation isn’t huge, but it does import 80 percent of its food.
Last year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, along with seven other governors, signed a letter to congressional leaders urging them to end the embargo. Otter led a delegation of Idaho business leaders and government officials on a trip to Cuba in 2007. He believes open trade would lead to sales in biotechnology, seed potatoes and meat.
The reflexive response from embargo supporters is that Cuba must first discontinue human rights abuses. That’s been the U.S. position since the Eisenhower administration.
Since then, the United States has waged war against the communists in Vietnam, made peace and normalized trade. China’s markets have been opened to American businesses. The increased familiarity with China makes it less menacing than it would be if it were shunned.
On his visit to Cuba, Obama told its leaders that the U.S. would not meddle if the embargo ended.
“We recognize that every country, every people must chart its own course and shape its own model,” he said.
The United States does business with many repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia. We do not demand equal treatment for women before buying the king’s oil or selling him weapons.
So why must we maintain a near zero-tolerance stance with Cuba?
Politics is one reason. Anti-Cuba sentiment is strong in Florida, which is a key electoral state. The embargo is a political winner for politicians there. But the rest of the nation does not benefit. Rice-producing Southern states would profit handsomely if the embargo were lifted.
The Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall was toppled in 1989. Let’s tear down this barrier, too.
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