Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Debate Topic: The Embargo

Val Prieto, the editor of BabaluBlog has started a fantastic open thread about the U.S. embargo with Cuba. Specifically he asks his readers to answer four questions. I have not read any of the reader responses because I want to furnish my own answers here first without being influenced by others' opinions.

Here are the questions and my answers:

Has the 47 year old US trade embargo on Cuba worked or has it been a failure?
I don't want to start by picking nits but the embargo isn't 47 years old. The embargo began in its earliest form in 1960 and was gradually tightened.

Now, the question of whether it's been a failure or not depends on what the intent was. Opponents of the embargo say it hasn't worked in terms of toppling fidel castro. But there were many reasons for the embargo not the least of which was a response for Cuba's confiscating and nationalizing American assets without compensation. Cuba has, to date, never settled those claims. I would argue that until the aggrieved parties are "made whole" our government is doing right by potential American investors in Cuba who could fall prey to the same capricious type of confiscations.

During the first 31 years or so of the embargo Cuba was a clients state of the Soviet Union. It received subsidies and loans from the USSR to the tune of billions of dollars. Like a shopaholic with a credit card castro went hog-wild arming leftist guerillas around the world and fighting wars in Africa. The embargo was irrelevant as long as the Soviet Cash was coming in.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself isolated. Cuba went through a period of extreme austerity because of this isolation. For the first time Cubans actually began to protest publicly and many took the seas on anything that would float. During this "special period" castro was forced to make decisions he really didn't want to make. He introduced rudimentary market reforms and courted foreign investment. If there was a failure in the embargo it was that the US didn't pressure Europe to join America in further isolating the regime. Instead castro received a lifeline.

That lifeline was good enough to last until hugo chavez was elected in Venezuela. Venezuela then became castro's benefactor and many of the market reforms in Cuba have since been rolled back.

The embargo has certainly deprived Cuba of hard currency over the years, but with the exception of the special period it hasn't forced castro to change his way of doing business.

Should we lift the embargo immediately or upon fidel's succession?
I think the embargo should be lifted as soon certain conditions are met and not a moment before. Those conditions, as were outlined in an open letter recently published on BabaluBlog are:

  1. That all Cuban political prisoners and prisoners of conscience be released immediately and granted an unconditional amnesty.
  2. That all Cubans be allowed to move freely within the country.
  3. That the existing system of apartheid-like segregation be eradicated immediately, specifically that all Cubans be treated as equals to their foreign counterparts.
  4. That all Cubans be granted access to all sources of uncensored information, whether in broadcast, print, or Internet immediately.
  5. That all Cubans be granted the freedom to express their opinions freely without fear of repercussions.
  6. That all Cubans be allowed to travel abroad freely.
  7. That all Cubans be allowed to live, work, and seek a better life for themselves as they see fit.
  8. That all Cubans be allowed to elect their leaders through verifiable, transparent democratic elections as allowed for in Cuba’s last legitimate constitution, the Constitution of 1940
I would add to those conditions that Cubans be allowed to own property that they can sell and buy at will and they also be allowed to open their own businesses.

These are not unreasonable conditions. They are the kinds of things that we take for granted living in a free country. Remember that Cuba wants something from us, our trade. Well then we should be allowed to ask for something in return. It's called negotiation. But the fact is that Cuba wants something for nothing.

How will lifting the trade embargo change things in Cuba?
Unless the conditions above are not met, lifting the embargo on Cuba will only help to strengthen the authoritarian regime there. That's because there is only one entity in Cuba that the US can do business with and that's the government. There is no private enterprise in Cuba. If you sell tomatoes you can't just go down and sell to the grocery store chains in Cuba because there aren't any. You have to sell to the government. The government is shrewd because this allows them to capture all the hard currency without allowing any of the unwanted byproducts of trade to "corrode" their Revolution (i.e. their power). In short it's a monopoly with all of the worst attributes that monopolies have. With more hard currency the Cuban government will be able shore itself up. They will begin to export Revolution again because they have not rejected those tactics.

Is there really an embargo?
Yes and no. Cuba can buy food, medicine and agricultural products from the US, but they must do so on a cash up-front basis. In fact the US is Cuba's largest food supplier and something like its 4th largest trading partner overall. Cuba also receives a lot hard currency in the form of remittances from relatives of Cubans that live abroad. But Americans can't buy Cuban products or travel legally to Cuba unless they have a special permit. So economic relations are not as open as they could be. I believe that opponents of the embargo really want for Cuba to be able to purchase goods on credit, but Cuba is a terrible credit risk. Farmers and US businessmen that want to do business with Cuba want someone to assume that risk. I'm afraid that it could be US taxpayers that end up paying the bill for deadbeat Fidel and his stooge brother raul. I would be in favor of extending aid and credit to Cuba when a government is in place that is willing to live up to the conditions above.


benning said...

It is a porous embargo at best. Morally, the US embargo against Cuba is correct. I've said this before, but ... since we are practically the only nation on earth that has an embargo against Cuba, in what way is the US responsible for the ills of Communist Cuba?

We aren't. The Communist tyrants are. Lifting that embargo while the Cubans remain under the heel of Communism would be an evil act. And, I think the embargo is a success inasmuch as it draws endless attention to the Animalissimo who rules there.

Enrique said...

I have always said

tigthen the Embargo to the fullest

no food sales

no money sent by cuban americans

no medicine sales

no travel of any kind

fines to companies that deals with castro and the USA

No religius travel..

prison to people who go to cuba thru a third country

After all, Celia Cruz could not

bury her mother in Cuba, remember.

I dont think raul can survive one week

with a real embargo in place..

Nuff said