It's Time to Review U.S. Cuba Policy

By Hakim, Peter | Brookings Review, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

It's Time to Review U.S. Cuba Policy


Hakim, Peter, Brookings Review


During the past year U.S. policy toward Cuba has come under unusually intensive and broad-based criticism. The lineup of those who have publicly opposed the policy--and called for the United States to ease sanctions and engage the Cuban regime--cuts across the U.S. political spectrum. It includes Richard Nixon (in his memoirs), Claiborne Fell and Lee Hamilton (then chairs of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees), the editorial pages of the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, and many others left, center, and right.

Yet the Clinton administration has not budged one inch from the same tired, hardline policy that has been pursued by nine U.S. presidents over 35 years. Indeed, the administration has tightened the policy further. Through its embargo against Cuba and diplomatic pressures on many countries, the United States continues to try to isolate Cuba politically and squeeze it economically--in an effort directed mainly to ousting Fidel Castro from power. Despite openings to China, North Korea, and Vietnam, the administration has failed even to undertake a serious review of its Cuba policy.

There are two possible explanations for the sticking power of U.S. policy toward Cuba and the failure of the Clinton White House to examine alternatives.

The first is that the policy is so obviously sound and that it so clearly promotes U.S. interests that no change is needed--no review required. This explanation is, of course, absurd on its face. With the immense changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War--in the world, in the Western hemisphere, in Cuba--it is hard to imagine how a policy devised to keep Cuba from becoming a platform for the projection of Soviet power into this hemisphere could be relevant today, or worse yet, so obviously relevant that it needs no review. After all, the Soviet Union no longer exists. No Cuban soldier remains outside of Cuba. Cuba's economy is in shambles. Despite the regime's rhetorical commitment to socialism, foreign investors are now welcome in Cuba, and the U.S. dollar circulates freely. Castro, it seems evident, is prepared to accept change. And after 30 years, the old U.S. policy has not achieved its goal; Castro remains in power.

The second explanation is that the longstanding U.S. policy toward Cuba is not perfect, but that the Clinton administration, like the Reagan and Bush administrations before it, just doesn't care. This means that the administration's approach to Cuba is not based on foreign policy considerations or on consideration of how it affects Cuba's people. Cuba policy does not have to withstand any foreign policy test or any humanitarian test. It only has to withstand a political test--how does it affect elections and the Democratic party in Florida? …

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