Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Cuban Embargo: ARueful Celebration

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

The Cuban Embargo: ARueful Celebration

Article excerpt

This past February marked the 50th anniversary of Washington's embargo against Cuba. The birthday, which went uncelebrated here and in the Caribbean, was a grim reminder of the persistence of one of Washington's most egregious foreign policy blunders.

Enacted less than a year after President Kennedy's ill-fated attempt to unseat Fidel Castro's fledgling communist government at the Bay of Pigs, the embargo was designed with the express purpose of ousting Castro and his fellow revolutionaries from power. Renewed on a yearly basis under the aegis of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the policy was last extended in September 2011 by President Obama, who stated, "I hereby determine that the continuation for one year of [the embargo] with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States."

But is it?

The Cuba of Yesteryear, the Cuba of Today

In the 1960s, when the embargo was young and the United States was in the throes of the Cold War, that Washington would seek to ostracize the newly installed communist government in Havana is understandable. Fidel Castro had, after all, just toppled the U.S.-backed Batista regime, and subsequently nationalized all American holdings on the island. And in October 1962, a scant eight months after President Kennedy's embargo went into full effect, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. U.S.-Cuban relations remained rocky throughout the Cold War, and in 1996, ties were further marred by an incident in which the Cubans shot down two privately flown Cessna planes which had crossed into their airspace, killing the four Cuban Americans on board.

The Cuba of the 1960s, however, is not the Cuba of today. Since his assumption of the presidency in 2006, Raúl Castro has done away with many of the restrictions on the purchase of cell phones, microwaves, and other long-sought items previously prohibited under his brother's rule. He has overhauled the system of compensation in all state-run companies to better reward the most productive employees, and has fired numerous government officials said to have been standing in the way of further economic reform. Raúl's tenure has seen the privatization of portions of the economy so as to create and bolster a new "non-state" sector, as well as the release of the last of the political dissidents jailed in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown.

In 2010, Fidel Castro himself stated in an interview with Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." After its publication, the aging ex-dictator claimed his comment was misinterpreted, but such a statement cannot be readily misunderstood, and the past few years have been telling. Cuba is less ideologically motivated today than at any point in recent history, and the Castro brothers have repeatedly stated their desire to achieve reconciliation with the United States. …

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