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The Politics and Insanity of the US Embargo on Cuba

An open letter

Dear President Obama:

Like many people around the world, I am heartened by your reelection, which I see as an opportunity to continue and improve on your social policies. As you know, relations among nations many times have a psychological connection, aside from their obvious historical one. Because of that, relations among or between nations can contribute to the creation either of a climate of antagonism and war or of cooperation and peace. Nowhere is this truer than in the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

Mainly because of internal political considerations, both countries have chosen the path of antagonism. While the influence of the Cuban lobby in Florida dictates US policy towards the island country, keeping alive the antagonism with the US agglutinates the Cuban people’s support for the Castro brothers.

The commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed by the US on Cuba has been the US response to Cuba’s nationalization of US citizens and corporations’ properties in that country. The US which now holds $6 billion worth of financial claims against the Cuban Government, states that this is the appropriate response to these claims. This is a position that is not universally accepted.

As you know, Mr. President, the trade embargo against Cuba, the most enduring in modern history, has been strongly criticized not only by those sympathetic to the Cuban regime but also by many leading US officials and legislators. In 2005, George P. Schultz, Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, called the continuing embargo “insane.”


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Reflecting on what is now widespread sentiment former US Senator Gary Hart stated in March 2011, “Future students of American history will be scratching their heads about this case for decades to come. Our embargo and refusal to normalize diplomatic relations has nothing to do with communism. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, with China since Nixon, and with Vietnam despite our bitter war there. No, Cuba was pure politics. Though it started to be a measure of an administration’s resistance to Castro’s politics, it very soon became a straight-jacket whereby first-generation Cuban-Americans wielded inordinate political power over both parties and constructed a veto over rational, mature democracy.”

By overwhelming majority, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned the embargo as a violation of international law every year since 1992. On November 13, 2012, for the 21st time, that same Assembly again condemned the embargo, 188 to 3 with 2 abstentions. Only Israel and Palau sided with the US.

The embargo against Cuba has proven to be one the most inefficient political measures ever taken by the US against any country. It has only gained the US universal condemnation and has not forced the Castro brothers to change any of their policies. At the same time, the new generations of Cuban-Americans see the embargo as an anachronistic measure that brings them no positive return.

During one of my visits to Cuba on UN-sponsored health-related missions, I had the opportunity to talk to a 22-year-old Cuban who opposed the Castro regime. “Americans don’t get it,” he told me, “they can get much more with Levy jeans than with the embargo or with the military invasion of our country.”

This, I found later, is the opinion of many Cubans who, despite the embargo, are very fond of Americans. They consider the embargo a political measure that doesn’t respond to the wishes of the American people. I found their attitude very surprising, because they didn’t seem to be equally fond of Russians, even at the time the Soviet Union was substantially helping them.

Mr. President, with your renewed mandate, this is the time to change paradigms, too. Your administration could spearhead a movement to re-establish normal relations with Havana. The world today, besieged by violence and war, will welcome a change of policy that until now has only hurt the Cuban people, alienated US allies, and drastically curtailed US commercial opportunities with that island nation.

César Chelala

César Chelala

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a
winner of several journalism awards.

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