15 June 2008

US should lift embargo against Cuba

In the course of this year I have visited Cuba in two occasions. I have always felt certain attraction to the island, perhaps this was compounded by the fact that my grandmother was Cuban, from Caibarien. To be frank the initial feeling, upon spending the first few days, was one of utter disgust: at the civilized world’s conscious decision to ignore the plight for freedom of 11 million Cubans, who not only have had to endure a brutal dictatorship for half a century, but on top of it, the world’s ignominy. At times I wondered why, and couldn’t please my discomfort. What have Cubans done to deserve such ostracism? It’s as if they don’t exist, as if their voices don’t count, as if they belong for some cruel and deranged reason to a sub human category, whose rights can be disregarded and violated with total impunity. Human rights advocates the world over can't help themselves from attacking, and rightly so, the US for violating due process and rights of Guantanamo Bay's detainees. However not one word of criticism about what goes on in Castro's many jails is uttered. The estimated 100,000 Cuban prisoners, political and otherwise, can only dream about, for instance, the quality of the drinking water given to those held Guantanamo. Representatives of the Red Cross, for one, can not set foot in Cuban prisons.

The embargo has provided Castro with the perfect excuse to maintain his repressive dictatorship and gain much international sympathy, at times when anti-Americanism is gaining traction globally. The fact that 135 countries voted in favor of electing Cuba to the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2006 just goes to show how successfully Castro’s 'foreign policy' of tapping into the very deep pool of anti-US resentment has been.

The all-purpose blame-America formula has shielded the communist tyrant from criticism. Add constant propaganda with an effective information blackout --that works both ways-- and the end result is, internally, a population that is largely ignorant about their inalienable rights; externally, an international community unaware of what is taking place and reluctant to listen to perfectly legitimate criticism vis-a-vis the world's favorite dictator. It's a tragedy of monumental proportions, a humanitarian crisis, yet everyone acts as if nothing is happening in Cuba.

The US-imposed embargo should be lifted for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that its presumed intended purpose, that of isolating Castro and diminishing his capacity to maneuver internationally, has been an utter and complete fiasco. Contrary to what the gringos initially thought, the measure boosted Castro tremendously and provided him with the perfect guise with which to present himself as the underdog: the valiant David that keeps laughing in the face of Goliath. It's an incredibly cruel showcase of a policy that instead of damaging its target ended up being used as the culprit of all problems in Cuba, as propaganda organs and useful idiots have maintained since it became law. The collateral damage in this instance amounts to 11 million victims, a humanitarian cost far too high for keeping it in place. The US political establishment's stubbornness and unwillingness to accept its failure is no longer a valid excuse, even less so considering the increasing trade between the two countries.

Impressions of Cubans in Cuba are totally different to those of the expatriate community, mainly centered in Miami. Many people I spoke to in Cuba, not just regular folks but opposition and civil society leaders, see fitting that it is lifted immediately. In fact, Oswaldo Paya, Marta Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca, for instance, have declared that the embargo should be lifted. Put this thought to the expat community though, or the Republican establishment, and one becomes a pro-Castro, Che-loving, communist in a matter of milliseconds. In this respect I think that it's rather easy to have such opinion, while not having to put up with its alleged consequences every minute of the day.

Remove the embargo-rug under Castro's feet, and Cubans will start thinking “hang on a minute, how come we’ve suffered this tremendous ordeal owing to the embargo, and it turns that it has been lifted and yet we continue living in hell?” The current restlessness is likely to expand like wild fire.

The US has an historic opportunity now: call upon Raul to negotiate an end to the embargo, whereby sanctions will be lifted provided a set of conditions --such as freeing all 300+ political prisoners, make recently signed civil and political rights treaties into law*, allow for free and transparent elections to take place, lift travel bans, etc.-- are met. The Cuban regime, still ruled by Fidelistas, is likely to refuse.

The US should lift the embargo nonetheless, making a lot of noise about it, for it stands to regain lost leverage, respect and credibility, putting its many critics to shame.

But more importantly doing so will unleash forces within Cuba that could well end up bringing the changes initially intended by the measure, which, most certainly, will force Raul's hand to open up much quicker.

*The contents of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights remain unknown to the Cuban population. The Castro brothers duped the international community about a democratization or liberalisation of sorts by announcing a series of half baked measures destined for foreign consumption. In reality nothing has changed internally: this year alone 22 dissidents have been arrested, 13 are in prison, condemned on trumped charges.


Angel Garzón said...

Your analysis of the embargo (it can't be called that any more) is well thought out and logical, I used to support the measure years ago, as time went by and it became obvious that it was not working as originally intended, but in fact the opposite was taking place, I became more willing to expect a revision of it, but alas, no sort of thing happened and those who suffer most because of the tyranny's propaganda mastery are the innocent Cuban people.

When the Brothers to the Rescue murder took place and information became known indicating that the Clinton administration had made overtures to the regime to end the embargo PRIOR to the BTR shoot down, it all became crystal clear, the embargo was nothing more than an excuse on the part of the tyranny to continue to have a boogieman to blame for all its communist failures and the Kasstro, Inc., would do anything it can to maintain it in place, especially as it is now. I agree with you, let's do away with it and take the dictatorship to task. Great post sir.

StJacques said...

You have presented a very thoughtful and challenging proposal Alek, and I give you credit for bringing to light how important it is for all of us to listen to the Cuban dissidents.

Though I have some disagreements with the process you outline for ending the embargo, which seems a bit sudden for me, I have posted a discussion of my own at:


I have pointed out in my article that you are one of a handful of bloggers I consider trustworthy who are calling for a re-examination of the embargo and I have linked to your article here.

I do put up my own suggestions for developing a process I think might work.

I encourage you to keep at your fine work Alek.


AB said...

I thank you both for your comments and thoughts. This is an issue that needs to be discussed on the basis of rational, pragmatic arguments, whereby each side gets to defend its point of view. Alas I see very little of what's the most important point of view of them all, in my opinion, that of the victims of the embargo, read the Cuban people.

You have mentioned in your post St Jacques that Marta Beatriz, Damas de Blanco and Yoani have all spoken against the merits of the embargo. Let me add to that list Oswaldo Paya, Vladimiro Roca, the women from FLAMUR (who are proposing perhaps the most important economic plan for Cuba and have gathered to date 16,000 signatures in support of it), PLNC, Coalicion Juvenil Martiana, Colegio de Pedagogos Independientes de Cuba, independent librarians, former political prisoners Hector Palacios and Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, and an organization carrying out invaluable work with Cuban prisoners, political and common.

The people named above have these characteristics in common: either they are all in Cuba, or have recently been freed from Castro's prisons, they're all dissidents that have confronted Castro in Cuba, and let me tell you, that takes some extraordinary courage. In fact I am convinced these people are made of a different mettle.

However they are not listened to. The agenda continues to be dictated by clueless American politicians trying to pander to the expat Cuban community in Miami for electoral purposes. In this respect I ask: is the prospect of getting thousands of votes more relevant than helping 11 million people regain their freedom?