Claims and Facts About Economic Sanctions in Cuba
In the midst of a human rights crackdown in Cuba there is an effort underway to obtain the unilateral lifting of economic sanctions on the Castro dictatorship. United States Senator Marco Rubio has expressed concern "that U.S. officials reportedly met with Cuban representatives in Bali to discuss the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba."Coincidentally, at the same time academics, ideologues and The New York Times over the past few days, have trotted out their old arguments. Their argument can be broken down into seven claims. Sadly, they fail to take into account some inconvenient facts in order to refine their case and improve the public debate:
CLAIM #1: Castro brothers have used the embargo as an excuse of their disastrous misrule in Havana.
FACTS: One of the policy objectives of the Castro regime both internally and internationally is to portray itself as David against Goliath. Despite having normal trade relations, Hugo Chavez has undertaken the same kind of campaign in Venezuela without an economic sanctions in place. Often times the U.S. State Department has fallen short of explaining the sanctions policy fully or for that matter defending it in a vigorous manner at international forums. This has allowed the Cuban government a free hand in a sustained campaign to portray itself as a victim blaming all of its economic woes on the American blockade on Cuba. To believe that the regime would not continue its Anti-American campaign of blame with new grievances is naive.
CLAIM #2: The embargo has hurt the Cuban people.
According to both the Council on Foreign Relations and Global Edge remittances play a major role in the Cuban economy and have for some time. Reliable sources peg remittances total from $800 million to $1.5 billion per year, with most coming from families in the United States. During the Obama Administration regulations have been furthered loosened which means that this number may now be substantially higher. Medical equipment and pharmaceuticals can also be sold to the Cuban regime with the limitation that the goods don't go to the Cuban military or biotechnology industry and are not used for torture or re-export. During the Bush Administration the United States was Cuba's fifth leading trade partner and now is seventh in the world.
CLAIM #3: The embargo has failed to remove the Castro brothers from power.
FACTS: The embargo was not instituted to remove the Castro brothers from power. Due to the Bay of Pigs debacle that consolidated Castro's rule and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that ruled out a direct U.S. invasion, economic sanctions were put in place not to eliminate the Castro regime but limit its ability to expand into the rest of the hemisphere and to force the Soviet Union to expend large sums in keeping the Castro regime afloat which ended up contributing to the USSR's demise in 1991 due to the economic dissatisfaction and hardship suffered by Russians. The Kennedy brothers sought other means to end the Castro regime in Operation Mongoose that were shutdown after Robert Kennedy left the White House in 1964.
CLAIM #4: The embargo harms U.S. businesses and farmers
FACTS: Since 2000 U.S. businesses and farmers have sold $4,318,906.00 worth of goods to the Castro regime. Meanwhile countries that do not have sanctions in place, which includes restrictions on granting credits such as Russia, Venezuela, China, Japan, Spain, Argentina, France, Romania, Brazil, Italy, and Mexico are owed billions of dollars. Russia is forgiving $29 billion dollars of debt that the Castro regime owed it and Mexico is waiving 487 million dollars of debt owed by the regime in Havana.
CLAIM #5: Castro never assassinated or tried to assassinate a US official.
FACTS: Cuban spy network broken up by the FBI in 1998 planned terrorist actions on U.S.soil including the murder of a U.S. intelligence official in Florida.
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence that the Castro regime had President John F. Kennedy assassinated in retaliation for attempts to have Fidel Castro assassinated by the Kennedy Administration. Not to mention the threat made to an AP journalist against the Kennedy brothers by Fidel Castro weeks prior to JFK's assassination: “Let Kennedy and his brother Robert take care of themselves since they too can be the victims of an attempt which will cause their death.”
CLAIM #6: The embargo limits the civil liberties of Americans to travel to Cuba.
FACTS: The U.S. Supreme Court on two occasion first in Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1 (1965) in a 6-3 decision and secondly in Regan v. Wald - 468 U.S. 222 (1984) in a 5-4 decision affirmed that the State Department and the President can restrict travel under certain circumstances and does in fact limit the civil liberties of Americans.
CLAIM #7: Cato in 2005 cited a 1998 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency that concluded, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.” The report declared Cuba’s military forces “residual” and “defensive.”
FACTS: In 2012 Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials met in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks on U.S. soil allegedly seeking information about nuclear power plants in the United States. In 2013 it was revealed that the Castro regime was providing weapons and ammunition to North Korea in violation of international sanctions. The weapons and ammunition were intercepted in Panama when they tried to smuggle them through. Finally, the 1998 report, cited by Cato in 2005, and circulated over twitter today that claims that Cuba does not pose a threat to the United States was prepared by Ana Belen Montes, an agent of the Castro regime who successfully penetrated he highest levels of the U.S. intelligence apparatus and who was implicated in providing information that led to the death of an American soldier.
Room for improvement
U.S. sanctions policy with regards to the dictatorship in Cuba was about containment of the exportation of the Cuban model throughout the hemisphere, and during the Cold War having Cuba serve as a drain on Soviet resources that contributed to its eventual bankruptcy. In the post Cold War years it shifted once again with a focus on human rights. The failure of the United States to do this in China, Cambodia, Venezuela and Vietnam with their deteriorating human rights situation is regrettable. The policies in these other countries are profoundly immoral and ignore human rights concerns. Instead policies in China, Cambodia, Venezuela and Vietnam favor of short-term corporate economic interests that run counter to the interests of the majority of U.S. citizens not to mention the long term economic well-being of the United States.
However, there are always opportunities for improving policies- in the case of Cuba- seeking out approaches that make the people, and not the dictatorship, the priority. For example on August 4, 2011 the Obama Administration announced a ban on visas for people who the State Department finds have been involved in human rights violations. Unfortunately, since then we have seen that human rights violators of the Castro regime are immigrating to the United States. If this ban were applied vigorously to the hardline elements of the Cuban regime it would be positive step that would protect dissidents by holding abusers accountable and providing a penalty, but this ban also needs to be expanded to follow the path taken by the European Union when dealing with the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Banning the relatives of the hard line elements of the dictatorship from visiting the United States would create greater pressures on the regime for change.
Unfortunately, what has gone on in practice is that the children and relatives of the hard liners have an easy time obtaining visas to the United States while the families of dissidents have a more difficult time. That needs to change for their to be hope that the President's Cuba policy have a positive outcome. Policy makers should take a closer look at Burma were a principled policy that included sanctions moved things in a positive direction.