Friday, January 25, 2013

Economic Sanctions: What remains left unsaid in the debate

Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this country usually tend to argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie.- George Orwell, The Prevention of Literature (1946)

Unlike totalitarian regime's that are constantly rewriting history by altering the facts of the historical record, the United States declassifies documents in order to provide a fuller picture of government policies for historians. This can also create opportunities for distortions and embarrassment for the entity doing the declassifying. However, there are times that it also offers insights into what might have been that can inform future policy discussions.

For example in the memo below from 1960 Lester D.Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, addressed to R. Roy, Jr Rubottom, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs that analyzed the situation in Cuba warning that "militant opposition" from outside of Cuba would only serve Castro's and the communist cause advocating a policy of economic sanctions in order to increase popular "disenchantment and disaffection" with the Castro regime.

Unfortunately, his memorandum although approved by Rubottom at the time was ignored and a year later the Bay of Pigs disaster took place that consolidated Castro and the communist regime as Mallory had foreseen. The earliest version of the embargo began at the end of the Eisenhower Administration on January 3, 1961 but full scale economic sanctions, involving restrictions on travel, did not take place until after the Bay of Pigs, well into the Kennedy Administration in 1962 and was due to the heavy Soviet presence there and the introduction of nuclear weapons onto Cuban soil.

If higher ups in the U.S. government had followed a policy of sanctions first then perhaps the Castro regime would have ended in the 1960s. What is interesting is that when a violent option fails such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, experts do not arise questioning the efficacy of violence in the way that they tend to do when a nonviolent effort fails to achieve policy objectives.

Economic sanctions are a nonviolent response that falls within the large arsenal of nonviolent tactics that can have a great impact without going to war. 

In the end, due to the Bay of Pigs debacle and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, 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.

Below is the memorandum:

499. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mallory) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1
Washington, April 6, 1960.

The Decline and Fall of Castro

Salient considerations respecting the life of the present Government of Cuba are:

1. The majority of Cubans support Castro (the lowest estimate I have seen is 50 percent).

2. There is no effective political opposition.

3. Fidel Castro and other members of the Cuban Government espouse or condone communist influence.

4. Communist influence is pervading the Government and the body politic at an amazingly fast rate.

5. Militant opposition to Castro from without Cuba would only serve his and the communist cause.

6. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.

If the above are accepted or cannot be successfully countered, it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy is adopted, it
should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.

The principal item in our economic quiver would be flexible authority in the sugar legislation. This needs to be sought urgently. All other avenues should likewise be explored. But first, a decision is
necessary as to the line of our conduct. Would you wish to have such a proposal prepared for the Secretary?2


1 Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/4–660. Secret.
Drafted by Mallory.

2  Rubottom initialed the “yes” space provided on the source text.

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