(Photo by Anya Landau French, of a Havana art fair where private Cuban entrepreneurs can earn hard currency income selling to foreign tourists)
Anya Landau French directs the New America Foundation/U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative.This post originally appeared at The Havana Note.
Last Friday, The Washington Post editorial board questioned the value of engaging Cuba, following the death of a hunger-striking Cuban prisoner of conscience last week. In light of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s tragic death, the Post asked advocates of greater contact with Cuba how the ongoing “thaw” with the island nation is working out.
I offered my thoughts to The Washington Post, which published them today:
Why U.S. policy isn’t affecting Cuba
The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was an avoidable tragedy, one for which the Cuban government alone is accountable.
Yet the Feb. 26 editorial overlooked many Cuban dissidents’ views that that U.S. sanctions harm the people, not the government, of Cuba. Even if Congress eases travel and food export restrictions on Cuba, the larger trade embargo will remain among our toughest restrictions against any other country in the world.
The effort to remove U.S. restrictions on travel and food exports to Cuba is not driven by love for Fidel or Raúl Castro but instead by three ideas: the fundamental right of Americans to travel freely without our government’s interference, advancing the national interest at a time when America needs job growth and export opportunities, and a belief that we can do far more good in Cuba by reaching out to rather than isolating the people.
Another reader wrote to echo the Post‘s earlier viewpoint, and called President Obama’s “Castro-friendly” approach naïve. But what exactly has been so friendly? Other than easing restrictions on private humanitarian donations and families’ travel, allowing U.S. communications providers to try to service the Cuban population, and resuming migration talks held by Presidents Reagan, Clinton and G.W. Bush, what, exactly, has been so friendly toward Castro? (And besides, isn’t our policy supposed to be about the Cuban people? The U.S. laser-like focus on the two Castro brothers always seems to come at the expense of 11 million Cubans.)
One year into this Administration, U.S. policy is still far cooler toward Cuba after than anyone expected. (In 2004, Barack Obama called for lifting the entire embargo because, he reasoned, it was harming the innocents in Cuba.)
The President who as a candidate called U.S. policy a failure and said he would be willing to meet Raul Castro is largely running the same Cuba policies he inherited from President Bush. The vast majorities of Americans are still not free to visit Cuba when they wish – and draconian restrictions remain on educational, cultural and professional travel that we encouraged fully a decade ago. And, the United States continues to hamstring food sales to the island in nearly every way imaginable, despite real hardship on the island (does it matter who inflicted it?) and despite a 38% drop in American farm income last year. This more aptly dubbed “South Florida-friendly” policy hardly constitutes tearing down the wall between our two countries.
Those of us who advocate freer contact with the Cuban people do so because we believe it will be good for us and good for the Cuban people. But the fact is, if you can’t see measurable results for U.S. engagement with Cuba, that’s because it hasn’t happened yet. Until we really try engaging Cuba, there’s nothing to judge.
— Anya Landau French