The Cuba Embargo Does Not Give US Leverage — It Harms American Interests


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Later in the day, I plan to grade the various public statements from leading American politicians below. But one criteria I will use is whether they evince any humility at all about the fact that America’s many decades old embargo failed to alter the political path of the Cuban government.
I will grade on the basis of whether these politicians are seeing and responding to reality or blinded by a perversion of ideology and the calculation that they think will help them with the vote in Miami but which undermines US national interests.
Lexington Institute Senior Fellow Anya Landau French — a former senior staff member on the Senate Finance Committee — has this great article out today on the Washington Post‘s site, “Castro’s Departure Means the US Failed“.
I have one big quibble with it — but the piece is excellent overall. Here’s the lead in:

Fidel Castro leaving office on his own terms is not the kind of change that successive American presidents envisioned for Cuba. In fact, it’s a sign that U.S. efforts to isolate that country and bring down its socialist government have failed. It’s a sign that those efforts should be revisited.
Despite a 46-year U.S. embargo, Cuba today is anything but a pariah state. Canada, China and Spain have made major investments in the country over the last decade, particularly in tourism, nickel and energy. Venezuela continues to trade cut-rate oil for Cuban doctors. And the island remains a popular destination for vacationers from around the world.
These relationships have helped the Cuban economy grow — 7 percent last year, according to CIA estimates. Moreover, they helped prevent the frustration-fueled overthrow that U.S. leaders long hoped would end Castro’s regime. In effect, treating Cuba as an all-or-nothing proposition netted the United States nothing. Our interests have gone unserved and our ideals unmet.
But while Castro’s departure is playing out differently from expectations, it still provides an opportunity. And the U.S. can either continue a policy rooted in ineffective sanctions or tailor its policy to the new possibilities of post-Fidel Cuba.
Some countries friendly to the United States are already moving ahead. Spain has initiated a human rights dialogue with Cuba. Brazil’s President Lula da Silva, who recently offered Cuba a $1-billion line of credit, provides the island an alternative to its dependence on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
There are many steps the next U.S. president could take, short of offering economic aid or normalizing trade relations, that could increase our influence in Cuba without giving up leverage associated with the embargo.

My quibble is with the last line above: without giving up leverage associated with the embargo.
I think that one of the realities that needs to be confronted is that when I was in Havana, I met some Israelis involved with managing Cuban citrus groves. I saw a Benetton store in the new Havana. I saw Chinese selling major port infrastructure loading equipment to Cuba. British Petroleum was having a cocktail party on the roof of my hotel. Tourism is high.
There is always a sense of leverage that the US thinks it has — but that leverage is now mostly fictional — as Cuba has found other thoroughfares for growth.
We need to stop thinking that we have “leverage.” The whole point of Anya Landau French’s article is that US policy failed and that the embargo has failed — so let’s drop the fiction about the US having leverage in the embargo.
The only leverage America has on lifting or maintaining the embargo is with an aging, Castro-obsessed, reactionary population in Miami that thankfully is being taken over by a more rational contingent of Cuban-Americans who have either rethought their views or who just don’t carry the same views as their elders in their younger portfolios of experience.

— Steve Clemons


8 comments on “The Cuba Embargo Does Not Give US Leverage — It Harms American Interests

  1. diane charbonneau says:

    Cuban blocus,
    why don’t you (american)just mind your own buisiness. Didn’t you over the last century made enough troubles around the world. You represent only 5% of the world population but act as if you owned this world. Stop corrupting foreign governments and think that you and you alone hold the truth. Lift that blocus and leave the cubans alone. Having hold against all of your mighty power for the last 50 years show the world that they can take care of themselves. for ounce stay out of there and keep murder people elsewhere in the world, so it seem that this is the only thing you can do very effectively. U,S. has no friends in the world, only interests. luckily it seem that regions on this planet are starting to fight back your presence (i.e. south america, asia, middle east etc.) and as they say YANKEE GO HOME
    diane charbonneau


  2. richard berube says:

    Thank God that the american companies are not allowed in Cuba’s life. Specially in the tourism area. I don’t think that this country is really interrested having all those u.s. hotels and armadas like in Mexican resorts with all the coast line is occupied by very tall building etc. American people should be aware of the reason of Castro’s revolution . Like a lot of country the dictator Batista was an american puppet where organized crime activities were legions. So american lift your blocus and let this country alone. Stop thinking for everybody.


  3. Buckley says:

    You are so right that we are just fooling ourselves in Cuba.
    We “won” against Cuba when the Russians blinked during the blockade.
    We are allowing bitter Cuban exiles in Miami to dictate our foreign policy when we badly need to start reassessing our policies in all areas


  4. Tom Wright says:

    It harms US interests and Cuban interests as well. I have never seen any convincing moral argument for sanctions on Cuba. And to punish an entire country for some dispossessed Cuban exiles is not sufficient cause.


  5. TonyForesta says:

    What is the point of the embargo? To punish Cubans, to isolate Cuba? Great, we won, now what?


  6. David (Austin Tx) says:

    It may shock many Americans to hear there are 5-star hotels and lots of foreign investment in Cuba, but that’s been the case for years. American companies just haven’t been involved in the business transactions.
    That should be, official involvement by American companies.
    I’m sure that if you look at the companies in Mexico or Canada there is some ties back the US companies.
    However, your larger point does stand, the US could benefit greatly from normalization of relations with Cuba, but we are stuck in the Cold War mentality, when it comes to that country.


  7. CTown says:

    It may shock many Americans to hear there are 5-star hotels and lots of foreign investment in Cuba, but that’s been the case for years. American companies just haven’t been involved in the business transactions.
    Perhaps Cuba is a great metaphor for American Foreign Policy and our likely future over the coming years: we’re not as indispensable as we like to think we are. And more and more of the world is starting to act on that premise, especially with the radical devaluation of the US Dollar.


  8. jhofer says:

    “What we all need to be concentrating on is the urgent need for a democratic transition in Country X, beginning with the liberation of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties, labor unions and the press, and the scheduling of free, multiparty elections.”
    Hmmm. What countries jump to mind? Saudi Arabia? Azerbaijan? Egypt? Jordan?
    But no, Lincoln Diaz-Balart–let hypocrisy ring!!–is talking about Cuba. Funny how these criteria only apply to Cuba and not to those US supported dictators described as moderate.
    Castros sin is not the character of the regime but rather it’s failure to let US investors do as they please.


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