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Cuba's Crossroad

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, May/June 2014

We have returned again from a visit to Havana. The occasion was the annual Festival del Habanos, a weeklong celebration of one of the country’s iconic products—cigars. We don’t go there to argue politics, but to explore and learn about something that the rest of the world outside the United States buys and smokes legally.

We have been going to Cuba for more than 20 years. We have witnessed long lines for food, gasoline shortages, crumbling buildings, inadequate roads and basic hard times for a lot Cubans. Some of those are caused by the Cuban government’s own policies. But some of the problems can be laid at the feet of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. That embargo is supposedly a tool to force political change in Cuba. But it has been in place for more than 50 years, and Cuba’s communist
system is virtually unchanged.

There are some small changes occurring inside Cuba. Due in part to a Cuban law passed in 2012 allowing a range of private businesses, nearly every neighborhood, both commercial and residential, is bristling with evidence of a blossoming private economy—signs for beauty salons, spas, coffee bars, small convenience stores and restaurants dot buildings all over Havana. During the same period, the U.S. government’s People-to-People programs—tours for educational, academic and religious reasons—and so-called “family visits” by Cuban-Americans in the United States to relatives inside Cuba have been allowed to expand. The family members arrive with goods and products, and in many cases, hard cash that is being used by their relatives not only to live but to set up the newly legal businesses.

While there is no scientific survey to support what we are about to say,  the evidence stares you in the face—the two-year-old Cuban law and the foreign monies are allowing private enterprise to take root. On a small scale, the change in Cuba is exactly what we have always said would happen if the United States unilaterally ended all sanctions against our island neighbor, and allowed American businesses to invest in Cuba.

Cuba is at another crossroads. There is more and more foreign influence and investment from Europe, Latin American and Asia, and the modern world—through access to the Internet and internal communication by cell phone—is making inroads. In a way, you could argue the genie is out of the bottle. Now is the time for our government to reexamine a U.S. policy that hasn’t produced its desired goals for more than 50 years. The United States has another opportunity to support the changes without force and without any accusation of meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs. All we have to do is open the door.

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