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Tighten the Screws

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Says Now is Not the Time to Ease Up on Cuba
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 2)

I look forward to the day when Americans can once again go to their corner stores and purchase Cuban cigars. But those will be cigars will have been produced by free labor in a free and democratic Cuba. To get to that day, we must keep the pressure on Castro, while simultaneously working to help the Cuban people build a free and independent civil society within the crumbling shell of Castro's teetering communist regime. * End the Embargo Connecticut's Senior Senator Calls for an End to an Embargo That He Says Does More Harm Than Good

By Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT)

There are very few foreign policy issues debated in Washington that prompt the level of vitriolic reaction that U. S. policy with respect to Cuba does. Because of the emotional nature of the subject, it has been extremely difficult to have a reasoned conversation about the nature of the policy, its objectives, or whether it has been effective. I believe that such a conversation is long overdue.

To gain a better understanding of this issue, I traveled to Havana last December to see for myself the impact of our policy. While there, I sought to meet with Cubans from all sectors of society, to hear them describe the current Cuban reality and how U. S. policy has influenced it. It was my first visit to Havana in more than 20 years. In many respects, the city looked very much as I remembered it, although the physical decay was clearly more evident.

During my weeklong visit, I met with a broad cross-section of Cuban society: with President Fidel Castro, at some length; other Cuban government officials, including the foreign minister and the president of the national assembly; Catholic and Protestant church officials; medical professionals and scientists; U.S. and foreign diplomats; foreign investors; human rights activists; foreign and local journalists. Not surprisingly, there were widely divergent perspectives on many subjects, especially the competence of the government in its management of the economy, the role of the church in Cuban society, the state of Cuba's public health system, the treatment of political and human rights dissidents, and the role of a free press. However, there was one subject on which there was general agreement, namely that U. S. policy with respect to Cuba was ineffective and counterproductive.

Frankly, to my mind it could hardly be otherwise. After all, the foundations of that policy date back decades to a time when the Soviet Union was aiding and abetting Cuban efforts to challenge U. S. interests in Central America and elsewhere. Today, the Soviet Union does not exist. The Eastern Bloc's subsidization of the "Communist experiment" in the Western Hemisphere has ended. Cuba has ceased its efforts to export revolution to its neighbors, perhaps because there is so little interest on their parts. Cuba no longer poses any threat to U. S. national security interests--this according to U. S. defense analysts.

Yet despite these concrete and visible changes, the centerpiece of our 38-year policy remains the same--an embargo that seeks to restrict trade, travel, and the flow of information to Cuba; and to thereby strangle Cuba economically. This hardline stance continues to hold sway among U. S. foreign policy makers, in large measure because they have been hamstrung by domestic political considerations and are fearful of provoking the ire of those obsessed with the island of Cuba and its personification in the person of Fidel Castro.

Cuba is not the only country in the world whose government is not democratically elected, where full respect for internationally recognized human rights is lacking, where there is little or no tolerance for political dissent, where the state-run economy is poorly managed, or where private enterprise is largely illegal. Some of the very same concerns have been raised with respect to governments elsewhere--in China, in Vietnam and even in Russia. Yet a discussion of these governments does not provoke the same kind of polarized debate that Cuba does. Nor has it led to the implementation of U. S. policies that in any way resemble our policy toward Cuba. There are no across-the-board trade or investment restrictions, there are no limitations on the freedom to travel. There are full and reciprocal diplomatic relations.

Defenders of the Cuban embargo strategy assert that by isolating the regime economically we will force Fidel Castro to capitulate and hold democratic elections. Or alternatively, that the suffering of the Cuban people will become so unbearable that they will rise up and remove their political leaders, by force if necessary. I saw no tangible evidence during my visit to Cuba that either scenario looms large on the horizon. Nor did anyone with whom I met suggest either was a viable possibility.

Having said that, there is no question that the U. S. embargo, particularly restrictions on the sales of U.S. food and medicines, has had a deleterious impact on the Cuban people. The two hospitals that I toured while in Havana were poorly equipped with medicines and medical equipment. The American Association for World Health is unequivocal in its view that "the U.S. embargo has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary Cuban citizens." While there is debate over how to allocate responsibility for these shortages, it is indisputable that the Cuban people have been denied access to U.S. medicines and technology, and that as a consequence U.S. policies have played a role in creating these shortages. This finding was particularly troubling to me.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

jose acosta — galena pk , texas, usa,  —  March 6, 2012 3:05pm ET

We need as a nation to understand life is short the sooner we forget about all these political moves embargos politics and start enjoying life and it's pleasures the sooner we will become more civilized.Each country has something to offer let's enjoy their riches and natural resources and forget the politics.

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