On July 20, 2015, the United States of America and Cuba restored diplomatic relations which have been severed since the Cold War in 1961. But despite this, the US still maintains its commercial, economic and financial embargo on the island nation which means that it is still illegal for US corporations to do business with Cuba.
US President Barack Obama has called for an end to the embargo but the law requires approval from Congress to truly end the embargo. The president is also taking strides to normalize relations with Cuba through his scheduled visit to the island nation on March 21 to 22, 2016. Obama will be the first US president since Calvin Coolidge (visited in 1928) to visit Cuba.
Recently, more than 50 major publishers in the US publishing industry have petitioned the White House and Congress to end the trade embargo on Cuba, particularly concerning books and educational materials. The petition they filed stated that “books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.” In addition, the petition also noted the close to 100% adult literacy rate in Cuba (which is among the highest in the world). The petition goes on to state that there are lots of commercial opportunities for publishers – both Cuban and American – that will benefit readers and writers from all over.
Is the Cuban embargo a good thing or not? To make your own judgment on the situation, here’s a look at the pros and cons:
List of Pros of the Cuban Embargo
1. Cuba has not met the conditions for lifting the ban.
The Cuban embargo is enforced in statutes: Trading with the Enemy Act 1917, Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963, Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.
The Cuban Democracy Act was passed to keep sanctions on Cuba if their government continues to refuse democratization and respect for human rights. The Helms-Burton Act specified the restrictions of US citizens from doing business with or in Cuba. Also, when Bill Clinton was president, he extended the trade ban further to include the prohibition of foreign subsidiaries of US companies from doing business with Cuba. However, the sale of humanitarian products to Cuba was allowed by Clinton in 2000.
For the US to life its embargo on Cuba, the island nation must meet the requirements asked of them. These requirements were laid out in the act passed in 1996. Some of these requirements include granting pardon to political prisoners, allowing labor unions and legalizing political activities.
2. Cuba responds with aggression to the easing up of restrictions.
The US has, in the past, made three attempts to ease the trade ban. All three of these attempts were greeted by the Cuban government with aggression. One of these instances happened during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. In 1977, the then US president opened an embassy in Cuba. The response from the Cuban government was the sending of 125,000 immigrants to the US but those who were sent were believed to have mental illness or criminal records. In other words, Castro sent people he didn’t want to the US.
3. Only the Cuban government will benefit from ending the Cuban embargo.
There are little to no private businesses in Cuba. As such, any financial gain that would come from the lifting of the ban can only be enjoyed by Cuban government; the gains would not be shared with the island nations citizens.
4. Other countries trading with Cuba haven’t really enjoyed much benefits.
While Cuba can’t do business with Cuba, the island nation has been doing business with several countries around the world. Companies from Canada, Europe and Latin America have been trading with Cuba but they have not enjoyed a lot of economic and political benefits. It’s only the Cuban government that is enjoying the commercial and economic relationship.
5. Cuba hasn’t been honoring their commitments.
It is believed that Cuba is deliberately not honoring their commitments. Some see removing the embargo as dealing with a country that has absolutely no accountability over their liabilities. For instance, the island nation’s debt to Russia and Mexico have been forgotten. Also, the country has defaulted on their debt to the Paris Club nation amounting to $37 billion.
List of Cons of the Cuban Embargo
1. The embargo isn’t looked kindly upon by many around the world.
The United Nations General Assembly in particular has condemned the embargo since 1992 by calling it a violation of international law. The only country that has sided with the US every time is Israel. Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern has called the embargo a “stupid policy” and added that “There’s no reason why we can’t be friends with the Cubans, and vice versa. A lot of them have relatives in the United States, and some Americans have relatives in Cuba, so we should have freedom of travel.”
2. The embargo has been deemed ineffective.
The main reason an embargo was imposed on Cuba was to stop its communist government. However, it has been five decades since then but none of the country’s authoritarian heads of state have been overthrown. The trade ban was also imposed to get Cuba to promote capitalism but the country has refused to do so. Lastly, the island nation still hasn’t met the objectives set by the US to get the embargo lifted.
3. The embargo hasn’t made significant changes in Cuba.
Yes, Cuba may no longer be a threat to national security but the country still hasn’t met the requirements for lifting the ban. George P. Schultz, the Secretary of State during Reagan’s presidency, said that the embargo “has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free.”