On February 2, 1962, President John Kennedy called his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, into his office and instructed him immediately to find and purchase one thousand of his favorite Cuban cigars: H. Upmann Petit Coronas. A perplexed Salinger spent the better part of that night scoping out smoke shops and buying up as many of the Caribbean delights as he could find. When Salinger reported back to the president the next morning, he presented him with almost 1200 H. Upmann Petit Coronas. After joyfully inspecting the lot, Kennedy opened his desk drawer and immediately signed Presidential Proclamation 3447, outlawing all American trade with Cuba. As is the custom with most politicians, after securing his stash the president made it instantly illegal for other Americans to enjoy Cuban-made cigars.
Such was the birth of one of the biggest failures in U.S. foreign policy – the Cuban trade embargo. It was meant to bring the downfall of Fidel Castro and his communist revolution, but 47 years and two communist dictators later, it still hasn’t accomplished its goal, and there is no indication it ever will.
Then this week, actually for the first time ever, there appeared to be cracks in Washington’s resolve to perpetuate this charade. The Obama Administration announced that it would be easing parts of the embargo against Cuba, namely restrictions on travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in the island nation. Almost immediately, Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart issued a statement calling Obama’s action “a serious mistake.” Quoting the congressman’s sentiments further, he stressed the importance of U.S. policy to continue
to insist upon the three fundamental goals for Cuba enshrined in U.S. law which have long constituted a bipartisan U.S. Policy of State: The liberation of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties, independent labor unions and the press, and the scheduling of free, internationally supervised elections.
All this bluster because the president is simply allowing Cuban Americans to resume normal relations with their kin in Cuba? After all, administration officials have indicated that they are keeping the rest of the embargo intact to provide “leverage” against Cuba to free all political prisoners. It is the opinion of this writer that the president should be commended for his humanitarian act on behalf of Cubans in America and Cuba. However, it is also my hope that this is just a first step in the process of normalizing relations between ourselves and Havana.
It is time for the trade embargo to be lifted in its entirety once and for all. With all due respect to Congressman Diaz-Balart our policy towards Cuba should be based on logic and not emotion. Yes, the Castros and their cronies are bad people, but our shortsighted policy has unfortunately not delivered the knockout punch we desired. In fact, generally speaking, economic embargoes do not produce the results we crave. The recent examples are several: Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iraq. In North Korea and Zimbabwe, sanctions contributed to mass starvation and disease outbreaks for the local population while not affecting the dictator at all. In Iraq, a decade-long embargo against Saddam did not instigate the masses of Iraqis to rise up against him; it simply made them more poor and allowed him to strengthen his hold over that society.