Over 50 years ago, the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed an embargo on the nation. Dramatic geopolitical changes have occurred over the intervening decades, and I am astounded that the embargo has remained largely intact even as its original foundation has begun to crumble.
Cuba has changed since the 1960s. Havana has begun liberalizing the economy, encouraging foreign investment and allowing citizens to take private-sector jobs and own property. Perceptions by those outside Cuba are also changing. Some countries have initiated talks with Cuba to negotiate economic and political agreements: China is seeking greater trade and investment and the EU launched negotiations to strengthen cooperation.
The embargo itself receives less and less support, both in the US and abroad. A recent poll by the Atlantic Council found that the majority of Americans favor changing our Cuba policy. The United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning the embargo every year since 1992, with the latest near-unanimous vote taking place last month.
President Obama agrees that the time has come to update US policy towards Cuba. “Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born,” he said in a speech last year. “So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.” Obama has taken some action, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to and from Cuba more freely and making it easier for them to send remittances back to their families. However, more remains to be done.
Although ending the embargo completely will require Congressional approval, Obama can and should enact further changes. As explained by Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive: “There’s a range of issues that Obama can address as president if he has the courage to do so. Since the embargo is like an economic dam, as he pokes larger and larger holes in it, it’s eventually going to give way.”
Peter Kornbluh spoke at the Council on November 13 to discuss US-Cuban relations and the future of the embargo. The full program is available in the Council’s media library.
By Suzi Hiza, World Affairs Council
December 2, 2014