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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Cuban Embargo: A brief comment on a ridiculous policy

Published: October 31, 2008
Section: Opinions

On Wednesday, October 29, 2008, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a non-binding measure that urged the United States to lift its 46-year embargo on Cuba.

The measure was passed by an overwhelming majority of 185 nations in favor. Only three nations opposed the measure (the US, Israel, and Palau), while two nations abstained (Micronesia and the Marshall Islands).

This vote marked the seventeenth straight year in which the UN has passed such a measure and the seventeenth time that the US has refused to comply. According to President Bush, who discussed the issue during a speech in Florida, “We will change our policy when the people running Cuba free people of conscience from the prisons. But until then, we won’t change.”

I have three problems with this decision.

My first problem is that politically, this embargo has been a flat failure. Every Cold War President since Kennedy has upheld this policy on the grounds that the US was punishing what was essentially a Soviet outpost off our shores. This hurt the Cuban economy, aided the growth of anti-US sentiment, and in all likelihood forced them to form even closer ties with the Soviet Union.

When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the US government lost a good reason to uphold the embargo, but continued to do so regardless.

Cuba, badly in need of trading partners, has turned to China, Venezuela, and Bolivia, nations that are not particularly friendly to us.

This is not a good way to make friends, folks.

My second problem is that the embargo has done the most damage to those in Cuba who have the least ability to change their country’s behavior. By preventing Americans from visiting Cuba, investing in its economy, or even buying Cuban goods, the government is taking away thousands, if not millions, of dollars that could bolster the Cuban economy and improve the lives of its citizens.

On the other hand, the Castro brothers have been doing just fine for years, with or without the US. They have no incentive to give in to US demands of a free Cuba. In fact, the more our policies hurt the average Cuban, the easier it is for Raul and Fidel to use the US as a scapegoat and maintain control.

Finally, my third and final problem is that the US is abusing its position as a superpower by refusing to listen to the UN. Yes, the recent measure was non-binding and technically does not directly affect US foreign policy. But at the same time, international consensus like this does not happen everyday and should not be ignored. We expect all other nations to listen when the UN tells them what to do and there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same. Otherwise, one of the world’s greatest means of international cooperation will be rendered useless.

When President Bush leaves office in January of next year, his successor will face the question of the Cuban embargo.

America will once again have an excellent opportunity to help a society free itself from leaders who will be forced to explain their mistakes instead of simply blaming the US. We will be able to shirk the lingering shadow of the Cold War and actually make a friend in an increasingly anti-American world.

In short, we should have lifted this embargo years ago. But better late than never, I suppose.