by Dish Staff
Erik Voeten notes that, in one respect, Cuba isn’t the only country that’s been internationally isolated by the US embargo:
The United Nations General Assembly has voted since 1992 on an annual resolution on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” In 1992, with the Cold War just ending, fewer than 50 percent of all member states voted in favor of the resolution (more than half abstained). The graph above shows how quickly any semblance of support for the embargo evaporated. In its latest iteration only Israel joined the Americans in voting against the resolution, although, to its credit, the United States did get the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau to abstain.
U.N. General Assembly resolutions have mostly symbolic value as they do not create binding legal obligations. Yet, U.S. isolation probably undermined the effectiveness of the embargo.
The president’s move should be uncontroversial. U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a blatant failure. It has not brought about democracy to the island and instead provided Havana with an excuse to portray itself as the victim of U.S. aggression. It has also served as the scapegoat for the dilapidated state of Cuba’s economy. Moreover, according to government reports, the embargo has also become somewhat of a U.S. security liability itself. As for the economic measures, they are significant in symbolism, yet limited in their likely impact as long as Cuba retains its failed communist economic system. The 114th Congress should pick where the president left off and move to fully end the trade embargo and lift the travel ban on Cuba.
The Bloomberg View editors argue that Obama’s move will hasten the end of the Castro regime, especially if (as is unlikely) Congress plays along and lifts the trade embargo:
The opening of embassies will also have beneficial effects diplomatically. It sucks some air out of the most fevered denunciations of the U.S. by fellow Cuban travelers such as Venezuela, makes it easier for the U.S. to partner with countries such as Brazil, and helps transform the doddering Castros from symbols of resistance to minor diplomatic players.
Of course, as long as the U.S. embargo remains in place, the Castros will retain some of their revolutionary cachet, not to mention their grip on Cubans’ livelihoods. For that to go away, and for Cuba to leave socialism and its 1950s Chevrolets in the rearview mirror, the U.S. Congress must act: Under the terms of the Helms-Burton Act and other laws, the embargo can’t be fully lifted without its concurrence.
Fallows calls the embargo the stupidest American policy of the last 35 years:
I choose “at least 35 years” as the demarcation point for undeniable irrationality because that is when the U.S. fully normalized its relations with mainland China. If successive Republican and Democratic administrations could see the merit of trying to engage (rather than exclude) a one-party repressive communist-run state, even when that state had four times as many people as the U.S. did, and is nuclear-armed, and is a regional rival of several U.S. allies, how much more obvious is the case for a tiny little island practically within eyesight of the American mainland and certain to fall under the sway of U.S. cultural and economic influence if given a chance?
Not to mention that recognizing the People’s Republic of China meant cutting off America’s relationship with the people and government of the Republic of China on Taiwan, which itself has twice the population of Cuba and nearly 10 times as large an economy. There is no comparable tit-for-tat cost for the U.S. in normalizing relations with Cuba.
Keating wonders, however, what Castro’s motives are:
“I do think that they’re trying to lay the groundwork for a process of change in which they can keep their scalps and guide the country toward a more sustainable political system,” Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director and chairman of the Cuba Working Group at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, told Slate.
The other big factor at play here is the turmoil in Venezuela. The South American nation threw the tottering Cuban economy a lifeline during the regime of Hugo Chávez, providing the island with 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Today, in the aftermath of Chávez’s death and bruised by political turmoil and the plummeting price of oil, Venezuela’s economy is in chaos and the government is on the verge of defaulting on its debt. “You don’t need to be a capitalist to realize that Venezuela’s economy is in very dire straits,” said [Christopher] Sabatini. “It’s getting worse literally by the day. So they’re going to lose that benefactor.” Add the Venezuela situation to the Castros’ advancing years and you can understand what’s driving Raúl toward a more accommodating stance.
Jason Koebler highlights what a big deal it will be for Cuba to finally get the Internet:
What’s this all have to do with the internet there? Well, the submarine cable system that connects much of the world with fiber optics has basically bypassed Cuba. Instead, the country has been relying on extremely old and slow satellite technology to give its people (limited and censored) internet access. Obama specifically said he will allow American telecom companies to work with Cuba. …
That’s huge. Internet access in the country is abysmal. Only 5 percent of Cubans have internet access, and barely anyone had internet in their homes until this year, when the state-owned Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba began offering very limited, very slow internet connections to some residents. Before that, the internet was only available at 118 kiosks, where residents had to pay $4.50 an hour (an astronomical sum in Cuba) to use computers.