The embargo against Cuba is a political and legal phenomenon, which must be evaluated by separating fact from legend.
The Cuban state neglected it during the three decades that it received massive Soviet subsidy. It was the end of this support, Cuba’s post-1989 geopolitical isolation and the failure of the planned state economy model that brought the criticism of the embargo to a prominent place in Havana’s propaganda and foreign policy.
The embargo must be treated in its actual magnitude. It should be broken it down in terms of its impact, using objective evaluative criteria and hard data. To exaggerate what it is by calling it a blockade is a form of manipulation.
The embargo does not involve closure of physical access to the island, as would be the case of a naval blockade implemented with or without UN support. This US embargo is not a static entity nor does it lack exceptions: in the last two decades it has become more flexible, permitting the sale of food and medicines, while it maintains obstacles to financial transactions.
Today, a large part of the proteins and grain consumed by the Cuban population comes from the USA. Goods that end up in tourism and the foreign exchange market also come from there. This includes the broad range of companies based in the U.S. that sell online to consumers on the island.
Sanctions are not, per se, morally unjustifiable. In the past, numerous nations embargoed apartheid South Africa. Recently the European Union has applied and justified sanctions on Belarus, Iran and Nicaragua. It is the fact that the U.S. stands alone in insisting on sanctions that amplifies the criticism of the embargo in its current form.
Why don’t Europe or Latin America offer alternatives to eliminate the most sensitive aspects of the embargo―which affect the Cuban population―while continuing to sanction those responsible for human rights violations against that same population?
Does not the escalating repression and poverty of the last two years as well as the reduction of reforms and social spending suggest that the Cuban political elite bears the greatest responsibility for the precarious living conditions of the Cuban population?
The embargo should be evaluated―in its effectiveness and legitimacy―in light of precedents and counterparts: I refer here to embargoes against other autocratic regimes in the last century. In general, these embargoes were imposed on the ruling elite of those autocracies because of damages inflicted on their own people and on neighboring countries.
A multilateral alternative to unilateral sanctions, which reduces population damage and targets the elite and agents of human rights violations, would be a better option in the Cuban case as well. But those who would be called on to endorse it―Europe and Latin America―limit themselves to criticizing Washington while maintaining normal relations with Havana.
The anti-embargo lobby brings together businessmen interested in obtaining profits in that captive market with the ideological sympathizers of Castroism. By focusing exclusively on an exogenous element of Cuban social reality―the embargo―instead of also considering other endogenous ones― such as the Cuban economic system and political regime in power―the lobbyists deflect attention, morally and politically, from where it should be. Those concerned with improving the general situation of the Cuban people should be assessing the actions of those that are responsible for it, by means of what they do and also of what they neglect or refuse to do.
Castro’s Cuba is a historical case to be studied for its objective failures; a political model that seduces and inspires aspiring autocrats; a geopolitical agent that allies itself with the worst of causes―the Russian invasion of Ukraine―and erodes neighboring democracies in Latin America.
The embargo is, within the array of crises currently affecting the Cuban nation, an added factor; the dictatorship is the structural factor. To eliminate the former while allowing the latter to survive, would only maintain the current statu quo.
Poverty, disenfranchisement and growing migratory waves would expand. Well-meaning promoters of the “end of the blockade” should make that terrible reality part of their lobbying and propaganda agenda.
Armando Chaguaceda, College of Veracruz.