The embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba, which was originally established by President Kennedy in 1962―and has been expanded or diminished by all U.S. administrations to date―has had one primary objective: to bring about to regime change.
Does the fact that the goal has not been achieved mean that Washington’s embargo of Cuba has been a total failure? If this primary objective is taken into account as the only variable, yes, but if other no less transcendental ones are added, then we must acknowledge that the embargo has not failed. On the contrary, it has prevented the strengthening of the Cuban regime.
The vast majority of those critical of this embargo have a clear answer to this question: the embargo as a policy exercised against the Cuban regime has failed to produce its collapse, and it has exacted a terrible price for the population of the country and prevented the country’s economic development. Under this analysis, the embargo can be understood as a primary and fundamental variable in the increase in hardship for Cuban families over the years.
The Cuban regime repeats this narrative, blaming the embargo for all the economic ills of the Cuban population. It has also prevailed among the international community, which has been critical for the most part of the embargo.
However, the U.S. embargo―euphemistically referred to by the Cuban regime as a blockade, is a porous and partial commercial and financial embargo and it is not the real cause of the poverty and economic hardships experienced by the Cuban population under a totalitarian regime. The totalitarian nature of the Cuban political system is the key here.
This Cuban totalitarianism is solely responsible for the economic―and political and social―tragedy of the Cuban nation: because it has imposed a system of policies that has deprived the Cuban population of all the tools that would enable it to develop independently of a state that stifles all economic independence.
It is a totalitarianism that for years cancelled all private economic activity. Between the first offensives of 1960 until the end of 1968, all large, medium and small businesses in the country were closed down―and then, after much reluctance, only partially reopened. Private businesses remain hampered by totalitarian mechanisms and legal, fiscal and bureaucratic restrictions that make it impossible for any non-state economic activity to develop autonomously from an omnipresent state.
As for foreign investment―which Castroism claimed is necessary for the development of the country, excluding U.S. investment―it must also be carried out under totalitarian rules that violate international protocols. Foreign businesses and investors must hire personnel under draconian labor rules and the government is in charge of hiring personnel and paying salaries (retaining for itself the majority of the real salary paid by non-Cuban entities).
These examples, among many, show the true nature of the regime, and suggest what would happen if the U.S. embargo is lifted. Nothing would change, because the totalitarian nature of the regime would not be altered. Investment, trade, economic activities in general, would flow in the same way as they have flowed so far with the rest of the world, in only one direction, towards the elite that controls Cuban totalitarianism, without benefiting the Cuban population at all.
This raises the question of the success or failure of the U.S. embargo as a policy not because of what it did not achieve―such as changing the regime―but because of what it has prevented from happening during all these years: it has prevented the further strengthening of the military-partisan elite that has controlled the Cuban state for more than 60 years.
Even with U.S. sanctions, this elite has become enormously wealthy―in stark contrast to the rest of the population. Enrichment and access to resources that have contributed to increasing the threats designed by this elite to U.S. national security.
What would have happened if they had not had the restrictions of the embargo? The elimination of the sanctions derived from the embargo, or a unilateral thaw that favors these elites, would not modify the economic precariousness of the Cuban population, and would increase the level and capacity of the threats from the Cuban regime towards the United States.
Oscar Grandío Moráguez, University of San Francisco.