Monday, April 21, 2008

Paying For Their Grandparents' “Wrongs”

By Timothy Rice

The recent less-than-drastic political shift in Cuba from Fidel to Raul Castro has brought back into the American public light a little fact: In 2008 we still have to drive to Canada to get Cuban cigars.

In one of the longest running economic embargoes of modern times, totaling 46 years (enacted in 1962), the U.S. continues to cut off imports from, and severely limit exports to Cuba. Can you remember why the U.S. put these sanction on Cuba in the first place? Not surprisingly after all of these years, many people have forgotten why.

In short: It was 1957 and Fidel and the other communist revolutionaries began to take state control of private businesses in Cuba, many of which were owned by U.S. companies. Once the U.S created its embargo Cuba was left in a trading vacuum which the U.S.S.R quickly came to aid. Cuba needed a place for their exports to go, and a source of much needed supplies. The U.S.S.R needed an ally within the realm of the U.S. This partnership further eroded amicable ties between the U.S and Cuba and apparently hardened a dislike that prevails even today. But how appropriate is it to continue economic sanctions nearly 50 years later, after the fall of the U.S.S.R, the end of the Cold War, and now the stepping down of Fidel Castro?

Not appropriate at all.

Many political scientists agree that economic sanctions hurt those on the bottom tier of the economic ladder the most. Those at the top, the ones that are most often targeted by the sanctions, have the means to get around the hardships caused by them. Therefore, the only way that sanctions could ever really have an impact, would be a popular uprising against the ruling class for getting the people “into the mess.” Unfortunately this rarely, if ever happens. Evidence of this can be seen in the past by the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961: the Cuban people were not ready for an armed upheaval and after 47 years of nothing different, probably still are not.

It is appalling that after 46 failed years of sanctions the U.S. Government still thinks that either, the people of Cuba still must be punished, or that the Cuban government is going to suddenly relinquish the U.S. owned companies. Over the years some concessions have been made by the U.S government to allow some humanitarian-type trading with Cuba, including food and medicine. At the same time stronger rules have been created including attempts to punish other countries that trade with Cuba.

So how do these sanctions hold up to the U.S' pledge to bring democracy to the world?

The U.S has specifically said that it wants democracy in Cuba, just like it wants everywhere else. Certainly if Cuba showed signs of democratization the U.S would be much more forthcoming with a repeal of the embargo. But isn't that embargo seriously hampering the country’s ability to become a democracy? Is the U.S putting Cuba in a Catch 22?

There are many things that are important to an internal creation of a democracy, Internal (as opposed to the external type propped up by the U.S e.g Iraq and Afghanistan.) Two of those things, and possibly among the most important are money and free information. By lifting the sanctions with such a geographically near neighbor, money would quickly filter into the country- even if to only a few hands outside the government to create a private monetary base that would begin to grow power.

As for free information, currently the Cuban government heavily filters the information available to the people, including state run media and extreme restrictions on the Internet. However since taking over Raul Castro has relaxed many of his brother’s laws including those on high tech devices such as DVD players, cell phones, and computers. In this digital age this relaxation could become comparable to that of Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika and Glasnost in the Soviet Union.

These high tech devices are however only as useful as the information that you put into, or can access by them, currently this information remains restricted by the government. However, if the U.S. were to remove their sanctions and a steady barrage of information began to constantly be available to the Cubans, some information will get through. As computer and Internet access grows more people will have access to Cuba's already running underground media. That media can create a revolution much more effectively than economic sanctions and do so in a humane way.

The U.S has the power to create a revolution that is much to it's own liking, but unfortunately it needs to get over its grudges of yesterday, and look at what would make a better tomorrow.

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