Cuba’s Embargo Quandary

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES, January 11 – As Inauguration Day approaches many Cubans and foreign analysts are wondering: Does the Cuban government really want Barack Obama to end the half-century US blockade of the island?

This is a question I have been asked a number of times by people visiting Cuba. I have also discussed it with many locals.

Cubans are unsure what a blockade-less country would mean
Unsure what a blockade-less Cuba would mean, photo by Caridad

On the surface it’s easy to answer yes, that Cuba longs for the day when it can have normalized relations with its big neighbor to the North. But inside I’m always left wondering, and most of my Cuban friends and acquaintances are not so sure either.

Authentic Protests

It’s public record that the Cuban government and people tenaciously resist the devastating blockade and have fought it tooth and nail in all international forums, led by the annual battle in the United Nations.

Last year, during the October 29 vote on the blockade, 185 countries advised Washington to scrap its timeworn policy, while only Israel and Palau supported a continuation.

Cuba has made it clear that its development has been greatly stifled by the blockade provisions that include extra-territorial sanctions against US and third country companies that do business with the island. The losses are conservatively quantified by Havana at over US $90 billion – over twice the island’s GDP.

The “collective punishment” inflicted by Washington takes on both a tragic and at times ridiculous nature. It is both appalling and unfair when Cuba is denied raw materials to produce medicines or buy hospital equipment.

The absurd prevails when a businessman is punished for selling water purifiers to the city of Havana, or a retired American couple is hounded by the US Treasury Department for having toured the island on bicycles.

The long-term intent of the blockade policy has been to wage a war of attrition against the civilian population, whipping up discontent against the government.

But even many Cuban-Americans opposed to the Castro administration now agree that such a policy has clearly failed to produce the desired results. The government remains intact, despite the peoples’ suffering. Waiting for Havana to capitulate now appears a lost cause, even to many members of the US Congress.

Justification for Deficiencies

Meanwhile, while recognizing the extensive damage done by the blockade, it’s also fair to say that the Cuban government has reaped some benefits as well.

Eight hours of the blockade equal the materials to repair 40 day care centers, photo by Caridad

The siege mentality it has produced in the country works in favor of unity and government support, providing a proven rallying cry that can move the masses.

The blockade has also provided a blanket that covers nearly across-the-board management deficiencies, including the poor controls and low productivity in the nation’s economy, which President Raul Castro has acknowledged on several occasions.

Ask a fifth grader anywhere on the island why Cuba doesn’t have more milk, beef or cheese, school books, toys or automobiles and the answer will undoubtedly be “por el bloqueo”, because of the blockade.

Why are buildings crumbling in parts of Havana for a lack of maintenance? You guessed it: the blockade. Why are salaries so low? The blockade; or Why do a large number of young people want to emigrate? Once again, the blockade.

Good Neighbor Policy or New Anti-Cuba Strategy

Whether Obama will move to end the blockade is open to speculation. Another question is what the repercussions of such a move would be in Cuba.

The hardliner exiles in Miami, of course, continue to oppose the idea. They claim that letting up on the pressure would provide additional resources to the government and the bureaucratic elite, thus strengthening the “brutal Communist dictatorship.” This group however is rapidly waning in both numbers and influence.

Some legislators on Capital Hill sincerely want a good neighbor policy and believe that normalized relations can benefit both nations.

A much larger number of Democrats and Republicans favor letting up on the travel ban and some or all commercial sanctions but with a different agenda. Instead of a way to promote mutually beneficial exchange, they see it as a smart business move and a new strategy to rid the continent of the Cuban socialist experiment through an onslaught of US tourists, executives and capital.

Those congress people also believe that without the blockade the Cuban population will point to their government’s failings and demand it make immediate changes to improve their wellbeing.

Is Cuba prepared for the estimated 3.4 million additional visitors each year and the influences of a consumer society that would come with them? Are the island’s institutions strong enough to resist investments that may not be in the country’s overall interests, like McDonalds and Wal-Marts immediately springing up around the island? Will music and other cultural expressions from Miami, New York and L.A. take over the Cuban stages and airwaves?

These are just a few of the scenarios that have many Cubans wondering about an uncertain future. At this point I don’t think anybody has all the answers. Let’s take a look again in a few months.

4 thoughts on “Cuba’s Embargo Quandary

  • Having just spent a month in Cuba and nearly 3,000km by bus (tour) and bicycle I do not believe the country could cope with any more tourists at the moment. The infrastucture is so fragile now. A four star hotel without a toilet seat? Food, medical, machinery and infrastucture first then a few cruise ships maybe but don’t ever let the country loose its sense of family and music! There are enough international tourists testing the waters now , don’t blow it!

  • The truth is I would love to see the embargo lifted, I believe this would be the begining of real change in Cuba. I would also love to see a change in immigration status where any Cuban who sets foot on dry soil In the US is automatically granted political assylum.

    The Truth is the US embargo while a hindrance does not limit the ability of Cuba to aquire needed supplies and materials, there are many Countries who will and do sell to Cuba. The problem is cubas ability to pay and the lack of resources due to failed social and economic policies. The Cuban Goverment rationalizes its shortages and economic failures blaming its condition on the US Blockade. Who will they blame it on when the blockade is lifted?

    Anyone who has a difference of opinion from the goverment line of reason is labeled a contra-revolutionary in alliance with the Cuban-American Mafia and suffers economic as well as social reprisal for the most minor offences, and forceful debate and opinions can lead to Elongated prison terms. Therefore people would rather flee by any means necessary, Than engage in opposition, this creates a pressure relief valve, why fight for change, If I could only get to the US my life would be so much better. Of course this is an opinion that is only muttered in hush tones behind closed doors.

  • I hope that the best parts of the Revolution remain strongly, those being an incredible ethic instilled in the Cuban people through a socialist education… a moral society whose members work together and is basically not violent in comparison to many many other countries. I wish the Cubans could create business and prosper but keep out the whore of McDonald / Walmart and the massive commercialism that has wrecked the US … keep that away from their beautiful country.

  • There are a lot of Cubans who are afraid of what will happen to them if Cuba normalizes relations with the U.S., especially those who have been convicted of a crime in the U.S. Many feel that there will be harassment, and make it difficult to live and adapt to that system after 29 years living in the U.S. I know this because I recently spoke to a group of Cubans who happen to fit that category. Some of them are fearful that a Mariel in reverse will take place. I see their point and I am considering it. Does this normalization mean deporting Cubans back to the island? Is the Cuban government prepared for this? What about jobs? Housing? Where will they fit? These are legitimate questions to ask.
    As far as Wal-Mart and Mc Donalds are concerned, they could solve that problem by protecting the market from it. In Mexico you don’t find McDonalds in every corner nor in Colombia. The government can select certain zones for that. Fear can paralyze common sense. Cuba needs a lot of food, clothing, electronic technology, cement, bricks, roads, buses. To say otherwise would be a crime, and you know it!
    The best minds should rule, the smarter should teach. Cuba must be part of the 21 century. Don’t you think?

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