Should the US Embargo on Cuba be Intensified, Relaxed or Eliminated?

The embargo / blockade (the term used by Cuba) must be lifted completely and unconditionally, for the good of Cuba and the United States.

Pedro Campos and Armando Chaguaceda

Photo: Ernesto Gonzalez

HAVANA TIMES — The letter that 44 renowned US personalities wrote President Obama, calling for a relaxation of the embargo on Cuba, has given new impetus to the old debate about the real effects this policy has on Cuba’s political situation.

Those who signed the missive, convinced that the embargo has not achieved its objectives, believe the time has come to make it as flexible as possible, and that this could create the conditions needed to strengthen a civil and economic society independent of the government which would take root on the island in the long term.

Contrary to this, those who support maintaining and/or stepping up the embargo believe that relaxing this policy would be tantamount to giving Cuba’s outmoded regime – today mutating from a form of State monopoly capitalism, concealed by State socialism, into State capitalism, under the command of the same leadership – a breath of fresh air.

Even if we respect their freely-assumed opinions, we cannot help but conclude that neither of the two camps are considering how inherently harmful and clumsy the embargo is, owing to the negative consequences it brings the people of Cuba.

For over fifty years, the policy has had no impact on the lives or the power of Cuban leaders. It has, rather, helped them justify their economic disasters and their anti-democratic practices. Above all else, it has allowed them to present themselves to the world Left as the great anti-imperialist champions and to avoid total international isolation.

The two positions appear to hold, to a considerable degree, that US policy towards Cuba is a decisive variable for the future of Cuba’s government. While it is impossible to deny the geopolitical weight of this neighboring country and the impact it has had on our short history and small nation, this should not lead us to buy into the neo-Plattist propaganda of the Cuban government, which insists Cuba’s problems stem, in the first place, from its contradictions with the United States and that, as such, overcoming these depends on how such contradictions evolve and, above all else, on the embargo.

The chief cause of the economic, political and social disaster Cubans endure is the system established in Cuba in the name of socialism, the revolution, the working class and “Marxism-Leninism.” State monopoly capitalism, headed by Havana’s military, managerial and ideological elite, is the main obstacle to the development of a prosperous, progressive and democratic Cuba that could make a peaceful and gradual transition to a higher form of post-capitalist society, availing itself of its enviable geographic position, the human (and economic) capital of its transnational community and breakthroughs in the economy of knowledge.

Cuba’s top leaders know the model has failed, even if they do not openly acknowledge this and are not willing to let go of the main reins over the economy and politics. Hence the overdue economic reforms, fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions, which make no significant changes to the country’s political system.

We mustn’t forget that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onslaught of the so-called Special Period crisis, the Cuban government was able to remain afloat, contrary to innumerable predictions, owing to a series of factors. These included the strategic cunning of its top leader, an expert in the strengthening of his personal power within the bureaucratic apparatus and endowed with a mystique that continues to kindle the faith of a sector among Cuba’s older generations.

Photo: Ernesto Gonzalez

Another decisive factor was centralized control over the economy, which allowed Fidel Castro to arbitrarily direct and manage the country’s available financial resources, as well as the single-party political system, where those “above” impose directives as to where, when, and how to participate in the steering of national policy on those “below”. All of this was executed on the basis of significant control over information and varying degrees of systematic repression of autonomous thought and political activism.

Today, the social foundations of the victorious camp that wields this power are a military, bureaucratic and intellectual clientele that enjoys both benefits and pardons (tailored to suit their loyalty) and the support and/or passive acceptance of a broad impoverished population, to whom the government has provided some degree of (currently decreasing) basic social protection.

In addition, the nationalist banner, hoisted in response to the United States’ hostile policies (with the blockade/embargo as the centerpiece), and the discourse of “building socialism”, have awakened profitable sympathies in broad sectors of the international Left.

The opportunistic use of international contradictions and problems for securing political and financial support, the selling of tourist, medical and professional services (all with high profits owing to the degree to which Cuban workers are exploited in these sectors) and the appropriation of money coming from the émigré community, forced to pass through the State in its contacts with families, the sending of remittances and products, travel and legal procedures – are variables that help explain the continued hegemony and resilience of Cuba’s post-revolutionary regime in recent years.

Such a stage leaves no room for violent confrontation and places the more regressive forces of the past and present – in Cuba and abroad – at a disadvantage. Those of us who support a participative and democratic form of socialism are called on to struggle for our ideals through civil, institutional and democratic ways and mechanisms, as other political forces will surely do. For this to be possible and so that the Cuban people are the only ones responsible for their fate, the sovereignty and right to self-determination of the Cuban people, curtailed today by both Havana and Washington, must be respected.

In keeping with this and in view of its destructive and clumsy nature, contrary to international law and public opinion, for the benefit of the people of Cuba and the United States, we believe the embargo must be lifted entirely and unconditionally.

All of these elements, though not without economic components, are essentially political variables, and political matters are dealt with political measures. Internal repressive and restrictive actions must be countered by measures that favor the liberalization of society and talks between peoples, which should not exclude due condemnation of human rights violations, but not with sanctions that only serve to consolidate the “city under siege” mentality and the political control of the elite. The US embargo, seeking to undermine the Cuban government’s economic foundations, only endows it with enormous political capital.

Foto: Ernesto Gonzalez

The practical unviability and moral crisis of Cuba’s current political model and regime having been demonstrated, the embargo policies only serve to stabilize the precarious balance maintained by its last redoubt.

We believe that any assessment of this issue must consider not only the implications the embargo has for the United States (whose international prestige has been eroded by successive condemnation by the UN and unanimous opposition from Latin America – but also (and most importantly) the damage it has caused the Cuban people, be it through the real shortages its measures have caused (affecting medical supplies used in the treatment of sensitive conditions such as cancer, for instance) or be it by having afforded the government a pretext for keeping the island’s citizens in a state of civic and material precariousness, compromising the historic ideals an struggles of the Cuban Left.

When we consider all of these elements and assess the impact of US policies on Cuba, we have to recognize that both the limitation and scope of the embargo policies have till now proven counterproductive in terms of bringing about a change in Cuba’s political system and encouraging the democratization of its society. By contrast, we believe that its complete elimination would directly or indirectly undermine a good part of the foundations that sustain its centralized political and economic “system” today.

Of course, the complete lifting of US restrictions could afford the Cuban government some commercial benefits which could be taken advantage of by its obsolete business and financial system in the short term. But it would also bring to the fore the structural shortcomings of its current model and would deprive its leaders of the political weapons they wield at home and abroad.

The government would have to adapt to these new conditions, change both its discourse and actions regarding the “enemy”, for calls for defending ourselves “against the threat of imperialism and its mercenaries” would lose all sense. The authoritarianism and centralization that prevail today would have to give way to progressive changes across the country’s economic, political and social system.

A peaceful democratization process could be facilitated by and even impelled by segments of the State apparatus and loyal intelligentsia. This would benefit the work of those who call for a democratic and pluralistic Cuba, “with everyone and for everyone’s benefits”, without vendettas or exclusions, a Cuba where all human rights are respected, where harmony and peace prevail over violence and hatred and political and economic forces struggle in a context where there are equal opportunities for all.

68 thoughts on “Should the US Embargo on Cuba be Intensified, Relaxed or Eliminated?

  • July 19, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    And I go further yet: if Cuba still has some semblance of economic added value that maintains its accounts is because the dissidents and Cuban refugees in Florida thriving send annually a few billion U.S. dollars to their relatives that Prison Island to NOT DIE OF HUNGER, this is the truth outspeak, Cuba’s economy can only be sustained even a shambles precisely because the United States of America. This story of the “embargo” is the biggest deceit that Cubans communists can bluster.

  • June 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    So you don’t trust Cuban-Americans to decide for themselves whether they want to trade with the Cuban government or not. US always knows what’s best for Cuba. Same old Plattist mentality I’m afraid.

  • June 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I will agree with you that the US does not have a great record of supporting democracy in Latin America. However, they are improving. I point out that the Left in Latin America has an even worse record on democracy and that the Cuban and Soviet interventions in Latin America were totally opposed to democracy.

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