The Value of the US Embargo on Cuba

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

The Havana Libre Hotel. Foto: Elio Delgado Valdés

HAVANA TIMES — It looks as though the US blockade/embargo policy towards Cuba is going to be relaxed considerably in the near future. This policy, set in motion by President John F. Kennedy, was aimed at bringing about the overthrow of the Cuban government, and came into place following the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion carried out by Cubans equipped and trained by the CIA. The aims of the embargo are summarized by the well-known State Department document drawn up by Lester Mallory:

“The majority of the Cuban people support Castro. There is no effective political opposition (…) The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship… every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba (…) a line of action which (…) makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

These actions, undertaken by US imperialism, would have serious consequences for Cuba and the rest of the world. Now that the winds of change seem to be blowing, we should draw up a balance of their results. The decision to do away with these policies made by US President Barack Obama will be seen by many as proof of their failure. This will be underscored by pro-government politicians and philosophers in Havana, who are congratulating themselves for their “victory.” US sources that speak of “changes to failed means” will concur with them, from a different perspective.

People who consider themselves left-wing, however, ought to be slightly less triumphalist and avoid falling into the traps of the Right. The latter knows how to renew itself incessantly and conceal the successes it secures through the most sinister methods.

From an alternative and entirely plausible point of view, we could regard the embargo as a successful policy. The fact its most visible components are being dismantled could be interpreted from the perspective that its main aims have been reached and it is disadvantageous to maintain them under current conditions.

The United States began plotting the overthrow of the Cuban government as of 1959. US properties on the island were nationalized in a conflict-ridden process. Havana snatched the ability to exploit the island’s resources from US imperialism. In addition and with the far from selfless support offered by the Soviet Union, Cuba became an international bastion that was held up as an example of the anti-imperialist struggle and defiance of US power. Given the circumstances, US capitalism was not interested in negotiating compensations similar to those obtained by other powers with interests that were nationalized in the country. Cuba had to be “punished”, such that its failure and misery could serve as an example for the rest of the world.

What happened with the objectives of the embargo as time went by?

Let us revisit that objective: “alienating internal support through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship.” Cuba’s current migratory outflows are depriving the country of the most capable and motivated generations, discontent with their local prospects. Cuba’s political and grassroots organizations have been worn down immensely, as the official newspapers acknowledge. State employees are not as productive as the State would want, and they make up for their low incomes through dealings in the black market. It seems the aim of decreasing “monetary and real wages” was also reached.

Needless to say, the ineptness of Cuba’s leadership in terms of governance and economic planning contributed greatly to these disastrous results. We will never be able to agree about which of the two factors had a greater impact in this regard. We should also not forget that many of the disastrous decisions were made under the noxious influence of this hostile environment. A rather significant part of the population, in fact, accepted policies that repressed their liberties on noting the latent threat of US intervention on the island.

Clearly, the US government didn’t care about the Cuban people one bit, willing as it was to subject it to “hunger and despair.” That was acceptable to Washington as long as this prompted the overthrow of the government. What people actually did was board makeshift vessels and risk their lives crossing the Strait of Florida. Ninety miles away, marvelous conditions for immigrants existed. It would seem this last objective, that of overthrowing the government, was not reached…or was it?

What capitalists are interested in is not what a neighboring government calls itself but the ability to reap the fruits that grow in that “backyard.” A government that closed the doors on Washington had propped up in its backyard, but, if that government kindly reopens those doors, the main reason to seek its overthrow disappear. In addition, the blockade policy was making Washington look bad, what with the story of David and Goliath and things of the sort. Now that David has made all of the desired concessions and reopened the country to foreign exploitation, offering its resources and workers, now that it no longer supports revolutionary class movements around the world, Goliath no longer needs to wield such an ugly-looking club. The government that came to power in 1959 was not overthrown, but its initial policy was.

The blockade/embargo should never have been established in the first place, for it prolonged a long-standing US policy of intervention in Cuba. It led to an unjust and genocidal hostility aimed at causing human suffering in the name of political ends. This has been recognized by most important diplomatic organizations in the world, but the United States has never acknowledged its faults in this regard. If the blockade were to come to an end now, will it be because it failed, or because most of its objectives have been reached? That is not such an easy question to answer.

14 thoughts on “The Value of the US Embargo on Cuba

  • The blockade was simply an order that any products and services provided by a U.S. company HAD to be paid in full before shipment left the U.S. port!!

  • There is strong desire for democracy in Iraq and Egypt, but it is a hard struggle. Not only must the people confront their own rulers, they must confront the power of the imperialist countries that have always supported the corrupt rulers in Iraq and Egypt.
    For those who are interested, I recommend The People Want, by Gilbert Achcar.

  • Iraq and Egypt are overwhelmingly Muslim states and as such will never be democratic.
    Islam requires total obedience and Islam is a way of living life and not just a go-to-church-on Sunday religion .
    Its totalitarian ways carry over into the Islamic nuclear family structure as is plainly evident .
    They are also strongly pro-capitalist and not only have never experienced democracy but really have no use for it.
    In this they are much like the preponderance of U.S. citizens.

  • This is an excellent article and probably the most perceptive that has been written on the subject. But I would like to add the other factor which is the larger picture. When the embargo/blockade was created Cuba was incredibly isolated within Latin-America but this has changed dramatically. Many presidents by now have pictures of Che Guevara on their walls. Even the countries that elect right wing parties are no longer the quisling governments they were once. The US has had to change and adapt to this situation. It is too early to say what will happen in Cuba but one possible outcome could be as follows. Latin America moves towards Cuba – Cuba moves more to the right and rejoins the rest of the continent. The US reconciles with Latin America and gains some new markets. In this scenario no real losers.

  • There is no blockade. there are – by now limited – trade sanctions.
    2014 saw the lowest level of US-Cuba trade. All experts agree that the decrease in the purchases from the US was a political and economical decision of the Castro regime.
    The sanctions – like those on Myanmar – serve there purpose and especially in the current economic situation – Venezuela’s ruler failing – it is a good means to achieve what Obama nearly squandered: more freedom in Cuba and compensation for those expropriated by the Castro regime.

  • An Iraqi friend of mine said that maybe in 50 or a hundred years, Iraq will be a democracy. For now it is torn between tribalism and religion.

    An Egyptian friend said that for Arabs, democracy means only, “My tribe gets everything now!'”. He didn’t believe his country would ever be a democracy.

    So yes, a fools errand.

  • Very well said.

  • The proper and intellectually honest response you should have made to your erstwhile ally Griffin is:
    ” I was incorrect”
    This is a prime example of why it is a waste of time putting facts in front of you and why I no longer do so.
    “Time will tell”?
    The past 100 years of the U.S FIGHTING democratic movements is all the time any rational person unpaid by the State Department person would need to understand U.S. foreign policy.
    There are none so blind as those who WILL not see.

  • My comment spoke to the intent of the effort. The outcome of these 4 examples has been less than optimal but building democracies where there has never been a culture of democratic principals is a fools errand anyway. Nonetheless, in all four places, where the people have begun to taste what democracy means, one can only hope that over time democracy will prevail. After all, 75 years after the Declaration of Independence in the US, we had our own test of democratic principals in our Civil War. Time will tell.

  • I’m sorry to have to dispute your point, Moses, but the 4 examples you gave are all failures in the promotion of democracy.

    After initial encouraging signs, Burma has slipped back into authoritarian military control. The pro-democracy movement is once again harassed and repressed by the military rulers.

    Iraq is territorially shattered and the various parts are controlled by Shia Islamist or Sunni Islamist or Kurdish warlords. The central gov’t is useless.

    Afghanistan is ready to fall to the Taliban just as soon as the last US troops leave. Obama totally screwed that mission when he pre-announced the date he would withdraw US troops.

    Libya is in civil war with various Islamist factions controlling various sections of the country. A rebel army now lays siege to the capital.

    In Egypt, the dictator Mubarak was overthrown by a popular revolt. In subsequent elections, the Muslim Brotherhood gained power and immediately set about destroying the institutions of liberal democracy. The military then seized control, arrested & executed many MB leaders. Democracy was strangled in the cradle by the MB and the Egyptian military.

    Because of this sorry record of foreign policy failure, I have no expectation that Obama’s deal with Raul Castro will work out any better for the Cuban people.

  • The US policy/embargo with the formerly military dictatorship Burma/Myanmar was enforced to encourage Democracy in that small nation. Recently lifted, Burma has made steps toward a democratic parliamentary form of government. it is well argued that the embargo was lifted too soon, but nonetheless even this one example makes a lie out of your claim that the US has NEVER worked to install democracies. Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya are recent examples with varied degrees of success but the same intent….to install democratic forms of government.

  • Even the most seemingly well-informed Cubans continue to misunderstand the notion of ‘separation of powers’ that exists in the US. Time and again, in your comments and my own, we are compelled to remind HT writers and Castro sycophants that lifting the embargo entirely is a very long shot politically. Even using his Executive Authority, Obama is limited to item by item exemptions to the embargo and even those must be justified by national need or security. Politically, Obama has garnered all the political accolades he set out to receive with his announcement. He has also taken a lot more political heat than he expected. To blithely assume that he will do more without a significant step being made by the Castros towards political reform is politically naïve. We have not yet confirmed that the 53 political prisoners he promised would be released have been set free. On the contrary, pro-democracy sources in Cuba are saying only a few of them have been released and we are still waiting for Castro to hold up his end of the deal. I understand Rogelio’s call for caution. He is correct that the Castro dictatorship remains in danger of regime change. However, given the current economic conditions in Cuba and their wetnurse Venezuela, those dangers are coming from within at least as much as from the US. Obama simply changed the tactics. The US is steadfast in our desire to see the end to the only non-democratic state in our hemisphere.

  • Rogelio,

    Don’t get ahead of yourself here. Obama announced that he will ask the US Congress to lift the embargo. But the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is furious at his President for blind-siding him on the deal with Castro. Obama will not have the necessary votes in the Senate or the House of Representatives to pass his plan to lift the embargo.

    Whatever you think of the embargo, or of Obama’s recent agreement with Raul Castro, the embargo won’t be lifted anytime soon.

  • It is instructive that Lester Mallory (at least in the excerpt above) NEVER stated what the purpose of the embargo was but only what would be necessary to get the Cuban people to overthrow their revolution.
    All all the subsequent talk about making Cuba democratic was and is , of course a massive lie that only those with historic amnesia can stick with as an explanation for starving out the revolution.
    IF- and that is a huge IF- the U.S. ever acted to install democratic systems in any country and I challenge anyone to come up with a list of countries in which that happened -those few exceptions are far outweighed by the more than 75 interventions made by the USG AGAINST democratic and humanitarian movements since 1918 .
    The U.S. MAY have succeeded in forcing the Cuban leadership to construct a now totalitarian system in order to survive both the subversion and the economic hardships due to U.S. hostilities and, as the central belief in anarchism dictates
    (no pun), …any government long enough in power becomes self-preserving, corrupt and totalitarian. .
    In Cuba’s case this would be Leninist ( cadre-led) state capitalism.
    The U.S. can easily make accommodations for any totalitarian government as it always does with China, Saudi Arabia etc .
    Cuba’s totalitarian government and state capitalist economy are more like the totalitarian oligarchic U.S. government and totalitarian free-enterprise U.S. economy than would be any state with democratic forms or intentions which are anathema to capitalism and the now oligarchic U.S. government run from the top down .
    Democracy IS the mortal enemy of the government of the United States and its long foreign policy history of killing democratic movements speaks volumes to this fact.
    As always I provide my sources – visit the “Killing Hope” and “Rogue State” websites for all the evidence you will ever need to see that the U.S.G. and those who support it are and always have been opposed to democracy .
    The future of Cuba is in flux .
    Raul can move towards democratic forms such as Poder Popular, fine as written , reform ( limit the power of) the PCC or, true to anarchist belief , will retain his
    totalitarian ways and thereby make peace/friends with the GOUSA.
    It will not take years to see how this will unfold.

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