US Should End Six Decades of Ineffective Sanctions on Cuba

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

By Anwar A. Khan*

HAVANA TIMES – Decreed in February 1962 and still in place today, US sanctions against Cuba is one of the world’s longest-running boycotts by one country against another.

The embargo against Cuba prevents US businesses, and businesses organized under US law or majority-owned by US citizens, from conducting trade with Cuban interests.

The six-decade old trade ban…

Objective: Regime change

Executive order 3447 signed by John F Kennedy on February 3, 1962, proclaimed “an embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba,” citing the island nation’s “alignment with the communist powers.”

On the eve of the embargo’s entry into force on February 7, Kennedy ordered for himself a shipment of 1,200 Cuban cigars – a product since illegal for US citizens.

John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the goal of such embargos — publicly at least — is “a change in behavior of the regime.”

In recent years, Washington has justified the sanctions by pointing to rights violations by Havana and its support for the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

Cuba has not budged on either issue.


“Not only the justification has evolved, but also the types of actions” taken against Cuba, said Alina Lopez Hernandez, a Cuban researcher and editorial writer.

“For as long as it was bilateral, it was easier for Cuba,” she said. It was a subject “barely mentioned (by the Cuban government) in the first three decades of the revolution” when Havana had Soviet backing.

But since the Torricelli laws and Helms-Burton laws of 1992 and 1996 that ramped up the punitive measures, companies and foreign banks operating in Cuba have faced harsh penalties for doing business there.

“With these two laws (the embargo) lost its bilateral character, it became externalized and became a blockade,” said Lopez.

The Cuban government, which also uses the term blockade, estimates its economy has been damaged to the extent of more than US$150 billion.

Since 2000, food has been excluded from the sanctions, but Cuba must pay cash.

Thirty years of UN opprobrium

Every year since 1992, Cuba has presented a motion condemning the sanctions at the UN General Assembly. The first time, 59 countries voted for it, now nearly all are in favor.

Only the United States and Israel vote consistently against the motion, except in 2016 under a brief period of diplomatic detente under then-President Barack Obama when the US abstained.

The Helms-Burton act, said Ric Herrero of the Cuba Study Group, “was intended to create an international embargo against Cuba.”

But the UN’s consistent rejection shows how this has been “a resounding failure.”

US policy towards Cuba has been dictated by internal politics ever since the end of the Cold War, when Cuba lost strategic value, said Herrero.

The US blockade has contributed to making life hard for many Cubans.

Traditionally, the electoral weight of Florida — a state that can sway US elections and has a strong presence of Cuban immigrants – has stood in the way of relaxation.

However, “the Democrats are not competitive right now in Florida so there’s no real expectation the Democrats are going to win Florida,” Herrero said.

The pressure, instead, is coming from New Jersey and its Democratic polity – shrewd or crafty management of public affairs. 

Even Obama, who had relaxed some sanctions, could not lift them entirely due to the Helms Burton law which interdicts any president from changing the embargo by decree.

Flower vendor in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

The Internal blockade

In Cuba, it is called an “internal blockade” — “the bureaucracy, excessive centralization, the lack of incentives for producers,” said economist Omar Everleny Perez.

“Economically, the (US) blockade is one of the causes of the situation in Cuba, but not the only one.”

Unable to produce what it needs, the island nation imports 80 percent of what it consumes.

Steps to liberalize the private sector have come late and have been slow to change the situation on the ground, with much of the economy still in state hands.

Alina Lopez says, “internal policies weigh more on the situation of Cuba than the US blockade, because the strengthening of the embargo dates back to the 1990s but the bad policies are historic, they date back to the 1960s.

Some critics of the embargo say that it helps the Cuban government more than it hurts, by providing it with a bogeyman for all of Cuba’s misfortunes. Hillary Clinton publicly shared the view that the embargo helps the Castros, saying that “It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.” Clinton said in the same interview that “we’re open to changing with them.”

In a 2005 interview, George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, called the embargo “insane.” Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, criticized the embargo in a June 2009 article:

“The embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit freer. At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers billions of dollars of potential exports.”

In June 2009, Venezuelan commentator Moisés Naím wrote in Newsweek: “The embargo is the perfect example used by anti-United States everywhere to expose the hypocrisy of a superpower that punishes a small island while cozying to dictators elsewhere.”

Some US business leaders openly call for an end to the embargo. They argue, as long as the embargo continues, non-US foreign businesses in Cuba that violate the embargo, do not have to compete with US businesses, and thus, will have a head start when and if the embargo is lifted.

On May 15, 2002, former President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana, calling for an end to the embargo, saying “Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship.” US bishops also called for an end to the embargo on Cuba.

But the embargo has never been effective at achieving its principal purpose: forcing Cuba’s revolutionary regime out of power or bending it to Washington’s will.

It is high time that America join the rest of the world in establishing free trade with Cuba and end the ineffective sanctions that have cost lives and economic growth for both nations. The US government must realize that, if their goal is to push for a more democratic, more liberalized Cuba, what has not worked for 60 years will not work now or in the future. The US must seek a more humane, diplomatic means of pursuing American worth and concerns.

*The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centered figures, current and international affairs

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

12 thoughts on “US Should End Six Decades of Ineffective Sanctions on Cuba

  • The Cuban tyranny likes the embargo it allows the regime to try to justify their brutal oppressive rule.
    Where people get 15, 20 years in prison for opposing the dictatorship.

    The dictatorship will never allow elections they would all be throw in prison after being ousted.
    It just keeps getting worse and the tyranny doesn’t care.

  • Olga, most countries in Latin America in 1959 didn’t have free elections. Cuba had only 2 free elections since their independence, in the 1940s.

  • Curt you are omitting that England and the others countries get compensated monetarily and the Cuban regime offer the USA companies payment in Sugar cane . Besides I know you are fan of the Cuban dictatorship but I just want to tell you one more time that the Cuban regime never was elected by popular vote in and open democratic elections. The Cuban regime still in power trough terror, repression, intimidation and sending the opposition to exile.

  • Eclectic, what you wrote is a bunch of horse manure. The main reason the embargo was put in place was because the US and the militant Miami exiles were being sore losers after the Bay of Pugs invasion. Also some US businesses were nationalized and were offered compensation but they turned it down, unlike those in other countries, such as Britain and Canada. The reason the embargo is still there is only to please some extremist Cubans who currently reside in the US. Whatever reforms the Cuban government makes will never be enough to please those fools. Every other country in the world, except for US bootlicker Israel condemns the embargo.

  • “Bloqueo” is the pejorative term routinely used by the Cuban Communist Party as an excuse for the failure of its socialist system

    In fact, it is not a blockade nor a complete embargo. Food and medicine, are permitted. Similarly, travel not benefiting the Cuban government and military interests, is permitted.

    The embargo is designed to force the Cuban government to respect human rights and international norms, and pay compensation for the property it expropriated. As stated in Wikipedia:

    “As of 2022, the embargo is enforced mainly through the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Helms–Burton Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000. The stated purpose of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 is to maintain sanctions on Cuba as long as the Cuban government refuses to move toward “democratization and greater respect for human rights. The Helms-Burton Act further restricted United States citizens from doing commerce in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any successor government in Havana unless and until certain claims against the Cuban government were met. In 1999, President Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo by also disallowing foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. In 2000, Clinton authorized the sale of food and humanitarian products to Cuba.[4]

  • Cubans need more food produced in their own country and less anti-US rhetoric and excuses. Three of the country’s big problems, breakfast, lunch and dinner, are a matter for domestic policies to resolve. As anyone who has been to Cuba knows, they have plenty of fallow land, many reservoirs for irrigation when needed, and plenty of skilled agronomists and knowledgeable farmers. Standing up to the US brought more benefits when the Soviet Union was subsidizing the island. Now the rewards for bad mouthing the US are worth much less. From his comfortable perch, Curt may admire the standing up, but most Cubans would prefer “jama”, the slang for food.

  • Olga, I think you are a secret advocate for the Cuban government. They need the embargo to justify their way of running the country and give excuses for its shortcomings. How does anybody in the US, including the fanatic extremist exile hardliners benefit from the embargo? One of the things I admire about the Cuban government is that it stands up to the US despite the embargo.

  • This gutless embargo is still in place due to the failure to plug the leaking holes in the so-called democratic system which still prevails in the USA.
    How can the USA claim to be a democracy when in a two horse race, the horse with the fewer votes is regularly declared the winner?
    This is a democratic tradition which was designed for a different era. An era in which the then fledgling USA freed itself gloriously from the imperialism of the British.
    This archaic electoral model is clearly no longer fit for purpose. But it ensures that the tin pot little embargo, laughed at by the rest of the world, merely props up this more recent example of imperialism. The embargo’s one and only purpose is to try to achieve FLA Electoral College votes in the electoral games of a fading democratic system.
    The rest is just bullsh*t.
    Cuba’s economy is in a mess. But they get to blame it all on the embargo. Get rid of the gutless embargo and they’ll have nothing to blame it on.
    But this gutless embargo won’t go away.
    And all because of those who benefit from the perpetuation of the failing democratic model in the USA. The embargo will only go away once the USA reforms its failing democratic system.
    The moral of the story:
    The USA and Cuba – two Revolutions which have both had some very mixed results so far.
    Only time will tell when the pages will next get turned……….

  • The Embargo should be in place until Cuban dictatorship is gone. North Korea has the same Embargo and they do not orchestrate tantrums in the UN the Cuban régimen stole USA citizens properties without compensating their owners on top of the lack of freedom in the island and not basics human rights to Cubans the Cuban promotes political instability throughout Latin America through proven guerrilla terrorism is the financing of them from Shinning Path in Peru to the FLMN in Central America as well as their financial penetrations in Latin American universities through groups of “solidarity” with Cuba that are no more What foci to create political and social instability orchestrated by the embassies of the Cuban regime. in countries where democracy exists and their governments have been democratically elected. Yes to the Embargo until the end of the dictatorship. promotes political instability throughout Latin America through proven guerrilla terrorism is the financing of them from Shining Path in Peru to the FLMN in Central America as well as their financial penetrations in Latin American universities through groups of “solidarity” with Cuba that are no more focus to create political and social chaos in countries were the governments are been democratic elected. Yes to the Embargo until the end of the Castro’s family dictatorship.

  • Pretty much the “same old, same old” about why the trade embargo should end. Not much general dispute about that. The key issue is when? And, under what conditions?

    Should the US take steps now while the most recent action by the Cuban government was the silencing of protesters on 11 July of last year? Them having an opportunity to walk back some of their 11J actions on 15 November, but doubling down instead? A time when it appears about 500 protesters remain in prison? Would the US being proactive now be deemed as implicit approval of the Cuban governments to forcibly silence dissent?

    Should the US make concessions without any response from the Cuban government? That proved to be the fatal flaw in Obama’s approach. He made the Cuban government incredibly happy by not demanding anything about Cuban citizens right to speak out in return. But his actions only resulted in a unilateral benefit for the Cuban government so were an easy target for a later administration to rescind as the US had gained nothing which would be lost.

    What is needed now is concurrent action by both the US and the Cuban government, not just more “the US should ……”

  • If the Cuban government had of made a better effort after Barrack Obama’s visit to move towards better relations the country would not be in the dire situation it is now.

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