Thursday, February 21, 2008



With Fidel Castro’s stepping down this week as President for (I guess not) Life of his Caribbean Eden, our country has been presented with a golden opportunity to begin to erase fifty years of bad policy toward Cuba by lifting our economic embargo on that Tropical Workers’ Paradise.

We will not seize this opportunity, of course, any time soon due to the old political (and, I suppose, social and personal) concept of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, or vice-versa, in this case. In the case of Cuba, most Americans are in favor of lifting the embargo and would enjoy very marginal, or at least apparently very marginal, benefits from our country’s doing so. However, a small, wealthy, powerful, and politically active group of people (the “Miami Cubans”) perceives that lifting the embargo would cause them great pain and/or impose a heavy cost on them. How this would be true is not clear, but clarity rarely drives policy. In such a situation, in which a vocal, motivated minority perceives a great cost and a largely silent and relatively indifferent majority are on differing sides of an issue, the vocal minority wins. The minority cares deeply, the majority cares very little. Intensity counts much more than sheer numbers.

So the embargo will not be lifted due to purely political considerations. From the standpoint of sound policy, however, the embargo should be lifted, and should have never been put in place. Why?

First, the embargo is hypocritical. The same GOPers who are so enamored of free trade and who have no problems trading with China, the ruling regime of which is not noted for its benevolent attitude toward its citizens, refuse to consider trade, other than cash agriculture deals, with Cuba due to its abominable human rights record. Could this refusal have anything to do with the relative profitability to the GOP’s core corporate constituency of trade with China and Cuba, or with the importance of the Miami Cubans in the electoral dynamics of this country? The Republican attitude on this issue should come as no surprise; hypocrisy is what defines Republicanism.

Lest one think I am showing an anti-GOP bias, Senator Barack Obama was all for lifting the embargo in 2006, when he was merely representing Illinois, which has a microscopic Cuban-American population. However, now that Mr. Obama is running for president, this profile in courage now favors only loosening some travel restrictions and increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, precisely the stance of the Miami Cubans. Hypocrisy clearly is not the exclusive domain of the GOP.

Second, the embargo is immoral. With the people of Cuba in dire economic straits, we are bound to do what we can to help them with their plight. One could, and should, argue that the economic misery in Cuba is not the product of the American embargo but, rather, the logical result of Fidel Castro’s excerebrose and evil economic system. This is surely true, but lifting the embargo could help at the margin, and life takes place at the margin, and we are obligated to do what we can to help these people.

The undeniably factual argument that Cuba’s misery is a result of Castro’s nefariousness, not our embargo, leads to my next argument.

Third, the embargo is counterproductive. First, it gives Castro another cudgel to use to beat his people into submission. He has argued for the last fifty years that Cuba’s economic problems are not the inevitable fruit of a Communist economic system, but rather the result of the Yanqui embargo. Lifting the embargo would invalidate that argument. Second, and more important, Castro’s rotten system would wither like the seed scattered on rocky ground were it exposed to the light of the outside world. Just as the Soviet Union could not stand once its economy, and, to some extent, its society was opened to the outside world, and just as the days of the Chinese regime (which can hardly be called Communist any more) are numbered due to the opening of China to the world economy, so (now) Raul Castro’s regime would fall in short order if Cuba were opened. One could certainly argue that Fidel Castro would have been gone a long time ago had not our foolish embargo enabled him to deflect blame from his idiotic economic policy and to keep his people in the dark.

Our maladroit Cuban embargo should be ended…now. It has made us an effective accomplice to Castor’s scrofulous and nescient economic and political system. But the embargo won’t be ended because our lily-livered politicians consider their careers more important than the lives of the desperate Cuban people.


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