Cuban embargo turns 50 but must live a little longer
Last Updated: May 23. 2010 7:29PM UAE / May 23. 2010 3:29PM GMT
The world's longest running and least successful trade embargo will this
year "celebrate" its 50th anniversary.
Washington's restrictions on trade with Cuba, which were first imposed
in 1960, have not only failed to achieve their goals but they actually
undermined the aims of their dwindling band of supporters.
Cuba claims the trade restrictions have cost its economy nearly $100
billion over the years. Desmond Boylan / Reuters
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, came close to admitting as
much recently when she said the ruling Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul,
"do not want to see an end to the embargo … because they would lose all
The restrictions have been blamed by Cuba – the only communist
government in the western hemisphere – for a range of measures including
rationing and curtailing political rights.
The ostensible reason for imposing the embargo was Cuba's seizure of
property belonging to US nationals and the demand for compensation
Cuba claims the damage to its economy over the years totals close to
US$100 billion (Dh367.29bn). On the US side, self-inflicted annual
losses may amount to $1.2bn, calculations by the US trade commission claim.
Opposition to the trade sanctions has brought together an odd, informal
coalition of leftist pressure groups, human rights organisations and
major business lobbies.
A senior member of the US chamber of commerce has conservatively
estimated that relaxing the embargo could create 6,000 new jobs in the
US and benefit exports by about $365 million a year.
The US travel industry longs to exploit Cuba's spectacular beaches and
cultural sites; oil companies fret that they are missing potential
offshore crude deposits; and rice farmers want complete access to the
biggest rice market in the Caribbean, just 145km from the shores of Florida.
But because food is partially exempted from the trade ban, the US has
become the main supplier of agricultural goods to Cuba. Rice, chicken,
wheat, soya and corn are among the products the communist regime imports
from its historic enemy.
Cubans, it has to be said, do not go hungry because of the US embargo.
The lack of food, especially meat, in Cuba is a result of the
spectacular failure of the communist regime to produce enough of it on a
large island that is mostly given to agriculture.
Lifting the embargo, if it achieved nothing else, might at least scotch
that particular myth.
In the past, such a move would have represented a threat to heavily
subsidised US sugar. Today that seems much less likely given that the
once-mighty Cuban sugar industry has been driven into the ground by
mismanagement and lack of investment. A government that once sought to
produce 10 million tonnes a year now has difficulty producing 1.5
Every October for nearly two decades the UN General Assembly has –
except for the US, Israel and a couple of Pacific island nations –
condemned the embargo.
It is hard to disagree. The embargo is a unilateral, punitive measure
that should never have been imposed.
But there is a catch. The Castro regime has one of the worst human
rights records on the planet. It also recently allowed protester Orlando
Zapata to die as a result of a hunger strike. Inspired by Zapata,
Guillermo Farinas may go the same way.
It is surely wrong for one country to seek to force regime-change in
another by refusing to trade with it but it would be equally unthinkable
to hand the Castros a propaganda victory by lifting the embargo just
when the cruelty of their regime is most apparent.
For now, it seems the embargo will have to stay in place.