We Can Free Cuba Now
Posted: 05/24/2012 8:03 am
The recent controversy surrounding a visa for Fidel Castro's daughter to
visit the U.S. is another example of the obvious: the United States'
embargo of communist Cuba is a failure.
Fifty-two years after U.S. policy first sought to break the communist
dictatorship with an economic embargo, the Castro regime is still in
power, lording over the Cuban people, enjoying trade and diplomatic
relationships with countries across the globe.
Having turned what was once one of Latin America's richest countries
into an island prison where basic foodstuffs are rationed, personal
liberty is non-existent, and the economy lurches from existential crisis
to crisis, the Castros and their allies are preparing for a long stay in
Why, then, are we pursuing a policy that not only has failed to achieve
its stated goal of regime change, but is also derided and undermined by
virtually every other country on earth, including some of America's
closest allies in Europe and the Americas? Are we not really serious
about pushing the Castro regime into the sea and liberating Cuba once
and for all?
It's time to face reality. The embargo has been maximized. For some, the
tactic (an embargo) has become more important than the strategy (use
American economic pressure to break the regime). People emotionally
invested with the embargo will howl, but it's time to let it go. In
fact, it's time to be more aggressive in bringing down the communist regime.
American policy toward Cuba needs to lean forward.
Today, the Castro regime is getting ready for a staged "liberalization"
that will disguise the abject failure of communism by offering limited
economic liberties. Much like the strategy pursued by Deng Xiaoping in
the transformation of Red China into an economic colossus, the Castro
brothers and their flunkies have begun tentative economic reforms meant
to unleash the natural entrepreneurial energy of the Cuban people,
squashed but not extinguished by years of the ruthless application of
orthodox Marxist-Leninist policies at the hands of Fidel.
But expect no similar political glasnost. Following the Chinese
Communist Party's example, the Castros will retain their grim grip on
all political power through the Communist Party apparatus and its
muscular police state. Perpetuation of the regime is their No. 1 goal.
Yet the economic failure of the Castro regime is manifest and well
documented. The dilapidated communist economy is the regime's greatest
weakness, a totem to the failure of the revolution, and a glaring
vulnerability with the people.
Whether life support now comes in the form of barrels of oil from
Venezuela or the significant investments in the tourism and energy
sectors undertaken by myriad companies from the Americas, Asia and
Europe, Castro's Cuba is an economic basketcase that would not survive
very long unless the country's friends in the world continue to pump
money into Cuba's historically unproductive communist economy.
And while many of our allies from across the globe continue to trade and
underwrite the Castros, we in the U.S. tinker at the margins of
Soviet-era Cuban policies. Every couple of years, someone in the White
House or Congress decides to let more exiles travel back to La Havana,
or send more food, or less. Endless variations of tiny ideas are debated
heatedly, as if they could alter the objective conditions of the Cuban
regime, and the illusion of progress is maintained.
This is a clearly unacceptable situation. While America promotes
democracy and civil rights in faraway lands, just a few miles from our
shore flourishes the only dictatorship in the Americas.
By contrast, even as Fidel Castro continues to live the life of a
semi-retired potentate, America has undertaken a massive – and by all
reports – extremely effective sanctions campaign that is crippling the
Among the sanctions applied to Iran, the United States has prohibited
any financial company doing business in the U.S. from working with the
Iranian Central Bank – effectively choking the Iranians' ability to
finance their dictatorship with oil sales. Combined with other measures,
like the ending of shipping insurance for Iranian oil tankers, these
sanctions have squeezed the ayatollahs, largely destroyed the Iranian
currency, and now have forced Iran's dictators to the negotiating table.
And all this was achieved in a relatively short period of time — not
decades. By striking at the economic nerve centers of the Tehran
dictatorship, the U.S. and its allies have created strategic leverage
over Iran – something that had eluded American administrations since the
So how to apply our successful sanction stranglehold of Iran to Cuba? In
concept, it's much simpler than one would think. Forget the 1960s era
embargo – it has outlived its usefulness.
Instead, the United States should sanction all companies that do
business with the Cuban regime. Canadian, Spanish, and French companies,
for example, that operate in Cuba thanks to European Union political and
economic policies should have their trading privileges with the U.S.
frozen until they pull out. This strategy is working in Iran; it should
be even more effective in Cuba.
Banks that directly or indirectly process financial transactions for the
Castro regime should be banned from operating in the American financial
system. Again, this is a similar sanction applied to Iran that has
devastated its critical energy sector.
Foreign airlines that fly European and Latin American tourists to Cuba's
foreign-owned hotels should be prohibited from landing in any U.S. airport.
Lastly, suspend "most favored nation" trading status to any country that
continues to trade with Cuba. This particular sanction would have the
effect, among others, of quickly shutting off Cuba's trade with several
Latin American countries that have used their support of Cuba as a
metaphorical slap at U.S. claims of regional primacy – even as these
countries are themselves critically dependent on access to America's
By shutting off the Castros' access to foreign capital and services, we
will severely destabilize the regime. The Cuban communist aristocracy
may have stolen billions of dollars over the decades, they may feel
insulated from any sanctions, but a creaky economy being propped up by
free Venezuelan oil and generous investments from abroad cannot
withstand such a shock. Iran was no economic high flyer before the
sanctions, but its much stronger economy has withered under American
pressure. There is no reason that Cuba's barely functioning economic
system would withstand similar pressure.
It's time to get serious about Cuba – and freeing the Cuban people. We
must abandon our failed policies and effectively crack down on the
Castros with a new, robust approach. It's time to finally liberate Cuba.
Follow Fernando Espuelas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/espuelasvox