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20 Oct, 2010 22:25

Cuba highlights futility of US embargo policies

Put in place to topple Castro’s communist government and return the island to capitalism, the all-encompassing embargo has done neither. But, It has certainly impacted the lives of average Cubans.

October 19th marked a half-century of US sanctions against the Cuban government.

"The sanctions that were imposed on Cuba so many years ago were really designed to impoverish people," said Phyllis Bennis, the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

"The idea was if you make people poor, if you make people oppressed, they will turn on their government. The reality is it never works that way. They turn on the ones who are imposing the sanctions," Bennis said. "Sanctions are based on the idea that people are stupid. But they’re not. They know their own government isn’t responsible for the sanctions."

Cuba is one of 13 countries that currently face US sanctions. But rather than force dictators into submission, economic sanctions have principally affected the poor and the children.

When asked about the 567,000 Iraqi children who died as a direct result of US sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in the 1990s, then US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright famously said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.

The embargo has allowed communism and Castro to remain constant in Cuba and fueled anti-US sentiment, said Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at The Independent Institute.

“It has had a counterproductive affect almost since the day it was imposed,” he said.

Allowing US trade and interaction with Cuba allows for the flow of goods, ideas and more, which would have a greater impact on ending communism than the embargo.

US President Barack Obama once said he wanted to end the embargo, but as president he has not. He has slightly increased telecommunications services to Cuba and allowed divided family members to travel to Cuba in order to visit family.

The pro-embargo advocates are a powerful group and are made up of many Cubans living in the US in exile. The embargo has remained because of this domestic political movement. Keeping the embargo has more to do with domestic politics than Cuba itself, explained Eland.

He further argued that other US sanctions also exist for internal domestic political reasons.

“It’s too lame or timid to put on diplomatic slap of the wrist or diplomatic protest and it’s too much to go to war or to do covert operations. So, the politicians pick the middle ground,” said Eland. 

Lawrence Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell said the US embargo has isolated the United States, not just from Cuba, but from all of Latin America.

He explained the embargo has had some impact, for example it has impeded access to technology and high end medial drugs.

We’re really hurting the Cuban people by doing that,” said Wilkerson.

Speaking critically of Obama, Wilkerson said the US president has yet to even achieve the level of change that Bill Clinton sought during his administration.

This tyranny of the small minority, south Florida mostly, but some from New Jersey and some even Nevada. The Senate majority leader Henry Reid is very indebted to a Cuban American who is a multimillionaire in the gambling industry in Nevada,” said Wilkerson. “This tyranny of the minority has forced American foreign policy into this really bad situation.”

Sanctions and embargos across simply do not work, but that does not seem to matter to US policy makers. Congress utilizes sanctions to say they made an effort. It gives elected officials an opportunity to feel good and allows them to tell their constituents that they have done something, explained Wilkerson.

Recently China has toyed with the idea of placing sanctions against the US, turning the tables.

I think that would be absolutely marvelous and I would pray for them to be somewhat effective so we would get a dose of our own medicine,” said Wilkerson.