The United States has a long and complicated history with Cuba that dates back over 100 years (Ciment 1115). The United States assumed occupancy over Cuba after defeating the Spanish at the end of the 1898 Spanish-American War. Cuba became an independent country in 1902, although the United States continued to delegate power and control over Cuba's affairs through the Piatt Amendment. Supervised elections began in 1909, but in 1952 dictator Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar was elected which changed the political climate of the country. Batista soon proved to be a true enemy of the Cuban people with many corrupt policies and unfair political maneuvers. He was eventually driven out by Fidel Castro in 1959.
Castro's rise to power could not be considered friendly or in the best interest of peaceful relations between Cuba and the United States. In addition to the mistreatment of the Cuban people, Castro assumed domination over all U.S. owned businesses in the country in 1960, leading to a break in diplomacy with America and paving the way for the 1962 trade embargo that still persists today (Zelikow 317).
The United States hoped that the restriction on foreign exchange would help end Cuban communism; however, the effect was quite opposite. Prior to the embargo, nearly 75% of Cuba's foreign trade had been with America ("Cuba: U.S. Moves to Change" 4). Rather than comply under the embargo, Castro simply turned to other trade partners and alternative markets (Durand and Mike 35). Specifically, Cuba turned to the United States' foremost rival in the Cold War -- the Soviet Union -- which was interpreted as a threat by the American government (Padgett et al. 62).
The Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, backed by then U.S. President John F. Kennedy, sent a strong message to Fidel Castro. The charge was carried out by Cuban exiles who opposed the dictator. The faction ultimately lost and the move only encouraged Castro's hostility by prompting him to formally declare Cuba as a communist country and Soviet ally (Rumbaut and Rumbaut 132). The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis further added to the hostility and division between America and Cuba.
The trade embargo against Cuba continues today, although a series of small adjustments and amendments have been made over the years (Padgett et al. 62). U.S. presidents across both political parties have continued to support Cuban sanctions. Bill Clinton instituted the Helms- Burton Act in 1996 which sought to penalize foreign companies that engage in relations with Cuba (LaFranchi 4). The move was designed to place economic hardships on Cuba's business partners by limiting their ability to also do business with the United States, but it set off hostile reactions from Cuban citizens and negative global perceptions of America's intentions (Smith 19). Clinton did other things to attempt to promote progress with Cuba in the mid-1990s -- more lenient travel guidelines, increased arts and cultural exchanges, sports initiatives, and better communications (Becker 5). However, the fact that the over-arching legislation did not change was considered by Cubans (and even many Americans) to be a re-enforcement of historical resentments and unwillingness to move past the days of the Cold War.
Today, there exists a very strong and powerful Cuban lobby group in Florida that supports all Cuban sanctions (LaFranchi 4). However, sentiments towards Cuba appear to be changing. Communism is no longer the intense threat it once was and many sanctions are now being re-evaluated for their merit, significance and relevance (Ciment 1115). The Obama administration has already made some travel and the ability to send monetary support to Cuban relatives much easier than in years past. Even these small steps towards social change and reforms in diplomacy have been met with heavy criticism and resistance from opposing political groups and the Florida-based Cuban lobby.
This paper examines the relevance of Cuban sanctions today given shifting political climates in both countries. With United States political strategies moving away from the days of the Cold War, there is a greater outcry than ever before to put an end to Cuban sanctions (Jenalia 12). There are many debatable issues related to this discussion: how sanctions impact Cuban citizens, the effectiveness and legality of sanctions, the economic benefits of removing sanctions, and the potential that exists today for positive relations. This paper explores these topic areas and also where possible advancements may be possible.
Cuban Citizens and the Trade Embargo
The United States embargo did not alter the direction of Cuban political movements towards communism; however it has severely impacted the country's economy (Barry 151). Cuba is an impoverished country hit hard by the recent global economic recession. Critics of sanctions argue that the current trade restrictions cost Cuba nearly $2 billion in business opportunities and international loans (Smith 19). Many countries similar in size and scope to Cuba have benefited from economic relations with America. For Cuba this trade networking is no longer an option, which ultimately works to keep the economy depressed.
Arguably, the victims in this picture are the Cuban people who lack the resources they need to lead more progressive, secure and stable lives (Barry 152). Access to resources readily available in the United States such as medications, medical equipment and preventive care are also less available to Cubans causing unnecessary suffering (153). Furthermore, critics of U.S. imposed sanctions cite that America's refusal to trade with other nations considered Cuban supporters or sympathizers further jeopardizes economic advancements and access to resources that could benefit the Cuban people (154).
Supporters of sanctions point out that all communist regimes are subject to economic hardship and that the U.S. imposed sanctions cannot be held solely responsible for the adversities suffered by Cuban citizens at the hands of their leader (Padgett et al. 62). Some question whether the removal of the trade embargo would have a relevant impact on the social conditions the Cuban people are faced with today (Barry 154). Ultimately, the sanctions function to pressure Cuba into economic and political reforms that will most directly result in improvements in the economy and general community health for citizens (151). The goal is to restore democratic order and remove corrupt and unjust leaders from power. Although the sanctions have made no lasting change in the nature of the political climate in the country, the U.S. government continues to remain steadfast in its "wearing down" of the country's rulers in the hope that change will be created.
The true political significance of sanctions is debatable. Those who wish that the sanctions would be lifted argue that the past 50 years have only resulted in making the United States the scapegoat for all of Cuba's economic and civic failures (Ciment 1115). The original intention of damaging the Cuban economy has not necessarily succeeded. In fact, in 2005, the Cuban economy grew by nearly 10% (Becker 17). The ability and resourcefulness of the Cuban government to work with other foreign allies (often American rivals) places the United States in an awkward position of trying to enforce its values upon a country that has other options.
Further, the position of past American presidential administrations have been contradictory on the topic of Cuban sanctions and sent mixed messages to other nations (Smith 20). Under President Bush, despite rocky relations with the Chinese, America engaged in business and trade anyway. As Bush once stated, it was "in an effort to promote a more civil society with American values" (Smith 20). The goal there was the slow and steady influence of the United States to enact change. This leads to the question of whether lifted sanctions would allow American influence to simply impress itself upon Cuban culture and social structures in such a way that it would help bring about major changes in the political structure as well (Durand and McGuire 38).
Sanctions can, at time, prove effective in certain political battles. The U.S. has strategically used sanctions to send a non-violent message about our position and disapproval of the Castro regime. It is the same strategy that helped solidify our position during the Cold War and ultimately helped bring about the downfall of the Soviet Bloc (Becker 16).
The effectiveness of Cuban sanctions and tensions was further tested during Elian Gonzalez saga that occurred in 1999 (Becker 16). The five-year-old Cuban boy was found alone and adrift on an inner tube when his mother and several others drowned attempting to flee Cuba and enter the United States illegally. The issue was quite divisive and shed a negative light on American-Cuban relations. Elian's American relatives in Miami insisted he be allowed to stay the U.S. under their care. However, there was also much pressure from Fidel Castro and Cuban nationalists who insisted Elian be returned to his father and relatives in Cuba. Demonstrations and protests were staged, and Cuban nationalists and some Americans accused the Miami family members of kidnapping.
In the end, Elian was returned to his father by the U.S. Department of Justice, which…