Fifty-two years ago, the United States began a trade embargo against Cuba that remains a failure to this day. The embargo originally served as leverage for negotiations and a method of asphyxiating the Castro regime, as the Cold War transformed Cuba into a diplomatic proxy for the United States and Soviet Russia.
The Cold War has faded into history, but the embargo still haunts the lives of Cubans. More importantly, it breathes life into the Castro regime. A quick glance at the different interest groups vying for and against the embargo reveals why the status quo persists and how it has divided Cuba.
Democrats generally oppose the embargo, advocating compromise and discourse with Cuba. Republicans insist that the embargo is a crucial tool in negotiating a democratic transition within the island. The U.S. political system has essentially transformed this human rights issue into a choice between two diametrically opposed viewpoints. Both sides seek the same goal of attaining freedom for the Cuban people from their government, and both share a common ignorance as to the impact of the embargo on Cubans or on the regime. Politicians have taken strategic stances on this issue for the sake of elections, mainly appeasing the Cuban-American voting bloc with little regard to the people affected by the embargo.
Cuban-Americans have ruled the discourse on the embargo, as they are among the few citizens with an interest in Cuban politics. The unacquainted observer might note that they stand united for keeping the embargo. A closer inspection reveals a highly divided community as diverse as the term Cuban-American, which more accurately describes 50 years of continuous migration rather than a given ethnic group. Many Cubans left at the onset of the revolution, leaving behind all of their belongings. Others left in Operation Peter Pan, in which parents sent their children to the United States due to rumors that the Castro regime would ship kids to the Soviet Union. These politically active groups mainly vote in favor of the embargo, directly influenced by their personal experiences.
Younger generations of Cubans, those who left in the Mariel boatlift of 1980 and the Rafter movement of the ’90s, have slowly shifted the Cuban-American stance on the embargo. Perhaps because they lived through the hardships of the Cuban reality, they see little benefit in keeping the embargo.
Even within Cuba, the ruling elite benefits from the embargo while the average citizen suffers. Cuban Communism has made most citizens equally poor, and these poor Cubans oppose the embargo, while the government uses it as an excuse for all of Cuba’s dilemmas, including frequent electricity, food and Internet shortages. For this very reason, the Cuban government would face significant questions if the embargo ended. In fact, the word embargo rarely figures in Cuban politics. Instead, the Castro regime refers to it as a blockade. This implies that the United States blocks Cuba from contact with the outside world, which greatly overestimates the embargo’s impact on the Cuban economy. This ruling elite does not significantly suffer from the embargo. They enjoy a high standard of living, profiting from Cuba’s resources. Instead, the embargo only serves to legitimize Cuba’s revolution as a force struggling against the United States.
Those who seek true freedom for Cubans and the end of the Castro regime should advocate repealing the embargo. Both the Castro regime and U.S. politicians benefit from the status quo at the expense of dividing and subjugating the Cuban people at home and abroad.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 23 print edition. Carlos Estevez is a staff columnist. Email him at email@example.com.