Foreign Policy & National Security

March 13, 2024: Urging an End to the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

Posted on March 21, 2024 at 12:00 AM

by Jean Stewart, Chair, Environmental Task Force

It is time for the United States to open up our formal and informal relations with Cuba—as we have with Vietnam—and to engage in free and open commerce and allow U.S. tourism unencumbered by endless bureaucratic limitations that benefit no one. Through mutual support and ties of family and friendship, we can improve the lives of Cubans, re-enliven their wonderful culture, and enrich our own lives.

In one reaction to the 1958 Cuban revolution, in 1962 the United States established an embargo that prevented U.S. businesses from conducting trade with Cuban interests. This embargo has continued, with various minor modifications, until today, making it the longest embargo in world history. The rationale was based on pressuring Cuba’s avowedly communist government to democratize and show greater respect for human rights. But after all these years the government has refused to budge, despite the near strangulation of the Cuban economy that this policy has helped to foster since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

My plea to end this U.S. policy is based on my short visit to Cuba last February. For the first time, I joined other Washington-area Presbyterians in their 25th annual trip to maintain and strengthen our partnership with Cuban Presbyterians, particularly with our hosts at the First Presbyterian Church of Havana. Since I had visited Cuba in 2014 with a group of WNDC members, I could see the painful contrast between then and now.

In 2014, the Obama Administration was gradually working to ease some of the embargo’s restrictions, and under the more practical leadership of Raul Castro, the Cuban economy was opening up a number of opportunities for opening micro and small private enterprises. The atmosphere then was hopeful and joyous, with live music, open-air art classes for kids, and farmers selling fresh produce in many places in and around Havana. Some historic old buildings were beginning to be renovated.

However, the Trump Administration reinstituted all the earlier trade and tourist restrictions, and with the retirement of Raul Castro, successor political leaders in Cuba have refused to move any further toward a more modern economy. The economy is now in very poor shape, with limited availability of fresh food and especially meat, water that must be boiled to be potable, and almost no accessibility to medical and hygiene supplies. The live music and open-air art classes are no longer visible, and in the last two years, street crime has accompanied economic desperation. Dilapidated old buildings remain shabby.

In addition, the population has visibly aged: Many children are out and about, but teens and young adults are seldom seen, as so many younger Cubans adults and families have given up and left the country. There are even elderly people among unhoused residents, as some emigrating families have just left their elders behind without resources, assuming the government will care for them.

Without excusing the failings of the Cuban government, it is clear to me and my fellow viajeros that maintaining the U.S. embargo is doing terrible damage to the health and well-being of ordinary Cubans. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Cuba poses no risk to our country and is most certainly not a “terrorist state.” Lifting the embargo and the terrorist state designation will not only help relieve the suffering of the Cuban people but also just might bring positive changes in the Cuban government.

I will be advocating for Congress and the president to take these positive steps, and I hope you will too

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