Reopen Trade With Cuba

Carter visit should motivate the U.S. to rescind its outdated and inneffective sanctions

Former President Jimmy Carter’s visit to Cuba this week makes him the first U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge to visit the nearby island. This diplomatic isolation of one of America’s closest neighbors results from an embargo imposed in 1960, which bans all trade and travel to the country. But the embargo has failed to accomplish its objective of forcing Fidel Castro out of power, and now does more harm than good. The sanctions should be lifted in an attempt to work cooperatively with Cuba and give its people a better life.

Under the embargo, it is illegal for U.S. citizens, with a few small exceptions, to trade with the island. But this does nothing to weaken Castro’s grip on power. Trade restrictions merely fuel Castro’s anti-American rhetoric and build support for his government within Cuba and across the world.

Sanctions instead hurt Cuban civilians, many of whom are struggling to liberalize restrictions imposed by their inept government but continue to suffer under America’s misdirected economic policy. Working cooperatively with Cuba would do more to promote democracy and freedom than do punitive sanctions. It is time for the U.S. to reopen trade with the country.

Proponents of continuing the embargo point out numerous human rights abuses within Cuba. But 40 years of history demonstrates that the embargo has done nothing to curtail these abuses, and increased contact with democratic societies like the U. S. might whet the Cuban people’s appetite for freedom. Several small steps have already been taken, the most prominent being Project Varela, a petition signed by 11,000 Cubans seeking a referendum on increased civil liberties and the release of political prisoners.

The Bush Administration, trying to justify continued sanctions, cites not only human rights abuses but also alleges that Cuba exports dual-use technology that could be used to produce biological weapons to terrorist-sponsoring states—which Castro has vehemently denied. But even if Cuba has been exporting this type of technology, maintaining the embargo will do little to encourage it to stop. Opening up the possibility of trade with the U.S. might do more to draw Cuba away from contacts with countries like Syria and Libya.

Nevertheless, Carter’s recent proclamation that he does not believe Cuba is collaborating with terrorist states in potentially dangerous research is not helpful; he should avoid jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions, as there is no way for him to know what Cuban scientists are doing behind the scenes.

Instead of talking about biotechnology, Carter should use his visit to increase the pressure on Castro regarding Project Varela. Carter has the opportunity to make great progress towards increasing freedom in Cuba by pressing Castro for a national referendum on the issues the petition raises.

Castro’s warm reception of Carter is an encouraging sign for the possibility of a more democratic Cuba. Equally encouraging is Castro’s release of leading political dissident Vladimiro Roca on May 5. The outlook for democracy in Cuba and for improved relations with the U.S. is hopeful. Ending a 40-year trade and travel embargo that has outlived its usefulness would be an important way to relieve one more burden on the Cuban people.

Dissent: Human Rights Come First

As long as Fidel Castro’s dictatorship blatantly violates and constricts the human rights and civil liberties of Cuba’s people, the United States should not lift its trade embargo. Castro and his military regime silence political opponents and dissidents by lengthy imprisonment and execution. They have reduced the majority of the population to a state of abject poverty. They have provided lavish services, hotels and amenities to tourists, yet do not permit native Cubans the right to even access some of these areas. Castro has not stopped these appalling practices; we must not be snowed into believing he has.

The Staff cites the release of Vladimiro Roca as evidence that Castro will loosen these restrictions if free trade is opened between America and Cuba. But Roca was released only two months early from a five-year sentence, and of course the amnesty was perfectly timed for the media-frenzied visit by former president Jimmy Carter. The Staff’s naive optimism notwithstanding, the Varela referendum will not be honored or upheld by Castro. In fact, the government is already harassing many of its signatories. Castro’s recent actions are media-savvy, but they are not real steps in the right direction. The free trade Castro enjoys with Canada and Europe has not softened his dictatorial rule; why would trade with America would prove differently?

The United States should hold strong on its embargo. If it caves to interest groups and the “progress” of Castro’s government, America will be sending the wrong message to the world and hurting even more innocent Cubans.

——Michael A. Capuano ’03-’04, David M. DeBartolo ’03, Katherine M. Dimengo ’04