Let’s play a game. Here are five countries, see if you can tell what they have in common, and more importantly, how they differ:
2. North Korea
The answer is simple: all of these countries are under either a comprehensive or partial U.S. trade embargo, but one of them shouldn’t be; namely, Cuba. The first four countries are, undeniably, a source of great anxiety and should be under an embargo.
Iranian president Ahmadinejad was an uncontrollable bully intent on making and using nuclear weapons. President Rouhani presents a much less confrontational image, but time — and the mullahs — will tell.
North Korea’s military regime is similar, but the Kim dynasty is essentially responsible for the perpetual poverty and virtual enslavement of the North Korean people. As leader of one of the “axis of evil,” Kim Jong-un has shown complete disregard for international protocol and shows no inclination to compromise. Moreover, he has thumbed his nose at his primary benefactor, China. Traditional diplomacy has not worked.
Syria is currently undergoing a brutal civil war, and at least 100,000 people have been killed with no end in sight. The Sudanese government has perpetually supported terrorist efforts and committed numberless human rights violations against the people of Darfur.
With whom does the United States trade?
We currently trade with China, a communist country that is just as undemocratic as Cuba, and perhaps more of a potential threat to world peace and economic stability. Depending on how you’re counting, China is now our number-two or -three trading partner.
U.S. trade with Vietnam — another communist country — grew from $1.5 billion in 2001 to nearly $22 billion in 2011. This growth was fostered by the extension of normal trade relations to Vietnam in 2001.
And in terms of threats to the United States, and to world peace, one need look only to Pakistan, which did $5 billion in import and export business with the United States in 2012.
What about Cuba?
In the 1960s, the threat of the Soviet Union using Cuba as a missile base was real, but much has changed during the past two decades. The immediate threat to the United States effectively ended twenty-three years ago with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Today, Cuba has no nuclear weapons, aspirations, or capability and is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is also unlikely that Cuba would serve as a nuclear base for a third country.
The number of highly vocal parties, mostly in south Florida, with romantic memories of the pre-revolution Malecón, Miramar, and Hotel Nacional is dwindling. They are being replaced by a new generation with a more pragmatic view of fertile land, gorgeous beaches, and new markets. Opportunities abound, and Cuba has much to offer. Across the Straits of Florida, young Cubans, like many from throughout the world, want to relocate to the United States.
US policy toward Cuba is shifting. In 2009, the US government eased restrictions on travel and remittances. Travel to Cuba, although still regulated, is easily arranged through any of a number of online sites.
The trade embargo is a feeble reminder and vestige of the Cold War: a punitive measure against an aging communist regime. The communist notion of a planned economy — in Cuba’s case, without its Soviet benefactor — is going the way of the dodo bird.
We need to realize that the economic sanctions against Cuba have not encouraged democracy to flourish; in fact, they have done the opposite. The trade sanctions have had a real effect. But they serve more as the scapegoat for Cuban government’s economic inadequacies and failed reforms and an excuse for the island’s poverty. The sanctions provide fuel for anti-American rhetoric by Cuba’s leaders and others in Latin America.
We need to reexamine our policy towards Cuba. After all, there’s no reason to keep playing a game you’ve already lost.