Since the 1970s, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. While the U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. A normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.
By Jaime Suchlicki | December 4, 2013
In his November 18 speech at the Organization of American States, Secretary John Kerry failed to make a compelling case for keeping U.S. sanctions on Cuba. While correctly pointing out that the Monroe Doctrine is no longer valid, Secretary Kerry insisted that “people-to-people” travel, the visits by Americans under U.S. license to Cuba, is having an impact in penetrating the Communist system.
These expectations are based on incorrect assumptions:
First, the Castro brothers and their allies are naive and inexperienced and therefore will allow tourists from the U.S. to subvert their regime and influence internal developments.
Second, American tourists will bring democracy to Cuba. Yet over the past decades several million tourists from Europe, Canada and Latin America have visited the island, many fluent in Spanish. If anything, Cuba is more repressive, with the state apparatus strengthened as a result of the influx of tourist dollars.
Third, tourism or trade will lead to economic and political change. This is not borne out by serious studies. In Eastern Europe, communism collapsed a decade after tourism peaked. No study of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union claims that tourism, trade or investments had anything to do with the end of communism. A disastrous economic system, competition with the West, successive leadership changes with no legitimacy, a corrupt and weak Communist Party, anti-Soviet feeling in Eastern Europe and the failed Soviet war in Afghanistan were among the reasons for change.
Fourth, engagement with a totalitarian state will bring about its demise. Yet there is no evidence to support this notion. Only academic ideologues and some members of Congress interested in catering to the economic needs of their state’s constituencies cling to this notion. Their calls for ending the embargo have little to do with democracy in Cuba or the welfare of the Cuban people.
The repeated statement that the embargo is the cause of Cuba’s economic problems is hollow. The reasons for the economic misery of the Cubans are a failed political and economic system. Like the communist systems of Eastern Europe, Cuba’s system does not function, stifles initiative and productivity and destroys human freedom and dignity.
Ending U.S. sanctions without major concessions from Cuba would send the wrong message: 1) that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; 2) allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United Sates; 3) espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and, 4) eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,” and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.
Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries. No one is advocating military intervention in Cuba. Yet the U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the will of the people in free elections. While the U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. A normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.
Supporting regimes and dictators that violate human rights and abuse their population is an ill-advice policy that rewards and encourages further abuses.
If the travel ban and the embargo are ended unilaterally now by the U.S., what will the U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to encourage changes on the island? Lifting the ban could be an important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.
Countries don’t change their policies without a quid pro quo from the other side. Unilateral concessions are pocketed by our adversaries without providing meaningful changes.
Sanctions should be ended as a result of negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful and irreversible political and economic concessions, not only to the U.S. but, more importantly, to the Cuban people.
Jaime Suchlicki is Professor and Director of the
Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies
at the University of Miami. He is the author of
Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition;
Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA,
now in its second edition and the recently published
Breve Historia de Cuba.
Prof. Suchlicki is also a contributor to