The Folly of the Embargo on Cuba
New York Dr. Cesar Chelala
At a time when relations between Iran and the West have the potential to improve, after many years of antagonism, it is worth reflecting on the fact that relations between nations can contribute either to a climate of antagonism and war or of cooperation and peace that extends even beyond the countries in conflict. Nowhere is this truer than in the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Irrationality reigns. The trade embargo against Cuba, the most enduring in modern history, has been strongly criticized not only by those sympathetic to the Cuban regime but also by many leading US officials and legislators. In 2005, George P. Schultz, Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, called the continuing embargo “insane.” Now, by a vote 188 to 2, and for the 22nd time, the United Nations condemned the US blockade of Cuba.
Former President Jimmy Carter says anti-Castro leaders in Florida have a major and exaggerated influence on the US presidential election in that battleground state. Carter, a severe critic of US policy on Cuba, estimates that most Cuban-Americans now want open borders and an end to the trade embargo. Before taking office, President Barak Obama declared that he wanted to recast long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations. After Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 visit to Cuba, the US Bishops called for an end to the embargo.
The embargo has gained the US universal condemnation without making a dent in the Castro brothers’ policies. Paradoxically, in absolute terms, the embargo now costs the United States far more than it costs Cuba. The Cuban Policy Foundation (CPF), a US nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of the benefits of expanding trade and people-to-people contact with Cuba, estimated that up to $4.84 billion are lost annually by the US because of the restrictions on exports to Cuba. The Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs Cuba $685 million annually.
Many Cubans consider the embargo a political measure that doesn’t respond to the wishes of majority of the American people. The time is overdue to implement a diplomatic approach that would lead to the lifting of the embargo and the reestablishment of normal relations between both countries. If we can have normal relations with Vietnam, the reasoning goes, why not have them with Cuba?
One suggestion to break the impasse would be to convene a high level meeting of Cuban and American doctors, where health issues could be assessed and recommendations made for bilateral aid. Despite the embargo that adversely affects the health of Cubans, Cuba has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the region with the average citizen living to 78 years plus, on a par with the United States.
As of 2012, infant mortality in Cuba had fallen to 4.83 deaths per thousand as compared with 6.0 deaths per thousand for the U.S. In its last report on children’s health, State of the World’s Children 2012, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated that Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean without child malnutrition.
An end to an embargo on medical supplies and equipment would, of course, be beneficial for Cuba. The US, for its part, would also gain from a closer look at the Cuban health policy of universal coverage and from advances made by Cuban medical researchers. Similar bilateral approaches in other fields of interest to the two countries might then follow, in particular in agriculture.
The world today, besieged by violence and war, will welcome a change of approach that until now has only hurt the Cuban people, alienated US allies, and drastically curtailed US commercial opportunities with Cuba. Ending the embargo will contribute to creating an atmosphere of goodwill of unpredictable but undoubtedly beneficial consequences for world peace.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).