At the Summit of the Americas, Latin American governments’ have roundly condemned the U.S. embargo on Cuba. This happens only days after Pope Benedict added his voice criticizing the embargo. Speaking at his departure from Havana airport Benedict said that Cuba could build “a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled,” but indicated also that it was more difficult “when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people.”
Despite universal criticism, however, the U.S. government has persisted in a policy that has brought it only derision, not only in Latin America but throughout the world. The lack of benefits of such a policy has been of no concern to several U.S. administrations.
Except for the U.S., Israel and the Marshal Islands –who normally are in agreement on this issue- the whole world condemns U.S. policies on Cuba, perceives that they have remained unchanged in more than 50 years and that the embargo has brought enormous hardships to the Cuban people. It has allowed the Castro brothers to exert tighter control on the population.
Much can certainly be blamed on the Cuban government, such as repression and imprisonment of political dissenters and failed economic policies. Those policies have only exacerbated the Cubans' difficult situation, many of whom are living from remittances of relatives overseas.
Despite its shortcomings, the Cuban government has already participated in more than 200 joint ventures with foreign corporations. In Havana, there are also offices and representatives of over 500 companies from around the world. U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, which reached a peak of $710 million in 2008, declined six percent in 2011 on top of a 31 percent decline in 2010, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Although this is a manifestation of the island financial difficulties, diminished trade with Cuba affects also the U.S. which losses the possibility of placing its exports on the island. The younger Cuban Americans don't share the older generation’s opinion of the conflict with Havana. Should the administration take steps to end the embargo it could earn the President some significant support from those young Cuban Americans, once the advantages of such a measure become clear.
Cubans would not be the only ones to benefit. At a time of scarce and expensive energy resources, Cubapetróleo (CUPET) estimates oil off its shores in 20 billion barrels of oil in Cuba's northern coast. Even a smaller amount could contribute to alleviate U.S. energy needs. Several oil companies from Spain, Norway, Russia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada, Angola, Venezuela and China are lining up to hire a $750m Chinese-built oil rig to search what they believe are important oil deposits.
While the U.S. persists in its policy of animosity towards the Cuban government, last July China signed 13 agreements of cooperation with Cuba and strengthened its economic ties with the island. Thos e agreements expanded China’s traditional investments in Cuba like energy resources to new areas such as tourism, infrastructure and finance.
Over the past decade, bilateral trade between Cuba and China increased from $440 million in 2001 to over $1.8 billion in 2010. At the same time, Cuba is China’s more important trade partner in the Caribbean region, while China is Cuba’s second-largest partner after Venezuela.
To persist on a policy that hasn't produced any positive results in 50 years is following a sophomoric, destructive course of action. It is a policy that has caused unnecessary suffering to the Cuban people and hurt American exporters. To continue the embargo which is roundly rejected by all Latin American nations is to do a disservice to the U.S. long term interests in the region.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on foreign policy issues.