Normalizing Relations With Cuba: No Right Answer


Jacob Wasserman, Maroon-News Staff

The Obama administration has recently made a push to normalize relations with Cuba. The Cuban government seems to have evolved little, but American policy toward its close neighbor to the south is changing. One reason is that a main goal of the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo – to spur Cubans to rebel against the Castro regime and overthrow the government – has not been realized, even 55 years after the embargo began. I agree with the White House on this matter; the embargo has been largely unsuccessful. 

Now could be a critical time for Cuba’s economy to collapse on its own, where its major allies are weak and its leadership is growing old. According to Ann Louise Bardach who spoke about U.S.-Cuba relations at Colgate on March 11, Cuba is in a much worse position politically and economically than it was during the Cold War since Russia gives significantly less support to the struggling country than the Soviet Union did before its collapse. In addition, Cuba has received less aid from its ally, Venezuela, since Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013. 

For these reasons, one could argue, it is a poor time for the United States to intervene in Cuba’s economy. The United States may be closer to achieving the goals of the embargo now than it had been in the past. 

A second reason that the United States would refrain from conducting business with Cuba is that Cuba’s government has vastly different values than the U.S. government. Generally speaking, the U.S. allows for an open and free marketplace where capitalism can thrive. The U.S. government wants its people to be healthy, physically and economically. In Cuba, citizens have few economic rights and have little choice in terms of how to conduct business and where to shop. The United States also keeps Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Iran, Syria and Sudan. If the United States believes that Cuba sponsors terrorism, it would be in its best interest to continue the embargo or sanctions to prevent the nation from indirectly causing harm to the U.S. 

Earlier this month at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C., Congressman Ruben Gallego reminded me of why it is acceptable for the United States to conduct business with countries like Cuba. Even though America can justify the embargo due to Cuba’s position on the list of state sponsors of terror and how it lacks shared values with the U.S., the United States has numerous similar complex relations with other countries with which it also disagrees. 

Former President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger opened relations with China in the early 1970s even though the two countries had drastically different economic and political goals. The U.S. could have always refused to deal with China. Instead, it opened up trade, boosting its economy and making China a crucial trading partner to this day. 

More recently, the Obama administration has opened up negotiations with Iran, a country it had no formal diplomacy with since the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979. Iran funds and gives rockets to terror organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, to use against U.S. allies. It contributes to regional destabilization, especially in aiding the Assad regime during the Syrian Civil War. Now, the United States cannot afford to ignore Iran due to the threat is nuclear program poses to the U.S. and its allies. 

Though normalizing relations with Cuba is not as important to U.S. interests as is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, this should teach that the United States has been and should be willing to deal with its enemies due to the complexity of global economics and politics. 

For the time being, the United States does not need to rush into Cuba. It can afford to wait a few more years to observe how the post-Raul Cuba develops. Perhaps the only obstacle to a liberated, Castro-free Cuba was not normalizing relations sooner.