50 years of failure

What’s the point of the Cuban embargo?

The night before President John F. Kennedy signed a bill imposing a financial and commercial embargo on Cuba, he asked an aide to go out and purchase 1,000 Cuban cigars for him. Just to be safe, the aide came back with 1,200 stogies.

That was 50 years ago this month. American teenagers were doing the twist, we had yet to put a man on the moon, and a first-class stamp cost 4 cents. The smokes are long gone, but the embargo is still in place.

If ever there was a policy that serves no useful purpose and, in fact, is detrimental to the economic and political health of this country, the embargo is it. It has failed to bring down the Cuban government, ungenerously penalized the people of Cuba, kept American businesses from enjoying the fruits of commerce with more than 11 million potential customers, and, until recently, kept American tourists from enjoying one of the most vibrant and scenic countries in the Americas.

In the meantime, the embargo has been roundly condemned, year after year, by the United Nations. In the eyes of the rest of the world, the embargo is a stain on America’s image as a freedom-loving nation.

And what’s the point? We trade with China and Russia. We even trade with Vietnam. If we can trade with former communist enemies, why can’t we trade with a nearby country where people drive old American cars and baseball is the national sport?

There’s a simple explanation why this failed policy remains on the books: Florida. It’s a presidential battleground state with a large anti-Castro Cuban-American population, and candidates don’t want to risk defeat there by taking an anti-embargo position. Barack Obama is no exception. He has said he favors better relations with Cuba, and has loosened some restrictions on travel and financial transfers, but the embargo remains in place. We can only hope that, if he wins re-election and no longer has to appease Cuban-Americans, he will end it once and for all.