Jay-Z and Beyonce went to Cuba for their fifth wedding anniversary, causing a huge kerfuffle over whether or not they went there legally. Marco Rubio and others question how “educational” their trip really was, and why the Treasury Department might authorize such a trip. This is dumb. What difference does it make if music royalty—or anyone else for that matter—visit Cuba and why is the embargo still going on?
The policy is ineffective, after all—the Castros are still in power all these years later. Add to this the moral implications of systematically impoverishing a nation because they happen to have a leader you disagree with.
The embargo became permanent on Feb. 7, 1962 and has existed in one form or another since then. In the past twenty years it has been strengthened and relaxed depending on the prevailing political tides. In 1992 and 1996 it was extended to countries that traded with Cuba in retaliation for the downing of two American civilian aircrafts by Cuba. In 2001 it was loosened to allow the sale of food to Cuba following Hurricane Michelle, a measure that remains in place and has build up a trading relationship worth $710 million by 2008.
Otherwise restrictions were tightened under George Bush. Remittance allowances were decimated from $3,000 to $300, and family members were only allowed to visit for a maximum of two weeks every three years. President Obama has relaxed things somewhat by returning to the pre-Bush status quo. Now Americans can send remittances to non-family members and can visit for educational or religious purposes.
In the time since Raul Castro replaced his more radical brother in 2008 he has undertaken over numerous reforms in areas including property rights, economics and travel. There are still human rights abuses including the holding of dissidents and journalist, but some forward progress is being made.
Historical warming that took place between in Vietnam-US relations and Sino-American relations provide good examples of how warming between the US and Cuba might unfold, and would be far more effective than the current policy.
Vietnam and the U.S. had a gruesome relationship in the Cold War; despite these differences relations were normalized in 1995 and a trade deal was signed in 2000. Trade in 2012 totaled between $22-24 billion.
Beijing and Washington spent the early years of the cold war at odds before a warming of relations that paved the way for today’s relatively warm ties. President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972 brought the Shanghai Communique, which was effectively “an agree to disagree” policy, and the start of the normalization of relations. Trade between the US and China went from $5 billion in 1980 to $536.2 billion in 2012. Imagine how different the world would be—especially for the average Chinese person—if Sino-American relations were still almost non-existent?
Most other countries don’t have their own Cuba embargoes, with tourism from the EU and Canada providing about $2.7 billion in revenue. There is no point in resisting anymore, and standing alone in the world for an old project that has failed. The US will truly have won the battle against communism when Starbucks and McDonalds franchises line the streets of Havana the way they do Beijing. Ending the embargo is the first step.
But fundamentally, no matter what other benefits there might be, it is morally sick to continue collectively punishing the Cuban people for such long-passed disputes. It’s long since time they fully joined the community of nations.