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Changing U.S. Cuba Policy Is Long Overdue

Normalization is twenty years overdue.

Philip Peters calls for a change in U.S. Cuba policy:

If any country but Cuba were at issue, we would jettison a policy of non-recognition, limited official contacts, and economic punishment that has yielded nothing. We would stick to our guns regarding human rights and political differences, but would express those differences in a context of mutually beneficial diplomatic and trade relations.

I agree with everything Peters says, and I would just add a few more observations. Normalizing relations with Cuba shouldn’t be seen as a “reward” for the regime. It is the removal of a barrier that has been senselessly maintained for more than five decades. If anyone is being punished by the embargo, it is the people in America and Cuba that would otherwise have productive commercial and cultural exchanges. The U.S. gains nothing by persisting in the embargo. On the contrary, it needlessly alienates Latin American governments and puts the U.S. in the absurd position of defending a Cold War relic. Normalization is twenty years overdue, and nothing will be gained by delaying it any longer.

U.S. policy towards Cuba is a perfect example of how useless punitive economic measures can survive indefinitely long after their failure has been widely acknowledged. Not only has the embargo failed to achieve Washington’s goals, but its failure has so far made the embargo virtually impossible to eliminate. There is almost no other kind of policy that thrives off of failure more than sanctions and embargoes. If the regime’s behavior doesn’t change, that is taken as proof that the economic pressure is insufficient and must be increased. If the regime is open to a negotiated settlement of outstanding issues, that is also treated as an invitation to impose more sanctions to “keep up the pressure.” Economic sanctions can never be lifted for fear of “rewarding” the government that the U.S. tried to punish, and so they remain in place for as long the other government endures.

There is obviously no incentive for the other government to change its behavior when there is no realistic chance of gaining relief from the punitive measures that the U.S. imposes. The only value that sanctions might conceivably have is in the concessions that can be gained by promising to lift them, but when there is no willingness to relax or repeal punitive measures their value evaporates. Our Cuba policy should be taken as a cautionary tale of how a failed policy of using punitive measures against another government can survive thanks to its own continued failure, and we should also adjust our policies elsewhere accordingly.



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