EL BLOQUEO DE ESTADOS UNIDOS CONTRA CUBA, ¿UNA ESTRATEGIA NECESARIA U OBSOLETA?
Actualizado: 13 may 2021
Por: Álvaro Castillo
Presidente y Fundador de ESPACIOH
Licenciado en Ciencias Políticas-Salve Regina University
Estudiante de Maestría en Seguridad Global y Estudios Estratégicos-Johns Hopkins University
Cuba will only prosper once the nation adopts free-market policies that foster an open economy, and for the island to undergo this economic liberalization process, first a regime change must occur, replacing President Díaz-Canel with a pro-democratic leader. For more than fifty years the United States and Cuba have clashed with opposing interests and antagonistic economic relations due to conflicting ideological views. Castro and his cronies have consistently perpetrated human rights violations against Cuban citizens, persecuting vocal dissidents of the regime whose sole aspiration is to live in a free nation. Cuba has latched to socialist policies through the oppressive Castro leadership, promoting socialism domestically and abroad. Political authoritarianism has allowed the Castro brothers to stay in power since the Cold War, building diplomatic alliances with nations known for using violence against their citizens, such as Venezuela, Russia, China, and Nicaragua. Although there were recent signs of cooperation between the Cuban-American relations through President Obama's decision to lift the embargo, President Trump has reinstated a tough stance against Cuba. The Trump administration believed that the United States had to continue pushing for a regime change utilizing all necessary means for the protection of freedom, including the blockade; “power and legitimate social purpose become fused to project political authority into the international system” (Ruggie, 1982, p.382). Until a systemic and ideological shift occurs within the Cuban Government, new U.S. diplomatic avenues for commercial cooperation cannot be fully explored despite the vast economic opportunities they enclose.
Cuba's development depends on the implementation of a free economic agenda, which can only occur if a pro-democratic leader takes control of La Habana. U.S. sanctions against Cuba have been the norm for more than half a century. Liberalist theorists would agree that the U.S. is adopting the right stance. By no means is Liberalism the only economic model that can yield development, as Socialism has brought great economic, political, and social advantages in Europe. However, Socialism has failed repeatedly in Latin America, as seen in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and of course, Cuba. It has been proven through history that Socialism is not compatible with political institutions and democracies across the Americas, and Cuba embodies the absolute failure and devastating economic effects of a model that has brought nothing but poverty to Latin America. Cuba has drifted so far away from the U.S. sphere of influence and American democratic values as a result of decades-long tensions between both nations.
Since most of the second half of the twentieth century, U.S.-Cuba relations have been characterized by mutual hostility. In 1959 the Cuban Revolution took place with the ascent of Fidel Castro and the demise of Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Castro adopted the Marxist model of nationalizing foreign assets and President Eisenhower responded with import quotas on Cuban products. One year later the U.S. and Cuba officially cut diplomatic relations and military tensions between both nations reached its apogee once President Kennedy erroneously decided to launch the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Kennedy announced the Cuban embargo in 1962, as a result, “Cuba, whose economy greatly depended on trade with the United States, loses approximately $1.126 trillion over the next fifty years” (Council on Foreign Relations). That same year the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, as Soviet nuclear missiles were found on the island by U.S. spy satellites. After thirteen days of rising nuclear tensions, Premier Khrushchev announced he would remove the missiles as Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba and dismantle the U.S. nuclear program in Turkey in the upcoming months. Since then a massive exodus of Cubans took place heading towards Florida. Over time, Cuba became part of the communist sphere of influence led by the Soviet Union. The result of Cuba's strong bond with communism led the island to adopt a failing protectionist model as a result of limited trade allies and socialist economic policies.
Cuban economic nationalism and U.S. trade barriers have led the island to perpetual economic stagnation. For decades Cuba has lacked innovation competitiveness. Since the 1960s, Cuba has had no other option but to build political and economic relations with U.S. enemies to sustain its economy after the embargo. Moreover, Cuba naturally adopted a protectionist economic policy after being isolated from international regional trade, as Latin America has mainly been under the U.S. sphere of influence in previous decades. Protectionist theorists would agree with Cuba´s unwillingness to open its economy, as it would run out of business modest local entrepreneurship. Cuba has drifted so far away from the American sphere of influence as a result of decades-long economic relations with rogue states that sponsor the island´s economic nationalism. Cuba started to build political relations with anti-American economic blocks, such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), due to shared socialist ideologies. Deviating from the American sphere of influence became a pillar of Cuba´s foreign policy, which resulted in the implementation of neo-mercantilism on the island, an economic model financed by U.S. enemies.
Cuba's regional and bilateral political relations have dictated America's policies towards La Havana. President Díaz-Canel continues to push a socialist agenda with the support of American enemies. In response, America continues to pressure Cuba with trade sanctions; “states can be discriminatory in their trade policies” (Kirshner, 2014, p. 30). Since the early 2000s, Hugo Chávez partnered with Castro, creating a new alliance in detriment of regional democracy. Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and China are all rogue nations that threaten universal peace and that have built solid trading relations with Cuba. In the contrast, many Latin American countries under the U.S. sphere of influence are unified by the Lima Group, which opposes Maduro´s brutal regime. Today Venezuela´s oil sector suffers from U.S. sanctions; which have “forced Cuba to seek new options for trade and investment, after having benefitted from long-standing financial support in the form of subsidized oil from Caracas since the beginning of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution there” (World Politics Review, 2020). This was a well-thought strategy as an externality occurring in Venezuela could also pressure Cuba´s economy; “ “Externalities” in international relations result when states adopt domestic policies that have “spillover” effects, consequences that are felt beyond a state’s borders” (Kirshner,2014, p. 30). Socialist leaders have been a chronic disease for Latin America, as evinced by the crippling economy and ongoing human rights violations in Caracas, Managua, and La Habana. That is why former U.S. National Security Advisor, John Bolton, described Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua as the “Troika of Tyranny.” The United States will naturally collide and generate global instability in its quest of keeping in check rogue nations with anti-democratic values, such as the ones that support Cuba; “monetary hegemons are often likely to be the source of instability rather than stability. All states, including hegemons, need either a compelling reason to bear the costs of adjustment, or they need to convince themselves that those burdens are just” (Kirshner, 2014, p. 32). Cuba has long-awaited for economic liberalization, and despite recent attempts to accomplish it, a democratization process must first take place.
In 2015 President Obama announced the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, a bold, yet naive decision. Critics of the U.S. embargo on Cuba have consistently argued that since the 1960s no significant breakthrough has been achieved between both nations, which is correct. However, lifting the embargo and softening American policies against the Castro regime was the same as yielding to an authoritarian government, thus validating its repressive actions. Obama was right as “the application of sanctions against Cuba has not achieved the proposed objectives in 60 years” (Yeginsu, 2020). However, America cannot permit the continuation of a regime that has committed human rights violations. Under no circumstance can the U.S. reexamine cooperation avenues that would empower the current authoritarian leadership of Cuba as Obama did. This diplomatic maneuver enclosed an unnecessary sign of weakness for the American hegemony in its quest for promoting peace and democracy across the globe. Conservative leaders accurately believe that Cuba´s democracy is non-negotiable. Counterfactual historians think how different the world would be today if China´s economic expansion after World War II and its economic liberalization in 1978 would have occurred along with the country´s adoption of democratic values. Today, Chinese citizens and the world would be better off if the United States would have agreed to help build the Chinese economy if and only if a democratic governance model was adopted. Those decisions had irreversible consequences; the Chinese Communist Party has achieved vast economic development, yet it continues to pose a threat to its people, nations across Asia, America, and its allies. We can learn from the past. Believing that lifting the Cuban blockade is more likely for the nation´s authoritarian leaders to become more democratic is just as naive and idealistic as those who continue to argue that socialism can succeed in Latin America. In contrast, it is just a utopia that endorses promising ideas on paper but always results in state failure, deteriorating democracies when practiced in the Americas. If American leaders could decide again to help China grow its economy as they did in the post-WWII era, today the U.S. would first make sure that the democratization of China is the main binding constraint of the bilateral relations. Americans cannot make the same mistake with Cuba that they took with China. The U.S. can still build Cuba´s industries, but first, a regime change must take place, doing otherwise would be foolish.
Even though hostilities between the U.S. and Cuban governments continue, there is hope that a new liberal agenda between both nations can be developed in the upcoming years. Globalization and social media have unmasked the disastrous results of the Castro regime, which can be further debilitated as U.S. sanctions asphyxiate the Díaz-Canel government. In the short window when Obama partially lifted the embargo, more American businesses came to the island. In fact, “Starwood Hotels and Resorts struck a deal to manage hotels in Cuba. Technology companies like Airbnb let Cubans rent their homes to tourists, and last year some 600,000 Americans visited the island” (Phippen, 2017). President Trump did cut diplomatic ties with Cuba not only as a political move but as a long-term strategy that protects America´s national interest. Neither neo-mercantilist in favor of the Castro stance nor Liberalists supporting Republicans´ actions would ever agree with one another, unfortunately, each side would recommend maintaining their position. American businesses and tourists will keep pushing to reenter the island, especially now with a Democrat in the White House and after Raul Castro announced that he will no longer lead the Communist Party. Regardless of these recent developments, Cuban citizens deserve to live in a free and democratic nation, where they can voice out their opinions without fear of persecution and where private property is not controlled or appropriated by the government. The democratization of Cuba is nonnegotiable, and until that happens, America cannot adopt a cooperative diplomatic agenda with Cuba. President Biden will likely implement a more balanced strategy with innovative diplomatic measures that aim to gradually democratize and liberalize the economy of Cuba, acknowledging that U.S. sanctions on the island have not yielded any notable progress.
Is Trump Cuba’s Perfect Storm? (2020, April 10). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/insights/27971/for-cuba-trump-is-a-perfect-storm
Kirshner, J.: American Power after the Financial Crisis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.
Phippen, J. (2017, June 16). Trump's Cuba Policy Reversal. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/06/trump-cuba-policy/530514/
Ruggie, John Gerard. “International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order” International Organization.
Timeline: U.S.-Cuba Relations. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-cuba-relations
Yeginsu, C. (2020, September 24). Trump Administration Adds to American Travel Restrictions in Cuba. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/travel/trump-cuba-tra