60 Years Of The United States Embargo: Could It Finally Be Working?

Though Cuba’s economic woes are complex and long-standing, the impact of the long-standing United States embargo is evident. Runaway inflation, COVID-19, and tropical storms have heavily compounded these pains, and further worsened the hardships most Cubans have faced for years, if not decades. Shortages of food, oil, and medicine are not uncommon on the island, though they have reportedly never been this bad before.

Both Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have steered U.S./Cuba relations back to political and economic antagonism after Barack Obama made normalizing efforts in his tenure. The large Cuban diaspora in the United States, mostly opposed to the communist regime in Cuba, holds significant political sway given its high concentration in the historically key swing state of Florida. This may help explain why consecutive American administrations have reneged on decades of international pleas to end the embargo. Havana’s crumbling colonial buildings are themselves a testament to its economic demise and a worsening humanitarian reality.

The small island nation has weathered similar economic storms in the past, it must be said. After its revolution, for example, Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union became pivotal to its survival. The Soviet collapse thus shrunk Cuba’s GDP by 35% and reduced its imports and exports by as much as 80% in the years following. Acute shortages of basic goods ensued. Castro remained. This has been the case with every crisis since. This time around the tourism halt has given a monumental blow to the Cuban economy, and further sanctions imposed by Donald Trump and Joe Biden have tightened the grip on the flow of dollars into an economy starved of just about everything.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cubans took to the streets this July to demand more concrete action from its government. These protests, unprecedented in kind and scale, were met with a brutal police response. Cuba has a strict stance on social dissent and lacks international incentives to show police restraint or uphold due process for those in custody. Human rights groups have denounced arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, and the undue use of force by law enforcement. A Human Rights Watch report stated, “[T]he Cuban government committed systematic human rights violations in response to massive anti-government protests in July 2021.”

60 years of the U.S. embargo has, admittedly, crippled Cuba’s ability to trade, but also consistently failed to bring about the change it intends. Cuban leadership has been gifted the a “boogie-man to the north” pretense by the United States government to pin its woes onto. If the embargo sought a real political change in Cuba, then this year’s social uprising may be the initial signs of its fruition – if only 6 decades later.

Juan Quintero

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