On July 26th, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called upon American president Joe Biden to come to a decision regarding the continuation of the economic embargo the latter country has imposed upon Cuba since the Cold War. With Cuba’s political and social tensions rising, the sanctions have escalated both the economic crisis and the repercussions of the pandemic; Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla reported that the embargo has limited Cuba’s access to medical services, vaccinations, and food production. Furthermore, many believe the embargo to be a leading cause of the political protests demonstrated across the country in recent weeks. Besides the new sanctions imposed during the Trump administration, Biden has issued additional sanctions earlier in July in response to Cuba’s response to the protesters.
In addition to Mexico, other countries have continued to signal their disapproval of the embargo through aid, supplies, and other resources and support. Moreover, 184 countries again voted on this year’s (decades-long) annual United Nations proposal demanding that the United States end its economic sanctions on Cuba, with many voicing concerns about anti-humanitarian impacts. According to the New York Times, Haitian ambassador Antonio Rodrigue argued that ending the sanctions “would improve the prospects for peace, cooperation and development in the [Caribbean] region” – an attitude shared by other countries. Only Israel joined the United States in voting in favor of the embargo. However, the United Nations ultimately has no authority over the decision. The power to repeal the embargo is vested in the United States Congress alone.
The United States has claimed that the embargo’s leading purpose is to hold Cuba accountable for continuous human rights violations. Despite pleas from Cuba and other countries to end the blockade, citing its long-lasting legacies of damage, the United States insists that its actions serve the greater good by condemning unwanted behavior within the country’s Communist regime and thus “signal America’s opposition to oppressive governments,” according to the New York Times. Yet study after study has found that, rather than incentivizing the targeted government to act according to the sanctioning country’s interest, such embargoes primarily—paradoxically—harm the individuals being governed. According to the Times, “When the United States sanctions an autocratic government, civil liberties get worse,” life expectancy decreases, and “dictators respond to embargoes by hoarding scarce resources, … using them to reward their cronies and starve their opponents.”
Moreover, it has been repeatedly proven that sanctions rarely achieve the desired effect: while one may occasionally act as leverage over a state, an embargo does not ensure a state’s compliance, nor does it necessarily stir the intended public response. In fact, according to Robert A. Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, such embargoes typically have only a 4% rate of success. Rather, sanctioning countries typically use embargoes as a means of demonstrating their position on an issue at the expense of the targeted country’s residents. Specifically, the Brown Political Review has reported that the sanctions on Cuba have increased rates of “tuberculosis deaths, diarrheal cases, and contaminated water” as well as decreased access to adequate services, educational opportunities, and resources. Al Jazeera reported that the embargo “has cost the Cuban economy $130 billion over six decades,” and the Cuban government has in fact used the embargo to its advantage by framing it as “a convenient scapegoat to blame for all of their country’s economic woes and societal discontent.” As a result, the majority of Cubans continue to suffer while the government officials oppressing them experience little to no effects. The embargo fails to enact meaningful, sustainable change, and it risks the lives of the very populations America claims to have in its best interests.
Considering this, it is imperative that the United States lift its embargo from Cuba, ease the international barriers, and restore the relationship between countries. If the United States truly wants to increase the quality of life for Cuban residents and inspire greater democratic ideals within the government, it must first demonstrate a willingness to provide support and mutual diplomacy along the way. Moreover, if both countries pursued an alliance in which they made reparations and implemented a free trade agreement, future cooperation could become a viable possibility, ultimately providing benefits to both nations and creating opportunities for economic and political growth.
To help Cuban individuals and advocate for their human rights, the United States should direct aid to support organizations in Cuba and help provide individuals with opportunities for economic and educational development. To combat the current vaccine shortage and healthcare crisis, the United States could also send resources or other medical supplies to Cuba to bolster pandemic-strained facilities and personnel. In the meantime, as tensions run high in the country, the United Nations could send forces of Peacekeepers to help enforce security and safety among high-pressure areas.
While it is important to hold other countries accountable for human rights issues, there are far more sustainable and far less harmful methods of doing so than the United States’ decades-long embargo. The embargo continuously prioritizes money over human lives; it is time to end its legacy and turn instead to growth and aid.
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