For over 50 years, the United States has maintained an embargo against Cuba, effectively banning all trade and all but ending our diplomatic relationship with the Cuban government.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower first established restrictions on trade with Cuba, it was as punishment for the Cuban government taxing American imports and nationalizing American-owned companies in Cuba. But it turned to a punishment for not upholding fundamental human rights when presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton signed laws requiring Cuba to transition to a democratic state.
While it is difficult to summate the entirety of the US-Cuba relationship in only one article, within the modern context of the embargo this is the critical story: the embargo has been in place for over 50 years – with the intention of toppling the communist regime and ending the constant human rights abuses – while little has changed in Cuba.
It’s time to bring an end to the antiquated policy and become proactive about creating reform.
During the Obama administration, steps were taken to “thaw” the embargo, allowing for commercial travel to Cuba and easing the restrictions on the importation and exportation of goods. As a result, tourism in Cuba took off, but limitations on trade remained, preventing the benefits of ending the embargo from materializing.
Reforms made by the Castro regime in 2012 opened up the economy for more private businesses, but goods produced by the nascent Cuban private sector are blocked from being sold in the US by the embargo. If the US lifts the embargo, the Cuban private sector would have room to grow.
Furthermore, foreign investment in Cuba would skyrocket. Currently, Cuba receives about $500 million in foreign direct investment (FDI). Ian Bremmer, a Global Research Professor at NYU, estimates that without the embargo Cuba could see over $2 billion in FDI from the US alone. That means $2 billion will be injected directly into the Cuban economy, giving support for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and Cuban workers (just to name a few).
In tandem, increased privatization and investment will generate substantial growth in the Cuban economy and, specifically, the private sector. The growth of the Cuban private sector is crucial as it would help establish a Cuban middle class and promote a free-market system. If the US removes the embargo and allows for the importation of Cuban goods, that growth can be achieved.
The development of a middle class in Cuba would promote democracy and reform because the “[middle]-class will inevitably begin to make demands on the authoritarian regime for political rights, i.e., democracy.” It makes sense: once citizens finally have enough economic stability, they can afford to demand political change. Economic reform incentivizing political reform occurred in both the USSR and Hong Kong.
In this modern era of globalization, democracy has become the dominant export. Blockading Cuba from the rest of the world has only allowed for the Castro regime to perpetuate itself free from the influence of the modern democratized world. If the US can secede itself from the powerful Cuban lobby and end the embargo, change in Cuba will be a natural result.