Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End

In an increasingly globalized world, relations between nations can lead to a more general climate of antagonism or to one of cooperation that extends beyond the countries in conflict. Relations between Cuba and the United States are such a case, since the continuous US embargo on Cuba has soured the relations between the US and its Latin American neighbors and the world at large.

This is reflected in repeated votes in the United Nations, where at the beginning of November, for a vote of 187-3, most of its members condemned the American economic embargo on Cuba for the 28th year. They also criticized the Trump administration’s tough enforcement measures of the embargo.

The Trump administration hardened U.S. policy on Cuba that had been on the mend during the Obama administration. Trump decided to allow Cuban-American immigrants to sue the Cuban government for their confiscated property after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The administration also limited the amount of money that Cuban Americans can send to their relatives on the island.

Shortly after President Trump announced his decision allowing US lawsuits, the European Union and Canada issued a joint warning against the US that enforcement of these measures would lead to reprisals in Europe.

On several public health-related visits to Cuba I got a first-hand sense of the problems besieging Cuban society: the need for foreign money, the oppressive nature of the regime, the hardships common people are going through, and the dissatisfaction of the country’s youth.

These impressions were ratified during a visit to the island, as the head of a UN mission of Latin American physicians to assess the progress of Cuban scientists in developing interferon, an antiviral substance. At the time, it was rumored that Fidel Castro had lung cancer and was being treated with interferon, something we couldn’t confirm at the time.

In talks with Fidel Castro, I was able to assess his enormous interest and knowledge of health issues and the value of education. This interest and knowledge of the health situation in Cuba underlie the continuing Cuban government’s accomplishments in health and education. Cuba, for all its other faults and drawbacks, is at the forefront in both fields when compared to other Latin American countries. And in some areas, it is on par with the US.

This progress, however, has been hindered by the unnecessary and ineffective embargo against the country, a situation that has had a high economic cost not only for Cuba but for the US as well. In addition, the embargo has hurt the US prestige among Latin American governments, which consider it a violation of a fellow Latin nation’s rights and sovereignty.

There is no doubt that political pressure from the powerful Cuban exile community in Florida has been an important factor in maintaining the US embargo. However, the descendants of that immigrant generation have now a more nuanced view of the Cuban regime. In particular, they have seen the damage caused by decades of antagonism between both countries — and are eager for friendlier relations between them.

While Cubans have always been clear about their admiration for the American people — which I have observed first hand during my visits to the island — the embargo has fostered more hate and mistrust of the US government than toward the Cuban government among Cubans.

These new measures may prove harmful also to the US. “Trump and his ideologically-driven national security advisors are pushing Cuba into the arms of China and Russia. At the same time, Trump’s Cuba policy increases the risk of a humanitarian crisis by creating conditions for mass migration from an island just 90 miles (144 km) from Florida shores,” said Rebecca Bill Chavez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere affairs under Obama. In addition, limiting the amount of money that people in the US can send to their relatives in Cuba is an erroneous decision which will only increase the suffering of the Cuban people.

If repeated votes in the UN General Assembly is a test, aside from the US, Israel, and Brazil no country in the world currently supports the embargo. There is something pathetic about the inability of the most powerful country in the world to quell the Cuban people’s determination. It is time to put an end to this quagmire.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”