Moving Forward on Relations with Latin America

Image of map of Latin America.

Image by Leon Overweel.

A recent U.S. Congressional delegation travelled to Brazil, Chile and Colombia, as part of an effort to improve relations with Latin American countries; it could signal the elimination of the U.S.’s failed policies in Latin America. The U.S. delegation was composed of Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velásquez of New York, Joaquin Castro and Greg Casar of Texas, Maxwell Frost of Florida and Misty Rebik, Senator Bernie Sanders’s chief of staff.

The delegation, which met with political leaders and with human rights and environmental activists, promised a change on U.S. policy regarding to their countries. “U.S. foreign policy has too often contributed to instability in Latin America: we should be protecting democracy rather than supporting coups, and we should be creating peace and prosperity across the Western Hemisphere rather than replaying the Cold War,” stated the group’s press release.

For the last two centuries, relations between the U.S. and Latin American countries have been clouded by suspicion and resentment towards the U.S. Nowhere has U.S. intervention been as long-lived, and as problematic, as in U.S. relations with Cuba, where the antagonism with the Castro brothers and their successors has caused tremendous suffering to the Cuban people.

The embargo has been widely condemned. Last November, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the American embargo of Cuba for the 30th year. 185 countries supported the condemnation, the United States and Israel opposed it, and Brazil and Ukraine abstained.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has a long history. In 1960, President Eisenhower imposed a trade embargo on Cuba that was reinforce in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. Rather than achieving its goal to provoke the fall of the Castro brothers’ regime, the embargo has only succeeded in making life precarious for most Cubans, limiting their access to common goods and vital medicines.

In 2014, President Barak Obama loosened the U.S. embargo and normalized relations with Cuba. Rather than maintaining this policy, President Trump renewed many of the failed sanctions against Cuba, and added some new restrictions. They have only succeeded on making Cuban’s lives even more dire. The embargo has been used by the Castro brothers and their successors as an excuse for tightening their grip on the Cuban people.

On several UN health-related missions to Cuba I was able to see how eager the Cubans are for a normalization of relations with the U.S. Cubans make a clear distinction between the hardships caused to them by the American governments and its people. A limited collaboration now taking place between Cuban and American doctors on a promising lung cancer treatment could be significantly expanded.

Through a historic partnership with Cuba’s Centro de Inmunología Molecular, or CIM, the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is helping to develop several innovative and potentially life-saving cancer therapies. The first of these new approaches to be available to U.S. patients is CIMAvax-EGF®, an immunotherapy approach for treating lung cancer. Roswell Park is the only facility in the country that offers this groundbreaking treatment. In the past year, Roswell Park medical teams cared for more than 46,000 patients.

In May 2022, the Biden administration lifted some sanctions on Cuba, which included the expansion of flights to Cuba and the resumption of a family reunification program. These are important but insufficient measures. What is needed is an elimination of the embargo, the resumption of diplomatic relations, and normal trade and exchange between both countries. As President Biden is trying to strengthen U.S. ties with its Asian partners, doesn’t make it sense to do the same with its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors?

Open relations would benefit the Cuban people and American businesses interested in doing trade with the Cuban government. It would also improve the U.S. image in Latin America, which has been damaged by the failed U.S. policies towards that country. Overwhelmed by brutal images of war, people worldwide are desperate for policies that will amend relations between countries, improve people’s quality of life, and show that rationality in foreign relations is still possible.

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.”