Monday, January 12, 2009

Economic Sanctions Against Cuba

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post wrote an article last week, that I have been waiting to see for fifty years.

Robinson writes about Cuban-U.S. relations after fifty years of Castro rule. He complains about the “wrongheaded policies that have unwittingly helped shield Castro’s revolution from historical trends which long ago should have forced the regime to give way or at least compelled it to evolve.”

The policies to which he refers are laws and regulations forbidding trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba. It is clear that these policies have failed. Instead of either bringing down the Castro regime or forcing them to see the error of their ways, these sanctions have induced a despotic government to become more isolated and oppressive. He contrasts our Cuban policy with the rest of the communist world which “was always to push for more contact and exchange on the theory of exposure to the Western ideas, freedoms and prosperity would hasten communism’s demise. It worked.”

It will not be easy to reverse course. The primary reason for retaining the policy is to mollify the disillusioned and angry exiles living here who have an understandable hatred of the Cuban government. Ironically they were probably exiled in this country in part because of our policies that gave comfort to the hard liners of Cuba, who had a convenient scapegoat in the US to blame for whatever failures have surfaced in the Cuban economy.

Moreover, the policy has been costly to the U.S. economy, which has been denied the opportunity to participate in a potentially profitable relationship with a country a mere ninety miles away. The beauty of open trade is that both buyers and sellers profit from the bargain. Concomitantly, when trade is suspended, both countries suffer. Because of the embargo, we cannot buy Cuban cigars and they do not purchase our products ranging from tooth paste to automobiles to computers. The benefits from open markets is insidious and hard to see some times. We can immediately calculate costs resulting from a tax or a factory close down resulting from foreign competition. But the loss of jobs and profits cause by the closing of a market and the lost buying power obtained by the purchase of more expensive products is difficult to see. Therefore, the accumulated cost of the sanctions to our economy is staggering and unnoticed.

I do not follow Robinson enough to identify whether he has jumped into the free trade debate consistently. If so, he has plenty fodder to work with. What about Iran and Korea? We have shut down the availability of our markets to them, and I see no evidence that our policies have had the least positive effect on their conduct.

We are at a cross roads in Venezuela, which has the potential for the same meltdown in our response to at tin horn dictator who is, frankly, too big for his britches. Then there is Columbia. Obama has indicated that he opposes the treaty opening up the Columbia markets. Hopefully his opposition is only campaign rhetoric, because of union opposition to the treaty. If Columbia is cut back, they will continue to trade with us, but the primary product may well be cocaine smuggled into the country, and the primary beneficiaries will be the cartels and their criminal counterparts in this country.

Time and again, when our foreign policymakers choose what is euphemistically called a “diplomatic” option, they trot out the time disgraced economic sanctions. Maybe they should look at the Cuba experience before they jump into another morass.

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