Today is the 50th anniversary of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, which severely restricts travel and trade between the two countries. It was imposed February 3, 1962,at the peak of the Cold War during the Kennedy administration. The intent was to force Cuba to accept U.S. demands, and was expected to only be necessary for a few months at most. A recently declassified document, written in 1961, revealed that the main objective of the embargo was to cause “hunger, desperation, and suffering” for the entire Cuban population in order to stir the kind of internal destabilization that could reverse Castro’s revolution. For fifty years, the objective of causing “hunger, desperation, and suffering” has continuously been attained. The problem is that the Castros and their government are still in power. Fidel has outlasted ten U.S. presidents.
When I first visited Cuba in 1999, I heard a theory that sounded like some of today’s typical outrageous internet conspiracy theories. Some people believed that the embargo was actually helping to keep Castro in power. It seemed absurd at first, but after after visiting Cuba numerous times, reading countless books and articles, and speaking with a wide variety of people, I’ve come to agree with this theory. So do most open-minded individuals who have studied the situation, including most senior officers in the U.S. military’s Southern Command. (Many feel it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to lift the embargo immediately. It’s a lot more than simply re-assigning agents screening tourists for rum and cigars, to positions where they can look for bombs, drugs, and terrorists.) It’s not that somebody concocted the embargo to secretly help Castro. It was just the “law of unintended consequences” at work. Most of the plans and policies developed and implemented to deal with Castro and his revolution were thought to only be needed for a very short time. The embargo provided Castro with excuses for his failed economic policies. No matter what bad things happened in Cuba, they could always be blamed on the embargo. The continuous and very real threat of an American invasion resulted in limited resources being diverted to the military. The government understandably became increasingly more paranoid and repressive. Then the U.S. government complained about how repressive the Cuban government had become. Well, duh! If you read about and consider all that has happened because of the embargo, you will understand why it is considered one of America’s greatest foreign policy blunders. It hurt and continues to hurt those who were supposed to be helped. It remains in place because of a small minority of wealthy, vindictive, mean-spirited Cuban-American exile congressmen and their supporters who manipulate the law and trade votes with other congressmen who have their own pet projects, but no idea about what has happened in Cuba.
Any international support for the embargo disappeared a long time ago. At the United Nations General Assembly meetings during the past two decades, a huge majority of the 193 member countries have voted every year against the embargo, including our best allies such as Canada, Australia, and England. In October of last year, the U.N. voted 186 to 2 to lift the embargo. Along with the U.S., only Israel voted to retain the embargo. I suppose this allows the U.S. to claim that its allies (Israel) are supporting our foreign policies. The irony (and big international joke that other countries “get”) is that Israeli investors have invested over a billion dollars in Cuban real estate, including a 16-block area with oceanfront property in western Havana. It’s no wonder Israel “supports” America’s foreign policy, and the embargo in particular. It eliminates their competition from American businessmen.