Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cuba policy

Yesterday the Obama administration eased some restrictions on travel and transfers of money to Cuba. Seems to me that this is a reasonable step to take.

I've thought for a while that we should scrap most of our current embargo against Cuba. To be clear, the Cuban government is an evil dictatorship that abuses and represses its people, and we should not be supporting it. But I think our Cuba policy is emblematic of a mistake that we make quite frequently in our policies: we very often confuse what is justifiable or morally right with what actually achieves worthy goals. We're all familiar with the admonition that the ends don't justify the means. Our Cuba policy is a great example of the inverse to this rule: justifiable means failing to achieve our end goal.

The Cuban revolution was 50 years ago. We've been using the embargo to try to undo the revolution for 50 years. And yet Castro is still alive and has achieved a peaceful transfer of power. And meanwhile, other nations have established productive trade relations with Cuba, which means that they not only fill in the void left by the U.S. but also make it harder for us to eventually establish similar relationships. The net result is that I suspect we hurt ourselves much more than we hurt Cuba. I think that anyone who claims that the policy of isolation has been effective is out of touch with reality.

So why do we cling to it? I suspect it's two reasons: primarily the distaste for "legitimizing" the Cuban regime (never mind that that cat is out of the bag), but the other reason is of course the political clout of the Cuban-American community that cannot let go and has a degree of political clout that is quite disproportionate to their size.

My personal opinion is that we should hold our noses and scrap the embargo. We can achieve more change in Cuba through a bear hug embrace than we can through an arm's length relationship. China and Vietnam are political paradises by nobody's standard, but their populations today enjoy both a much higher standard of living and considerably more freedom than they enjoyed just 20 years ago, all due to engagement in trade. Having a Cuba that is like China or Vietnam, while distasteful, is certainly a step up from what Cuba is now.

It's been 50 years and the policy of isolation simply hasn't worked. If for no other reason than that, we should try a new policy.

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