This paper makes a renewed case for engagement with Cuba as the best way for the United States to advance its national interests, reassert its regional leadership, reduce resistance to reform within the Cuban government, and promote a freer, more prosperous future for the Cuban people. It also argues that the United States should continue to highlight Cuba’s democratic failings and support actors across the spectrum of Cuban society who work to ensure that greater economic and civic freedoms are guaranteed on the island.
The United States and Cuba must learn from both the successes and missed opportunities of their last period of détente. As President Joseph R. Biden Jr. looks to fulfill his pledge to return to a policy of engagement with Cuba, both countries must strive to make the normalization of relations resilient in order to insulate progress from unpredictable political cycles. Getting there will require both governments to negotiate cooperation agreements and facilitate private sector economic arrangements that can sufficiently cement diplomatic relations and socio-economic integration between the two countries. In many instances, progress may only be achieved through individual but parallel policies that both reduce exposure to codified U.S. embargo sanctions and generate the political space necessary for the U.S. Congress to lift them. For Cuba, this means taking advantage of the next four years to advance meaningful economic liberalization and guarantee greater rights for Cubans both at home and abroad. For the United States, it means abandoning its centerpiece policy of regime change and allowing Cuba’s future to be determined by and among Cubans themselves.
This may seem like a daunting task, but circumstances are still conducive for meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs between the historic Cold War adversaries. The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have prodded Cuba to finally overhaul its dual-currency system and commit to further market liberalization. Cuban authorities have an opportunity to signal to their citizens, the Cuban diaspora, and Washington that they are finally willing to bring their country into the 21st century. But effective follow-through is less likely if the United States continues to be seen as attempting to exploit the crisis by maintaining blanket sanctions under the illusion that further pressure will cause the Cuban government to break.
Thus, we recommend that the Biden administration pursue a multi-pronged approach to get bilateral relations immediately back on a more constructive track, regain control of the narrative, and incentivize further reforms in Cuba. Prioritizing early moves that have a clear and visible impact on the lives of Cubans on the island and abroad will help restore public support for engagement among Cuban-Americans. The new administration should also place equal emphasis on addressing some of the more intractable issues that divide both governments early on.
Track 1: Restore Support for the Cuban People as a Policy Priority and Rebuild Trust a. Reverse policies that have unduly harmed the Cuban people. This includes, but is not limited to, lifting restrictions on commercial and charter flights, ending remittance caps, restoring consular services in Cuba, restarting the Cuban Family Reunification Program, reinstituting the five-year multiple-entry visa for Cuban nationals, and revising banking and finance regulations to ensure the continuity of formal remittance transfers and correspondent banking in Cuba. b. Restore support for the Cuban private sector as a policy priority. c. Resume and bolster public health cooperation with Cuba to combat Covid-19. d. Restore and strengthen working-level diplomatic ties by appointing an ambassador to lead U.S. Embassy Havana (or a chargé d’affaires with ambassadorial rank if the Senate is unlikely to confirm an ambassadorial appointment), initiating bilateral talks to fully re-staff the U.S. and Cuban embassies with security guarantees, and resuming bilateral cooperation on national security issues. e. Implement additional confidence-building measures—like ordering an immediate apolitical review of Cuba’s re-designation as a State Sponsor of Terror, updating and restoring the 2016 Presidential Policy Directive “United States-Cuba Normalization”, and once again waiving Title III of the Helms- Burton Act—that improve the climate for success on higher-profile, longer- term impediments to normalization, such as those identified under Track 2. f. Create, through recurring public events, private consultations and official visits to South Florida, feedback mechanisms whereby the Biden administration can engage the Cuban American community on Cuba policy and gain input from a diversity of Cuban American community leaders and members in return.
Track 2: Tackle the “Tough Stuff” and Make Normalization Stick Through High-Level, Direct Diplomacy a. Designate a Special Representative for Cuba or other high-level administration official(s) to negotiate cooperation agreements, private sector economic arrangements, and roadmaps for resolving long-standing disputes between the United States and Cuba, with the aim of deepening socio- economic ties between both countries. Breakthroughs in negotiations on U.S. property claims, the Venezuelan crisis, and private sector trade can build momentum and shift the calculus for normalization on Capitol Hill.
Track 3: Respond to Openness with Openness a. As the Cuban government moves to recognize greater rights for its citizens and nationals, and opens opportunities for U.S. and diaspora direct investment, respond with U.S. economic openings allowed by executive authority. b. In tandem with progress made under Track 2 and/or Track 3(a), seek congressional support for repealing counterproductive codified Cuba sanctions, as well as for other targeted initiatives that broaden forms of U.S. assistance and support to the Cuban people beyond democracy promotion alone.
Cuba, for its part, must overcome internal resistance to a more open relationship with the United States and be willing to make changes that will safeguard bilateral relations regardless of which U.S. political party is in power. The Cuban government has long opposed demands for concessions involving their internal affairs or foreign policy. Yet normalization would benefit from less emphasis on process and more emphasis on results. Whether Cuba takes steps toward guaranteeing greater economic and civic freedoms as a result of bilateral negotiations or internal reforms, the fact remains it must take them if it wishes to free itself from the vicissitudes of U.S. politics.
Meaningful progress in state-diaspora relations, legal investment in the island’s private sector, and guaranteeing greater rights for all Cubans to participate in their county’s economic, political, and public affairs would materially reduce Cuba’s exposure to the dynamics of the Helms-Burton Act and other embargo laws. It would also help to generate the political momentum needed for the U.S. Congress to repeal these statutes once and for all. While standing on principle that it will not compromise its sovereignty, Cuba can and should make internal reforms that are in the interest of the Cuban people and have the corollary benefit of paving a sustainable road to full normalization with the United States. Reality requires movement and energy on both sides to achieve a more lasting rapprochement that can withstand further stress tests in the relationship that are bound to emerge along the way.
After 2020, the window for achieving significant progress toward full normalization may be finite, and the costs of not doing so could be severe. Failure to make relations stick this time around could entrench another generation of Cubans and Cuban Americans on both sides of the Florida Straits in prolonged patterns of mutual suspicion and hostility.
decades ago the Kennedy administration imposed an embargo on Cuba. A dozen
American presidents have enforced the island’s economic isolation,
substantially tightening controls in recent years. For a time Washington even
cited Havana as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. campaign, observed Mauricio Vicent of El
Pais, is “without doubt the longest punitive measure ever imposed on a
country in modern history.”
efforts were reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended
outside subsidies for the island. Cuba’s GDP shrank by more than a third during
what was called the “Special Period.” Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez later stepped in,
but Caracas’s economic collapse ended its bountiful subsidies as well. Through
it all U.S. policymakers, Florida Cuban expatriates, and vote-seeking
Republican politicians collaborated to wage economic war on the island.
finally, the communist government has fallen. Political prisoners have been
released. Castro family and friends have fled. Elections have brought to power
officials promising to dismantle the socialist economy. The incoming government
even proposed expanding Guantanamo Bay for the U.S.
policy has completely and utterly failed.
Castro has died and Raúl Castro has retired, but the communist government
remains and includes several Castro family members. The jails are bulging after
protests in July, with hundreds arrested and many simply disappeared without
notice to their families. Trump administration sanctions, left in place by
President Joe Biden, continue to cripple the private economy, which had been
expanding and undermining government authority.
was expected to at least roll back the Trump administration’s measures, which
hurt private entrepreneurs in Cuba more than government apparatchiks, the Biden
administration has done nothing. Some Democrats speculate that the
administration is waiting for the midterm elections to pass, or perhaps even
for Biden’s reelection, just as President Barack Obama held off until his
second term to act. Of course, Biden may not get a second chance.
embargo may be the most complete, longest, and most enduring policy failure in
American history. In 1959 Fidel Castro led a revolution against a U.S.-backed
strongman, Fulgencio Batista. Castro proved to be even more despotic and turned
to the Soviet Union for support. Washington imposed an embargo, which has
metastasized through subsequent regulations and
laws. The embargo was proposed, the outgoing Eisenhower
administration admitted, to impoverish the Cuban people.
The State Department’s Lester Mallory urged action that
“while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in
denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages,
to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
later, Fidel Castro is dead and brother Raúl is formally retired. The
presidency and party leadership have devolved upon the colorless functionary
Miguel Díaz-Canel, who retains the founders’ willingness to suppress dissent
and enforce obedience. Alas, the reality of Cuban communism does not reflect
the rosy assessments of the happy lefty tourists who wander the island in
search of a collectivist paradise.
its remarkably good public relations, Cuba remains a dictatorship. Last year
Freedom House rated Cuba toward the bottom of its global freedom rankings,
deeming the country “not free” and giving it just 13 of 100 available points
for its political and civil liberties. Explained Freedom House: “Cuba’s one-party
communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses
dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues
to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector
activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a
generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that
included the introduction of a new constitution.”
government continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and
public criticism. At the same time, Cubans continue to endure a dire economic
crisis, which impacts their social and economic rights. … The government
employs arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent
activists, political opponents, and others. Security officers rarely present
arrest warrants to justify detaining critics. In some cases, detainees are
released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors may use in
subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of what they call “delinquent”
despite six decades of the U.S. generally increasing economic sanctions. Only
President Barack Obama broke that pattern, rolling back some penalties and
reestablishing full diplomatic relations. The Cuban people loved him for it.
When I visited in 2017, cars still sported decals with Obama’s picture from his
visit the previous year. The government underestimated his popularity. Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodriguez complained about Obama’s
“deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture, and our symbols” and
desire to use economic appeals to force political change.
President Donald Trump cared more about Cuban-American votes than Cuban lives
and imposed additional sanctions, even adding a new twist, allowing U.S.
lawsuits against foreign investors in Cuba. Human-rights activists long had
criticized the embargo as counterproductive, used by the regime to excuse its
failings and justify its crimes. Cuba’s small businesspeople and their
employees, who invested or worked in tourist-friendly industries—restaurants,
Airbnbs, and taxis—were even more critical. By discouraging U.S. visitors,
Trump wrecked the nascent public sector, which at its height provided 40
percent of the island’s jobs.
owner Julia de la Rosa complained to me that “So many people opened businesses
for American tourists” who then were prohibited from coming. Workers had to
return to unproductive state employment, strengthening the Castro
regime’s control. In short, sanctions worked no better in
Cuba than in Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea,
and Russia, whose governments refused to abandon their most important political
objectives despite U.S. economic pressure.
expected Biden to return to the reform path. After all, he had pledged to “try to reverse
the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans.” Instead,
after the July protests, he added new sanctions “to
bolster the cause of the Cuban people.” And that was just a start, he warned:
“There will be more, unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t
anticipate.” Biden matched Trump in
pious hypocrisy, announcing “we hear the cries of freedom coming from the
island. We’re holding the regime accountable.”
Díaz-Canel government did not fold. In fact, the invincibly ignorant Cuba
hawks—most notably Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Robert Menendez—did the communist
regime a favor by discouraging contact with America. Collin Laverty of Cuba
Educational Travel, which develops trips to conform with U.S. law (and
organized my second visit), observed: “If you want to create more space for
debate, expanding the entrepreneurial class is one way.” Indeed, after encouraging
the development of private business in a desperate attempt to spur the economy,
the regime came to fear the rapid increase in private sector firms and cracked
the left agree. Antoni Kapcia, who has
written sympathetically of the Cuban revolution, noted:
argued that if an American president really wanted to destabilize the Cuban
system, they would get rid of the embargo, or promise to get rid of the
embargo. To some extent, this is what Barack Obama did, at least in the sense
of saying the established policy had failed and slightly easing some
restrictions, although he certainly didn’t lift the embargo altogether. But
most of the US presidents have done precisely the opposite, and tightened it,
or at least continued the involvement. That gives the system and the leadership
an alibi in Cuba. But it also plays into nationalism.
John F. Kennedy might be excused for not knowing any better when he embargoed the new revolutionary state. Joe Biden has no such excuse. Cuba’s continuing oppression of its people is a tragedy. However, after six decades of futile economic warfare, the U.S. should stop punishing the Cuban people for the sins of their government. Biden should live up to his campaign promise to empower “the Cuban people to freely determine their own outcome, their own future.”
February 3, 1962, marks the sixtieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Proclamation 3447 imposing an “embargo on all trade with Cuba” to punish Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government for its “alignment with the communist powers,” the Soviet Union and China. Despite having failed to bend Havana to Washington’s will over the past six decades, the embargo remains the centerpiece of the U.S. policy of “regime change.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester D. Mallory explained the strategy in 1960: “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
anniversary of the embargo offers an occasion to delve into its complexities in
order to better understand what Fidel Castro once called “a tangled ball of
exactly is the embargo against Cuba?
embargo” is shorthand for a complex patchwork of laws and regulations that
comprise the oldest and most comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions against any
country in the world. Although President Eisenhower imposed some economic
sanctions on Cuba in 1960, the current embargo began when President Kennedy
proclaimed a ban on all trade with Cuba in 1962, and a year later invoked the Trading with the Enemy Act to extend the embargo
to prohibit all transactions (trade, travel, and financial) unless licensed by
the Secretary of the Treasury (at the president’s direction). Regulations
governing implementation of the embargo and the licensed exceptions are
codified in the Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR).
other statutes govern elements of the embargo:
The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 authorizes
humanitarian donations of food and medicine, and the sale of telecommunications
services and medical supplies, albeit subject to detailed restrictions. It also
prohibits trade between the subsidiaries of U.S. companies abroad and Cuba.
— The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996
inscribed the embargo into law until Cuba becomes a multi-party free-market
democracy and pays compensation for property nationalized by the revolutionary
government. It also gives U.S. citizens, including naturalized Cuban Americans,
the right to sue in federal court anyone, in the United States or abroad, who
is “trafficking in” (benefiting from) nationalized property, and blocks the
officers of foreign trafficking companies from entering the United
the Trump and Biden administrations have imposed sanctions on Cuban individuals
under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012,
which freezes the U.S. assets and denies entry to the United States of persons
guilty of corruption or serious human rights abuse.
the United States impose the embargo?
embargo is sometimes justified as a response to Cuba’s nationalization of U.S.
property in 1960, which amounted to over $1 billion in investment. However, the
embargo was not imposed until 1962 as part of President Kennedy’s policy to destabilize the
Cuban government through a combination of economic sanctions and covert
paramilitary attacks. Since then, U.S. presidents have cited various rationales
for continuing the embargo, ranging from Cuba’s partnership with the Soviet
Union, to its support for revolutionary movements in Latin America and Africa,
its human rights record, and its socialist system.
the embargo changed over time?
president has modified the embargo by using his licensing
authority to loosen or tighten aspects of it. Take travel,
for example. President Jimmy Carter lifted all limits on travel to Cuba in
1977. President Ronald Reagan reimposed a ban on most types of travel in
1982. President Bill Clinton loosened travel restrictions by creating the
people-to-people educational travel category in 1999. President George W. Bush
eliminated people-to-people travel, President Barack Obama restored it, and
President Trump abolished it again. Congress has also modified the embargo by
statute. The most important change was the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act which
inscribed the embargo into law. At present, the embargo’s impact is especially
severe because President Trump added a series of new, expanded sanctions and President Biden has
left those additional sanctions in place.
Cuba call it a “blockade” rather than an embargo?
government calls the embargo a blockade (el bloqueo) because its
extraterritorial provisions restrict Cuban commerce with other countries. The
United States tried to make the embargo multilateral from the beginning. In
1964, President Lyndon Johnson pressured the OAS into formally adopting a commercial and diplomatic embargo against Cuba,
which lasted until the mid-1970s. Most European countries also limited their
commercial ties with Cuba in response to U.S. pressure. Although the embargo
cannot prevent other countries from trading with Cuba, it makes such commerce
embargo prohibits the subsidiaries of U.S. companies that operate in other
countries from trading with Cuba.
prohibits other countries from exporting to Cuba any product with more than 10
percent U.S. content.
prohibits foreign financial institutions from handling any U.S. dollar
transactions that involve Cuba (so-called U-turn transactions).
allows U.S. citizens who lost property after the Cuban revolution to sue in
U.S. federal court anyone, including foreign companies, who do business with
Cuba involving that property.
prohibits entry into the United States of any officers of foreign companies and
their family members if those companies are doing business with Cuba that
involves property previously owned by U.S. citizens.
International financial institutions are required to conduct costly “enhanced
due diligence” before engaging in transactions involving countries designated
as state sponsors of international terrorism, which currently includes
Multilateral international financial institutions cannot provide assistance to
Cuba without losing a portion of their U.S. funding.
embargo legal under international law?
Supporters argue that the embargo is legal
because the United States has the right to decide whether or not it wants to
trade with another country, and the embargo is justified by Cuba’s
nationalization of U.S. property without compensation. Opponents argue that the embargo constitutes
coercion intended to force regime change in violation of the OAS Charter and the UN Declaration
on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs
of States. The UN Declaration recognizes “the sovereign and inalienable right
of a State freely to determine its own political, economic, cultural and social
systems,” and imposes on all states the duty “to refrain from any action or
attempt in whatever form or under whatever pretext to destabilize or to
undermine the stability of another State.” The consensus of international
opinion is that the embargo is not consistent with international law, as
reflected by the fact that last year, for 29th time, the UN
General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of an annual resolution
calling on the United States to lift the embargo. In 2021, the vote was 184 in favor, 2 opposed (the United States and
Israel), with 3 abstentions.
the embargo override U.S. citizens’ constitutional right to travel?
the Supreme Court has recognized a right to travel in Kent v. Dulles (1958), it is not absolute. In two
cases, Zemel v. Rusk (1965) and Regan v. Wald (1984), the Court rejected
challenges to the embargo’s restrictions on travel to Cuba, holding that the
president has the authority to limit travel on grounds of national security. If
you are a “person subject to U.S. jurisdiction” (i.e., a U.S. citizen,
resident, or other person within the United States regardless of your
nationality) you can only travel to Cuba under one of the 12 categories of travel licensed by the U.S.
Department of the Treasury.
buy food and medicine under the embargo?
not freely or easily. U.S companies can export agricultural commodities to Cuba
only if the Cuban government pays cash up front. No credit-based sales are
allowed, which is not the way international trade normally works. U.S.
companies can sell medical supplies to Cuba “only for the use and
benefit of the Cuban people,” only if they are not used for biopharmaceutical
purposes (for example, manufacturing vaccines), and only if the U.S. government
certifies these requirements are met. These requirements are so onerous that
many companies decide not to sell to Cuba rather than comply with them—a recent
example being the company that decided to cancel a contract to sell
Cuba ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.
embargo responsible for Cuba’s economic problems?
yes. The Cuban economy suffers from a number of chronic structural problems stemming from its adoption of
a Soviet-style central planning model in the 1970s. Although it is pursuing
market-oriented reforms, its structural weaknesses persist. They make Cuba
especially vulnerable to external economic shocks and pressures, of which the
embargo is the most significant and persistent. The Cuban government estimates
that the embargo costs it over $3 billion annually in extra expenses it incurs
trading with other partners. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America estimated that the embargo has cost $130 billion
(in current prices) since it was imposed, or roughly $2 billion annually on
embargo end automatically if the president failed to renew it every year?
statutory authority for the embargo under the Trading with the Enemy Act would
lapse if the president failed to extend it every September as required by law, but
the codification of the embargo under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic
Solidarity Act would still remain in place.
president lift the embargo unilaterally?
he probably could. Politically, he probably wouldn’t. Attorney Robert Muse and others have argued that because there are no
limitations on the president’s licensing authority specified in either Trading
with the Enemy Act or the CACR, the President could license the embargo out of
existence in its entirety by simply authorizing a general license for all
transactions with Cuba. The argument against this interpretation is that such
an exercise of authority would violate the clear intent of the law since the
Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act places specific conditions on
lifting the embargo. Muse responds that the law is an unconstitutional
infringement on the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy, which
President Clinton suggested in his signing statement. Politically, a president would
have to be willing to risk a confrontation with Congress to take this step and
thus far, every president has accepted the interpretation that the embargo can
only be lifted under the terms of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
Act or after its repeal.
will the embargo last?
embargo’s longevity suggests, there is no sunshine provision that would
automatically end it. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act prohibits
lifting it until the Cuban government has become a multi-party, free-market
democracy, and until all the property of U.S. citizens, including Cuban Americans,
nationalized after 1959 is either returned or compensated. The continuing
influence of conservative Cuban Americans in the Republican Party and their
electoral strength in Florida has transformed the embargo from a foreign policy
issue into a matter of domestic politics. Consequently, Congress is
unlikely to repeal the embargo in the foreseeable future.
realist president willing to declare openly what most foreign policy analysts
acknowledge—that the embargo is a counterproductive failure—could use his (or
her) executive authority to license broad categories of commerce and exchange,
leaving the statutory embargo an empty shell.
Este estudio evalúa la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento del PIB cubano y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones estadounidenses en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas e indicadores financieros del período 1994-2020. Si bien se evidencia que un endurecimiento de las sanciones reduce el crecimiento del PIB cubano, también se ve que los impactos afectan significativamente el consumo de las familias y las dinámicas de las ventas y el empleo del sector privado, sin apreciarse un efecto significativo en los indicadores de la economía estatal. Las remesas son el fujo de mayor peso dentro del intercambio económico total Cuba-EEUU (el 8,3% del PIB cubano), con un impacto estadísticamente significativo en la trayectoria del consumo de hogares y mercados privados.
sanciones económicas se definen como acciones que uno o más países toman para
limitar o poner fin a sus relaciones económicas con un país objetivo en un
esfuerzo por persuadirlo de que cambie sus políticas. Las sanciones pueden
adoptar muchas formas: aranceles, controles de exportación, embargos,
prohibiciones de importación, prohibiciones de viaje, congelación de activos, ayudas,
cortes y bloqueos (Morgan, Bapat y Krustev, 2009).
literatura sobre el impacto económico de las sanciones es amplia y heterogénea,
tanto en metodología, presupuestos teóricos, estrategias empíricas y bases de
datos empleadas como en resultados y conclusiones (Özdamar y Shahin, 2021). Si
bien la mayoría de los estudios encuentra que las sanciones tienen un impacto
negativo sobre la tasa de crecimiento del PIB del país sancionado, los flujos
de inversión extranjera y sus finanzas internacionales, los efectos varían
dependiendo del tamaño y dependencia entre los países involucrados, de la
naturaleza unilateral o multilateral de las sanciones, de la participación de
EEUU y/o de Naciones Unidas, entre otros factores. Algunos ejemplos recientes
de esta literatura son Caruso (2003), Neuenkirch y Neumeier (2015), Besedeš,
Goldbach y Nitsch (2017), Gurvich y Prilepskiy (2015), Hatipoglu y Peksen,
(2018), y Bayramov, Rustamli y Abbas (2020).
países que imponen sanciones también incurren en costes económicos, al
restringir sus transacciones, aunque pueden ser relativamente pequeños,
especialmente en casos de sanciones unilaterales para economías grandes como la
de EEUU (Farmer, 2000). Otra literatura intenta entender la probabilidad de
permanencia de las sanciones (McGillivray y Stam, 2004) y encuentra que los
cambios de liderazgo en los países involucrados son el mejor predictor de la
duración de una política de sanciones. En cuanto a su naturaleza multilateral o
unilateral, Miers y Morgan (2002) concluyen que el primero no es más efectivo
que el segundo, como usualmente tiende a pensarse, sobre todo por lo difícil
que resulta la coordinación entre varios implicados. Özdamar y Shahin (2021) llaman
la atención que algunos temas como las criptomonedas y el flujo de emigrantes
todavía no han sido debidamente estudiados dentro de la literatura sobre el
impacto económico de las sanciones.
menciona a Cuba en los estudios internacionales sobre
sanciones, casi siempre se la usa como ejemplo de fracaso de estas políticas.
El mismo consenso existe en la mayoría de la literatura que aborda el caso
cubano detenidamente (LeoGrande, 2015; Von Burgsdorff, 2009; Lopez-Levy, 2011;
Dominguez, Hernandez y Barbería, 2017; Alzugaray, 2017; Zimbalist, 2021;
Mesa-Lago, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021).
Zimbalist (2021) concluye que: “el
embargo y el esfuerzo de Estados Unidos para derrocar al gobierno de
Castro han estado vigentes desde 1960 y han fracasado en todas las formas
posibles. Obligaron a Cuba a arrojarse en brazos de la URSS, proporcionaron una
excusa para los fracasos económicos de su revolución y para su control político
estricto de la población, elevaron la reputación de Castro como nacionalista y
líder de los países del tercer mundo que buscan una relación más justa e
independiente con las superpotencias. Y fracasaron, por supuesto, en deshacerse
de él. Si ha tenido éxito en algo, ha sido en hacer más difíciles las vidas de
los cubanos. Y es aborrecible decir que tal resultado es un éxito, aunque
muchos políticos norteamericanos parecen pensar de esa manera”.
(2011) destaca que, históricamente, dos argumentos principales han justificado
la política de sanciones contra Cuba. Durante la Guerra Fría, Washington afirmó
que la alianza del gobierno de La Habana con Moscú y su comportamiento
internacional constituían una amenaza para su seguridad nacional. Tras la caída
del Muro de Berlín el argumento principal ha sido que el régimen cubano viola
los derechos humanos de sus ciudadanos, si bien ello no siempre ha coincidido
con la política exterior hacia China, Rusia o Arabia Saudí. El embargo refleja
en gran medida la influencia de una facción del exilio en apoyo a esta política
para lograr un cambio de régimen.
(2021) señala sobre el controvertido tema de las indemnizaciones cuyo monto, de
acuerdo con el valor en libro de las propiedades norteamericanas
nacionalizadas, ascendía a 1.800 millones de dólares, pero que el cálculo del
gobierno cubano sobre el perjuicio económico causado por el bloqueo a la isla
se calculó hasta 2018 en unos 134.499 millones de dólares. El gobierno de La
Habana reconoce las reclamaciones de EEUU por las propiedades nacionalizadas,
pero no las de los cubanos emigrados.
parte, Mesa-Lago (2021) apunta que “el embargo, aunque importante, no es el
mayor problema que sufre Cuba, ya que posee relaciones comerciales con al menos
70 países e inversiones de muchos de ellos, en especial de Canadá (en los
sectores turísticos o minero: explotación de níquel y petróleo), España
(turismo también), China (diversos campos) y Venezuela (crecientes hasta 2014).
Indudablemente tiene efectos negativos, como los requisitos que ha de cumplir
la banca extranjera en sus transacciones para evitar sanciones de EEUU, el
sobreprecio en la compra de mercancías de ese país, que se realiza a través de
terceros, y los mayores costes de flete. El mayor problema que afronta Cuba es su “ineficiente
sistema económico e incapacidad de generar bastantes exportaciones para pagar
A pesar del esquema de sanciones, un cierto flujo de comercio, remesas y visitantes se ha venido produciendo entre EEUU y Cuba, sobre todo desde los años 90, con mayor presencia en las dos décadas siguientes, con diferentes intensidades dependiendo del momento político. En relación a las remesas, Duany (2021) refiere que los cubanos residentes en EEUU han financiado buena parte de la modesta recuperación de la economía cubana desde la década de 1990. Los datos disponibles sugieren que éstas constituyen una fuente de ingresos fundamental en Cuba, quizá tan importante como en la República Dominicana, México, El Salvador y otras naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas. En cuanto al sector turismo y viajes, Perez y Perelló (2021) resaltan que la reducción de las prohibiciones a los viajes de norteamericanos en el período de Barack Obama permitió mostrar el posible escenario de las visitas y turismo desde EEUU hacia Cuba en un clima de distensión política.
información sobre la trayectoria cambiante de los flujos de comercio,
visitantes, remesas y finanzas son el punto de partida del presente estudio
para aproximar el impacto económico de las sanciones sobre el crecimiento
económico cubano y sobre otros agregados macroeconómicos. Con las estimaciones
no se busca aproximar el coste total de las sanciones. Tampoco se intenta
valorar todo el beneficio que pudiera traer a la economía cubana el
levantamiento futuro de todas las sanciones.
La estrategia empírica busca examinar la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento económico y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas y de indicadores financieros. Además de estimar el efecto sobre el crecimiento del PIB, se desagregan los impactos específicos a través del canal comercial, de visitantes y de remesas, y se separan los impactos para indicadores de la economía estatal y del sector privado. Este último resultado contribuye al debate en cuanto a la posibilidad de diseñar acciones de sanciones económicas que sólo impacten al gobierno sin dañar el sector privado y las familias o, en cambio, diseñar acciones que beneficien al sector privado sin beneficiar al gobierno.La segunda sección de este trabajo resume los principales eventos políticos y legislativos que han implicado giros en el esquema de sanciones desde los años 90. La tercera sección examina los acontecimientos e indicadores más relevantes de la coyuntura económica actual. La cuarta sección describe los datos usados para las estimaciones y examina la trayectoria del valor del intercambio económico entre ambos países, presentes a pesar de las sanciones. La quinta sección explica los modelos econométricos y su especificación bajo la lógica de restricciones de balanza de pagos. La sexta sección discute los resultados relacionados con el impacto de las sanciones en el crecimiento del PIB, los canales de transmisión y el impacto diferenciado entre el sector estatal y el sector privado de la economía cubana. La séptima sección evalúa la robustez estadística de los resultados, empleando como alternativa a los modelos de vectores autorregresivos (VAR). Las conclusiones comentan las implicaciones fundamentales de los resultados econométricos para el debate actual sobre la política de sanciones estadounidenses contra la economía cubana.
in the introduction written by the Council on International Relations to
Charles A. Kupchan’s book How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable
Peace, in his 2008 inaugural address, Barack Obama promised nations “on the
wrong side of history” that the U.S. would “extend a hand if they were willing
to open their fists.”
began an intellectual presidency, which certainly constitutes a strategic
presidency. With its impressive historical documentation, Kupchan’s book
provided Obama with a set of assumptions and theses that helped guide his
policy towards Cuba.
assumptions in this book are worth summarizing. The first is that the stability
of international relations is not decided by the type of regime a country has.
The second is that economic relations are not as important as diplomacy when
reducing tensions and seeking geopolitical accommodations with countries in
policy towards Cuba was designed from these two assumptions. That a policy of
unilateral concessions appeased the enemy, and that a strong investment in a
friendly narrative, respect for sovereignty, and offers of cooperation would be
more productive to achieve the goals of democratization, which Obama left in
the most effective hands: that of the Cubans.
combined with a policy of harassment and attrition, had not led to the stated
goal of U.S. foreign policy toward the Island. This was the strongest argument
against the critics of a policy shift that began with the exchange of
prisoners, the removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and
the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.
fair, Obama actually modified his message, bringing it closer to Kupchan’s
intellectual vision. He did not wait for the Cuban government to open its fist,
instead introducing changes without the latter modifying its internal and
external policy one iota.
view, and in the case of Cuba, the Obama policy’s greatest strategic success
was to overwhelm the Cuban government on three fundamental levels: in that of
its intentions, in that of its will to change, and in that of its language. Its
impact on Cuban society has been irreversible.
policy that preceded it lacked vision; confident that the harsh exercise of
power would put an end to the regime. For 62 years, the Cuban government has
been ostensibly on the verge of crumbling every four years. Obama’s policy
focused on the medium and long term, and for that very reason it was strategic.
fail? No. Although the type of regime does matter in any conception of foreign
policy—a necessary correction to Kupchan’s postulates—a consequence perhaps not
foreseen by the author, but which I assume was intuited by Obama, is that such
a policy could put an end both rhetorically and practically to the
identification and perception of the Cuban people and government as enemies of
the United States. If the Cuban government continued (continues) to place
itself in the convenient role of the enemy, this was no longer true with its
people. And this is the most important result in terms of the US’s strategic
goals, which not even the return to tough policy under Donald Trump could
reinstate: the possibility of masking the conflict between the Cuban state and
Cuban society behind the conflict between countries reached its limit with this
formulation of foreign policy. Cuba opened up, and society took the lead.
exercise of power continues with the logic inherited from the times of John F.
Kennedy: instant democracy, hence the idea of restoring the past, and the
United States playing a leading role in this transcript. Quid pro quo demands
on Obama’s policy are born out of this logic, just as his policy sought to
break with it. Obama inaugurated another era. Cubans were the ones who must
advance the changes, and the United States can only be there for what it can
and should do: to assist and support the process. The pace of change depends on
factors that the United States cannot and should not try to control. There are
constraints that the North American power must abide by based on the structural
limitations of its system; this is what the hard-liners recognize to their
chagrin every four years. After every electoral cycle, they always conclude
that its up to the Cubans. They see abandonment “a lo Kennedy” when in reality
it is the best invitation to assume control of our destiny.
approach recognized that quid pro quo policies as a diplomatic game or foreign
policy go beyond the limits imposed by a given time period, especially when it
comes to regime change. He later demonstrated this with his policy towards the
Arab Spring, mainly in Egypt. However, hardliners demand results within a fixed
period from a policy that was repeatedly repurposed over time.
It is on
this enduring and far-reaching foundation, which was put to the test here in July,
that the Joe Biden administration could and should build a revised “third way”
with Cuba, with an approach that connects its foreign policy with the nature of
governing regimes. The Cuban government is an actor and factor of regional
destabilization, with new formulas that can be confused with the mechanisms of
democracies and at the same time uses them. Democratic regimes are the key to
stable peace, the most salvageable of Francis Fukuyama’s thinking. This cannot
a dialogue on security issues in the region—including immigration, combating
drug trafficking, and climate change—blanket sanctions should be replaced by
individual sanctions at the beginning of this new post-Donald Trump political
term, which are already being applied in some cases. This would continuously
weaken strong identities in Cuba, like the ones between the country and nation,
and the state and government, which in turn strengthens the citizenry. Miguel
Díaz-Canel will have a very difficult time identifying as, or confusing himself
with, the nation.
and invigorating people-to-people diplomacy is another imperative. Soft power,
a policy applied by all Chinese administrations toward Cuba, was revealed as
the best option to undo an artificially constructed enmity between the two
countries. One cannot forget that the United States and Cuba have been
historical enemies for at least three generations, a rooted narrative that
served as propitious terrain for an unvoluntary war.
step in this new matrix should raise political recognition for the opposition
and civic recognition for civil society. From backroom conversations, which is
the usual diplomatic style that gives place to democratic alternatives, it is
important to move to a more public and formal stage of dialogue. I think this
is more important than resource aid, and takes advantage of the regime’s
growing legitimacy and legitimization vacuum, which was accelerated after July
11. There should be no doubt that the Cuban government is a government of the
element involves the empowerment of the private sector, both in terms of
training and connections, which is essential for the creation of the middle
classes. I am not so optimistic to think that the middle classes themselves
will lead to democracy. What does seem evident is that they promote economic
and social pluralism and ease the necessary tension between the State and
autonomous economic agents.
angle to de-bilateralize the democratization agenda. What Obama started can be
updated today with the North American proposal for a global democratic alliance
to curb the global spread of autocracies. In this sense, a commitment to, and
aid for, the democratization of Cuba is part of the proposal to re-democratize
all societies. On a different scale and in different dimensions, democracies
need to re-democratize. The issue of Cuba could be rethought within this new
sixth point, it is convenient to consider the vision of change in Cuba as a
process. Cuba has been closer to democracy in the last six years, despite
Donald Trump, than at any time in the previous 56 years. Cuba’s prolonged
dystopia is related to two interconnected and mutually reinforcing factors: the
supposed invasion by the American superpower on the island’s southern and
Caribbean border, which thankfully never came, but in turn fueled the
Revolution’s infallibility as a peripheral power. This had a paralyzing effect
on both global diplomacy and internal debate. The exportation of conflicts,
their causes, and many potential suggestions for change obtained its raw
material in each U.S. electoral cycle.
regime has always had an added strategic advantage with this logic: selling the
diplomatic narrative that the debate for democracy in Cuba is a debate for
sovereignty between two states with equal recognition in the United Nations.
With this, it has managed at times to denationalize the democratic discussion
and halt not only democratic action, but also threats of reform within the
mindset, on the other hand, accelerates democratization, paradoxical as it may
seem, and authenticates change. This is because only one process is capable of
involving its recipients, which are the Cuban people. This eliminates the
paralyzing obstacles caused by harsh nationalist takes on diversity and
plurality. The social outbreak on June 11 (11J), which exposed the deep rifts
between society and the government, can now be channeled through an intelligent
strategy of democratic change that fuses an inclusive movement with a broad
It is crucial that political language gradually appropriate what in Colombia
they call the “mechanism of disarming words.” Harsh rhetoric almost always
serves to hide conceptual and strategic weaknesses in political designs. I
would say more: soft rhetoric is more accurate, goes deeper, and avoids the
defensive psychological distractions generated by toxic insults between and
within countries. Most importantly, insults are not practical for resolving
conflicts. Soft rhetoric could fill in many absences. The case of Venezuela
comes to mind, where strong, binary, and radical discourse has drowned out more
than one possibility for concrete advances. As an old international relations
professor told me: you only get to the root through moderation.
change in language is essential to interact from abroad with a more diverse and
plural Cuban society, with dissimilar interests, with a new generation that has
risen rapidly to the public stage, and with an elite whose sometimes visible
tensions and fragmentation reflect the underlying currents of change. Like
never before, words must be actions.
how to approach the embargo issue in this dual scenario with post-Castroism on
one side and a Democratic administration in the White House on the other? The
discussion about the embargo is still relevant. My opposition of it dates back
to 1991. It is part of my political and ideological identity. Beyond this, the
conversation must be calibrated and balanced for several reasons.
a logical asymmetry between the campaign against the embargo led by the Cuban
government and the complex political process that can lead to its elimination.
If control over the embargo were in the hands of the U.S. executive branch,
such a campaign would have political coherence and consistency because the
embargo’s elimination would be viable. This is well known, but what is lost is
that the Cuban government is also aware of it and uses it for reasons other
than the ostensible interest of removing the embargo. The embargo works
perfectly as a political and diplomatic distraction to hide the government’s
own responsibilities and freeze democratic diplomacy within multilateral
organizations such as the United Nations. Does the Cuban government have a
group of lawyers in Washington that works systematically with Congress, on both
sides of the aisle, to pass legislation that removes the embargo? If it does,
they are not doing their job well. If it is trying but not succeeding that
means they are not doing their job well either. And if it hasn’t tried, it
means that it prefers to spend more money on propaganda than on achieving
specific political goals.
narrative, the embargo also serves the government by clouding its structural
insufficiencies in areas as important as meeting the basic needs of the
economy. And the fact is that the embargo has not prevented, nor does it
prevent, the importation of basic goods from the United States, the dynamics of
which are well hidden in public discussion. The questions that constantly arise
are: is the Cuban government really interested in lifting the embargo? Does it
really help it? I have my doubts. Hence the calibrated analysis, independent of
the ethics of the policy, which requires us to look at through a political
for the democratization of Cuba should not be linked to the elimination of the
embargo. If Obama’s policy demonstrated something, which in principle must be
maintained by Biden, it is that reforms in Cuba have no obstacles other than
the political will of the government. If the July protests left any clarity, it
is that an already open Cuban society wants and understands that change is
possible regardless of the United States. If we say and assume that the
solution to the Cuban problem corresponds to and is the exclusive business of
Cubans, we should not confuse facilitating conditions with necessary ones. In
my perspective, there are only two reasons to oppose the embargo. One responds
to the multilateralism of the international order and the other is ethical. And
granted, the latter is a political arena par excellence. Or it should be.
rest, a coalition from an active political center is what we are lacking. It
must be diverse and plural like Cuba but focused on rational and mature
solutions for our multiple challenges, as well as inclusive enough to
accommodate various currents, which are fewer or at least less visible, but
with the capacity, knowledge, and disposition for a realistic exercise of
political imagination. We deserve it.
More Americans favor engaging Cuba diplomatically than any other approach to the island, according to a new poll by the online political platform Moxy.
survey found that 41 percent of respondents favored diplomatic engagement,
followed by 35 percent saying it should be easier for Cubans to migrate to the
United States, 34 percent wanting to sanction Cuban human rights abuses in
international courts, and 33 percent favoring ratcheting up sanctions on the
presented 10 different policy measures, and the respondents can choose as many
as they want,” said Cesar Melgoza, CEO of Moxy.
one that was chosen most often, overall as well as by Republicans and
Democrats, was diplomacy,” added Melgoza.
polling results come as the Biden administration is expanding its diplomatic
footprint in Cuba. The State Department last month allowed diplomats on the
island to be accompanied by adult relatives, but the White House has stopped
short of the policy of rapprochement from the Obama era.
Cuba remains in the political spotlight, particularly in Florida after protests
on the island renewed interest in supporting the Cuban opposition among some
according to Moxy’s poll, Americans overall don’t see Cuba as a top issue.
scale of 1 to 5, Cuba received a score of 2.74 as a policy that affects
how respondents vote. Among Democrats,
the average score was 3.01 and among Republicans it was 2.67. Cuban-American voters were most likely to
have their vote swayed by Cuba policy, with an average score of 3.75.
Rep. Joe García (D), a South Florida political veteran, said the poll results
indicate a need for President Biden to engage more in Cuba policy. “I’ll go so far as to say that if he
does not, he will have missed a premium opportunity to endear himself to the
Cuban people in South Florida, perhaps to impact the next election,” said
don’t know what his advisors are thinking. From my point of view, it’s the
perfect opportunity, and it’s harmonic with democracy. It’s harmonic with human
rights, it’s harmonic with the best political strategy. So there’s no reason
not to pay more attention,” he added.
to the poll, 24 percent of respondents think Biden proactively represents the
interests of the Cuban people. That puts
the president behind Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), at 29 percent. But
Biden is ahead of Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), at 17 percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz
(R-Texas), with 15 percent.
Republican politicians dominate the list of individuals who represent the
interests of the Cuban people, almost 37 percent of voters said Democrats best
represent Cuban Americans, and nearly 27 percent of voters said Republicans do.
interpreted the poll results as an invitation for Biden to engage Cuba with a
“carrot and stick” approach.
frankly, invite those Republicans who are most outspoken on the issue into the
dialogue, because otherwise they’ll criticize probably anything he proposes
anyway. But bring them in into it, make them part of the team, come up with a
plan. And more importantly, do something about it,” he added.
The poll was conducted online Aug. 2-9, with 1,014 completed responses and an oversampling of Cuban-origin voters.
After protests swept the whole country in July, the Cuban government has started taking measures to contain the fallout. While this response goes beyond the regime’s initial repression, it hasn’t yet entirely left that path. If the country’s leadership wants to survive this test, it has no choice but to respond to citizens’ legitimate demands.
one may like it or not, the events of 11 July 2021 will have an effect on how
Cubans themselves and their country. For most of the population, it was a sad
day – and most people would rather not remember the sad days. But it cannot be
ignored. At present, information about what actually happened is still patchy;
it is difficult to navigate between fake news and the official versions of
been established is that, on Sunday 11July, there were widespread
anti-government protests, some of which ended in violence – and this had never
happened before in Cuba. As such, many observers and indeed the authorities
themselves were surprised. The result was images of violence and a situation
which had escalated out of control. Whatever the details, this is objectively
damaging for the Cuban government: and even if, as looks unlikely, the
situation settles back down, the reputational damage will last.
NOT A SURPRISE
the Cuban government shouldn’t have been surprised by the course of events –
this being the same government that had for months been talking up the
possibility of a ‘soft coup’ or a ‘colour revolution’ planned across the water
by its arch-enemy, the US. Perhaps it was the surprise of something actually
happening that led the government to clamp down so repressively, while pursuing
the same endless propaganda communication strategy as ever despite its
demonstrably diminishing returns.
equally surprising that this unrest did not surface much earlier, considering
the privations to which the Cuban population has long been subject and which
have been further worsened by the pandemic.
the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile,
unrest in the country was staved off.
unrest is here – and its effect is palpable. Just three months after the Eighth
Congress of the Communist Party and two years after establishing a new
constitution, the new Cuban leadership finds itself in crisis. A crisis that,
in many ways, evokes the situation in the socialist countries of eastern Europe
just prior to their collapse.
CUBA’S EARLY ACHIEVEMENTS
are, however, several differences. Cuba is a third-world country which, after
years of neo-colonial suppression, liberated itself by means of a national
revolution. As the result of an aggressive confrontation with Washington, this
revolution became increasingly radical – and was initially successful, too, in
its goal of halting the advance of US imperialism. The result was a socialist
model that because of an alliance with the Soviet Union offered considerable
advantages for at least the next three decades.
the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile,
unrest in the country was staved off. Essentially, the fact that the socialist
regime not only survived a direct confrontation with the US but went on to
become a unique actor on the world stage – not only during the Cold War, but
beyond – conferred considerable credit on the government and allowed it freedom
of manoeuvre in domestic issues.
achievements and successes are without doubt the foundation of Cuban regime’s
resilience and its people’s stoicism in the face of lasting and quite
extraordinary difficulties. Yet while these difficulties certainly are caused
by the US embargo, they are in no small part also the result of governmental
inadequacy and poor policy. When it comes to the role of the country’s
political opposition, the situation is similar. Certainly, some groups are
being supported from the US with a view to subverting the Cuban regime.
THE DOMESTIC OPPOSITION
during the unrest, the activists with US support were less visible than those
of the country’s domestic Movimiento San Isidro and 27N groupings. Then again,
there is no doubt about the fact that protests were encouraged on social media
– to no small degree by political influencers who do not live in Cuba, but
rather mainly in Miami, where militant anti-Castro activism remains an
important local industry financed from a range of state and non-state sources.
In Cuban national reality, social media has become a toxic element as millions
of dollars are pumped into fake-news campaigns aiming to destabilise the
however, the trigger came from outside, unrest would not have flared up if it
had, inside Cuba, not found fertile ground prepared by numerous political
mistakes on the part of the government. Here, a range of factors played a role:
in the poorest urban areas, conditions had worsened considerably; overall, food
supply had become increasingly erratic; and after a successful start in
combating the pandemic, the situation in healthcare was becoming unstable.
government reacted by proclaiming that ‘the embargo is the problem’ and talking
down the protests as ‘interference from outside’ in an effort to cover up its
own errors. What the regime has underestimated is the dissatisfaction that this
mantra now provokes. Certainly, the sanctions upheld against Cuba by the US for
almost 60 years now represent, to paraphrase US historian Peter Beinart, a kind
of economic war against a country under siege. Beinart is right to criticise
the embargo as a non-military act of war – and one which, given that the stated
aim has always been regime change, has never had much prospect of success. And
while Washington refutes Cuban accusations, it is a simple matter of fact that
Joe Biden has maintained sanctions imposed by Donald Trump even as the pandemic
has continued to rage.
to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in
respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake.
more than six months now, the Biden Administration has failed to make good on
its manifesto promise and remains locked in the Trumpian version of Republican
Party logic vis-à-vis Cuba policy – the illusion that ever more extreme
sanctions will eventually succeed in dislodging the regime which came to power
in 1959. So this much seems likely: sanctions against Cuba will remain in place
for the next three years; Cubans will get even poorer; the Cuban government will
continue to be bullied.
THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT NEEDS A RETHINK
In view of this, Havana is currently trying to contain the fallout. Yet the regime needs to examine the political and social situation – and grasp that only economic policy focusing on efficiency and activating domestic productive capacity can get the country out of the current crisis. Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake. The reforms the government has promised, especially in respect of food distribution, need to be enacted – fast.
of how to deal with the figureheads of the protests adds another layer of
complexity to the situation. The government cannot allow the impression to develop
that, either at home or abroad, it is cracking down hard on peaceful
demonstrations. Yet currently, there are rumours about summary justice and
questionable court proceedings leading to sentences of ten to twelve months for
people who, in many cases, do not seem to have been involved in any acts of
violence. This comes for Cubans who have only recently had the important
experience of debating and then approving a new constitution in which the
importance of fair trials is underscored. Now more than ever, citizens are
demanding nothing more – and nothing less – than that the police act within the
government, too, needs to rethink how it works. As its population is
increasingly deaf to the argument that the embargo is the root of all evil, it
needs to make a serious attempt to overcome two key political-ideological
obstacles in its way. Firstly, there is the outdated approach to socialism as a
system primarily steered from central planning bureaus; this dogmatic dirigisme
reduces the role of the market in distributing resources to a minimum – with
all the attendant problems. Secondly, the regime needs to distance itself from
an idea of socialism as an authoritarian model that can ignore or even
criminalise those whose criticism is intended to make the country’s economy
more efficient and its society more democratic, to see its 2019 constitution
enacted and establish the rule of law.
A WHOLE NEW MOMENT FOR CUBA
regime’s reaction to the events of 11 July as communicated official media channels
showed no signs of overcoming this tendency. Those who took part in the
protests have been discredited and decried as criminal elements – overlooking
the specific and legitimate demands made by many in a peaceful manner. This may
come back to haunt the regime.
demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just
what difficulties the country’s society is facing.
Furthermore, official announcements have sought to justify the use of repressive violence – a message with which many Cubans who, while not directly involved, have observed (and been shocked by) events, strongly disagree. Internationally, Cuba’s image has taken a hit. There is still no clarity about the number of demonstrations or how they played out, how many took part, and how many participants have been placed under arrest. Meanwhile, intellectuals and artists have publicly denounced the regime’s repressive course, with many demanding the release of all peaceful protestors – including such figures as songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who enjoys a great deal of respect among many in government.
of genuine information is leaving space for disinformation to circulate around
both external actors and the country’s population – disinformation spread with
the aim of undermining the government. At the same time, Cuban citizens have
broadly accepted the precept that peaceful protests are legitimate and should
be protected under law. This is a precept with which the government, however,
in clear contravention of the principal of a socialist country under the rule
of law, does not agree. This is not sending the right message – neither on a
domestic nor international level.
demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just
what difficulties the country’s society is facing. These difficulties have been
further aggravated by a US embargo which continues to impoverish the Cuban
population and exert pressure on the country’s government. The current
situation represents a stress-test for the Cuban regime, which would do well to
remember that, when faced with similar situations, like-minded politicians had
more success when they decided to pursue a path of generosity and listen to
citizens’ legitimate concerns rather than leaving demands to fall on deaf ears.
he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors
that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11,
considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on
On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street
protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane
Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11
outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns
and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of
the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media
in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no
wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media
sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt.
The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable
everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less
likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial
support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival
in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods
available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also
been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where
“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved
for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men.
The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or
ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official
Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by
right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing
were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in
South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for “humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas
(Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and
abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right
to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola,
himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological
activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and
essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a
phrase that in Cuba translates as “fucked” but
means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida
(fatherland and life). “Patria y Vida” is
the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group
of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the
song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its
explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.
“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old
Cuban government slogan of “Patria
o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense
in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual
invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation
bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence
and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.
But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959,
the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no
Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959
is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of
political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew
the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic
sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately
silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst
right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it
True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the “revolutionaries”
to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the
demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the
secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that
responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several
leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they
had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of
charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of
defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but
which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those
Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that “the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that “the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.
But Why Now?
Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the
Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the
severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying
The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of
tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and
inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years.
Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the
pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even
reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent
years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various
currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the
dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted
among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC
is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with
the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate
is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black
market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is
going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever
more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s
recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency.
Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas,
the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last
years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are
inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and
for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for
20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the
government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but
not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is
costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the
state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop
that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is
notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not
arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference
and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This
creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of
goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports
70% of the food it consumes from various countries
including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to
Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the
goods are shipped to the island.)
The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming
millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of
tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before
the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is
starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the
one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic
practices. This is not a “flaw” of the Cuban
system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a “flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and
the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the
United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of
Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in
exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that
Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely
reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House,
has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it
more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American
or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will
punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing
business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the
Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since
then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for
the American consulate in Havana.
While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it
has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at
the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and
irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is
the Cuban government and its “left” allies in
the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades,
to blame only the blockade.
At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have
neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic
control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work,
thus reducing the quantity and quality of production.
Health Situation in Cuba
After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the
early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well
during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the
region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still
unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made
a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the
economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez
Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13),
until April 12, a little more than a year
after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had
died among the 87,385
cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19.
But only three months later, on July 12, the number
of the deceased had reached 1,579
with 224, 914 diagnosed
cases (2.5 times as many
as in the much longer previous period).
The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of
the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor,
Matanzas province was 3,000
beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of
Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with
a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals.
My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of
controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated
a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take
a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional
medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing
with what results.
Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for
the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was
responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the
island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines
from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX
(Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by
several international organizations including the World Health Organization
(WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations.
Currently only 16% of the population has been fully
vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of
The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into
a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban
government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen
what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable
family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has
seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale
(including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government
clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government.
Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to
bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless,
going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they
earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods.
However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they
are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile
of 8 years duration.
The Political Context
Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime
and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their
government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel
(born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz
(born in 1963) as prime minister. This new
leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social
liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013
the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of
people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same
time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave
the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it
on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 “regulados” (people
subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all.
It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by
the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of
Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made
outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds
of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out
every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by
the government (a police method that only works for previously planned
political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11).
The One-Party State
The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s
rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym)
is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties.
Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control
from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the
unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.
Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin
America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not
approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as
reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one
honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that
doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party
bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly
repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into
the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba,
Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution
was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of
the actions of counterrevolutionaries.
The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban
constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in
a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the
so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the
decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the
official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to
maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing
the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of
working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was
established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the
workers’ best interests.
The same control mechanisms apply to other “mass
organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other
institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational
system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under
the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the
Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to
the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the
Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely
cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its
parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception
is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its
absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and
dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet
that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible.
Where is Cuba Going?
Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy
retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government
leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11,
even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad
international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the
single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course
to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the
Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political
authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially
At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow
inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing
control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized
the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it
would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the
hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an
important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with
ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The
most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen.
Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who
is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which
includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is
significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of
Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian
bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years
of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the
failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during
those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To
be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by
encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of
increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more
Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his
first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that
were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second
Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025
will do anything different remains an open question.
There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba
policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class
interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly
contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh
or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably
the most politically active business institution in the United States has
advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years.
Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year,
visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big
agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are
agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain
States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it
is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in
achieving that goal.
This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the
deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade,
through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression
and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time
becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state.
Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key
tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba.
Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather
than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the
struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in
Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong
Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.
Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper
headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)
After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden
administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on
the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.
“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary
of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair
Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to
continue to stand with the Cuban people.”
For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood
with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban
people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To
stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation,
regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations
in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution.
In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the
Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations,
and economic sanctions.
It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially
designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to
US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early
into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to
deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment
shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.
Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral
damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target.
Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to
foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by
despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the
The declassification of government records provides insight into the
calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial
program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State
Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its
internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to
incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions
for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of
Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the
Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces
largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”
The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the
Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based
on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be
undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money
and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about
hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times
expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US
sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter
of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or
lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its
intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations.
That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.
But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political
culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’
desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive
reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always
Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and
periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely
to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily
available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and
resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and
immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of
ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master
narrative of Cuban government.
But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government
view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its
intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often
served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that
protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a
threat to national security.
The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to
popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests
are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US
subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility
of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a
Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged
and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular
adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.
Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people
often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom
often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population
confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity
of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial
Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for
which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized
itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has
collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous
implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.
The Trump administration revived the
most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per
person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and
members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of
donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the
processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an
action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba
in November 2020.
And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump
administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors
of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater
shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States
imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other
than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s
comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the
United States has done.”
Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished
remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food,
scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with
the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making
everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful
protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.
Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.
The French philosophe and
essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express
the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about
the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often.
It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my
head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in
South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to
answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you
would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans
in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral
community” tick. But when faced with the question Que sais-je?,
which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of
the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside
Take, for example, the resurgence of
pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn
even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored
in recent years.
What is driving this macabre enthusiasm
to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and
bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447,
the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the
Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet
Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously?
There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the
threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a
vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has
changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.
Maybe there is more behind this seeming
callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban
diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens
making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our
friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can
afford it and sending food via Katapulk is
becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support,
especially during this horrific pandemic period.
Maybe championing the embargo, in the
minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the
embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout
the island. Qué sé yo?
I want to understand why so many of us
insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we
know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and
negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the
With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions.
To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.
The only hope that I hold for seeing
the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in
its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States
are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government.
Accepting this might not be easy for
those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban
government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of
clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as
a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change.