New York – If there was a category in the Guinness World Records for the most ineffective foreign policy decisions ever made, the Cuban embargo by the United States would probably be among the leading contenders. How else can we categorize a policy that in more than 60 years hasn’t produced any of the desired effects?
Let’s see. It hasn’t ended the Castro brothers’ dictatorial rule over the country. It hasn’t fostered a popular uprising against the regime or led to its downfall. It hasn’t improved living conditions for the Cuban people. It hasn’t fostered better communication with the Cuban government or closer economic ties. And it certainly hasn’t improved the U.S. image in the world.
If anything, the embargo has only succeeded in subjecting Cubans to a life of privation and misery. On several visits to the island on U.N.-sponsored public health missions I witnessed the limited food choices available to Cubans. Going into a bodega was an exercise in frustration. Store shelves were emptier than an unlucky beggar’s cup — not so though in the stores for diplomats, the government elite and its favored artists and sports figures.
On June 23, 2021, the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution demanding the U.S. end its economic embargo against Cuba. A total of 184 countries voted in favor while the U.S. and Israel opposed the measure, and three nations abstained.
Granted that the U.N. General Assembly is a very political body, but still, is the U.S. so arrogant as to believe so many countries are wrong? And even worse, the communist government of Cuba uses the embargo to justify its shortcomings and use it to increase its grip on power.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the island, Cuban hospitals lack the most basic medical supplies such as the syringes needed to vaccinate the population. How can there be no syringes? Is that even possible in this day and age? Not even Camus would have imagined such a scenario.
The recent uprisings taking place on the island may eventually lead to the government’s downfall. It should be noted, however, that these demonstrations are caused not only by the incapacity of the government to provide Cubans with a decent standard of living, but they are also a response to the deprivations caused by the embargo.
During my trips to Cuba, one thing always surprised me: Although the Soviet Union financially backed the Cuban government for decades while the U.S. was imposing a crippling embargo, Cubans always showed a great affinity for Americans.
Can anything be done now to better the predicament of the Cuban people? I believe so. To begin with, the U.S. government should change the tone of the relationship with Cuba from one of confrontation to one of cooperation. The U.S. should send a delegation of physicians to assess the health situation in Cuba and to determine the areas where help is most needed.
Nothing could be easier than to send basic medical supplies, medicines and even syringes. Medical aid should be given with no preconditions. Although the Cuban government has many shortcomings, it is far from being the worst government with which the U.S. has normal diplomatic relations.
For the last 60 years, the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has been one marked by confrontation. President Biden can change that. He should listen to those Democratic lawmakers who asked him to revoke Trump’s “cruel” sanctions and promote a more constructive approach with Havana. For six decades the Cuban people have suffered a punishing embargo. It is time to give them a chance.
Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a writer on human rights and medical issues.
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