Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time to end the Cuban embargo?

Has the time finally come to end the US embargo on Cuba?

After the Cuban exile-led Bay of Pigs invasion failed to dislodge Fidel Castro's Communist government, President John Kennedy slapped an embargo on the island nation in 1962, hoping that economic pressure would remove Castro from power. For five decades the embargo has been the bedrock of the United States' policy towards Cuba, but now there are growing calls for the US to drop this relic of the Cold War.

On Monday Caricom, a bloc that represents 15 Caribbean nations, called on President-Elect Barack Obama to end the Cuban embargo when he is sworn into power in January. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister W. Baldwin Spencer, the acting head of Caricom, said the "transformational change" under way in Washington should include repealing the decades-long embargo. The embargo also seems to be losing support from its most passionate supporters - the Cuban-American community in South Florida.

A poll conducted by Florida International University shows that 55% of Florida's Cuban-American community now supports a change in US-Cuban relations, including the repeal of the embargo. Analysts chalk the change in attitude up to the shifting demographics of the Cuban-American community, which is now being run more and more by American-born Cuban-Americans rather than Castro-era exiles that were born in Cuba. The younger generation has a different perspective than their elders and in general want more normal relations between the US and Cuba.

The Florida Cuban-Americans have been a major reason why the embargo has lasted so long, so if their attitude is changing it could signal an end for what at this point is a terribly outdated policy. The embargo never has the success nine US presidents had hoped it would. For much of the time Cuba was a patron state of the Soviet Union, which provided it with large subsidies and was a major buyer of their exports (like sugar). Today the beaches around Havana are filled with Canadian and European tourists, and Caribbean nations send students to Cuban medical schools, while Chinese and Russian companies are negotiating with the Cuban authorities to develop offshore oil fields. So in reality, the only country not doing business with Cuba is the United States.

If the embargo didn't bring down the Castro regime for the past 46 years, its not going to do so now, so why not put to rest this relic of the Cold War and try to normalize relations with one of our closest neighbors?
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