As I watch the images of Cubans protesting in the streets of Havana I can’t help but remember my two visits to the island nation several years ago. The Cuban people were very friendly but certainly oppressed by the Communist government. Many were very poor and struggling to survive. Some had found ways to make a decent living but it wasn’t easy. It’s often pointed out that Cuba lies just 90 miles from Florida but as I stood on the shore line one day looking out at the water I realized how desperate you would have to be to climb onto a make shift raft and hope you made it to the United States. One time eating at a hotel restaurant having what they considered a hamburger, I saw hungry people staring in the windows watching us. It made it even harder to enjoy that meal.
Watching what is going on there today I admire their courage to protest for better lives. I also think about the embargo the U.S. put on Cuba some six decades ago. I understand why it was put on originally. The Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crisis were still fresh in peoples’ minds. The intent was to get people to overthrow the Communist regime but I think it is safe to say after 60 years that it is a failed policy. I know people with relatives in Cuba and families that lost possessions and loved ones when Castro took over don’t want the embargo lifted. I’ve had strong debates with some of them including Florida Senator Rubio and a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce. While I still don’t agree with them about the embargo and certainly can appreciate their position. For them it was and still is very personal. Some of them still hope to get back lost land. I hope they do but it seems unlikely.
I hear some people in the media say lifting the embargo would be rewarding and supporting a Communist government. I find it interesting that every time we make a grain sale to Communist China I don’t hear that same criticism. Others say because of its proximity to the U.S. and what happened during the missile crisis that it would be a national security risk to lift the embargo. While that may have been true sixty years ago with today’s modern technology missiles can be fired on us from anywhere around the world. I don’t understand why we single out Cuban communists as somehow worse or more dangerous than in China or anywhere else around the world. Perhaps it is time to try something else. I understand that the government would have control over what the people are allowed to have but I feel the more we send to that island nation the harder it would be for the government to keep it from the people. In other words more rather than less seems to me to be worth a try. Other nations, including China, are doing business there and gaining a foothold. While not a large market it certainly could have been and still could be a good market for U. S. farmers who over the years have been allowed to sell a little but not a lot to Cuba despite numerous trade missions like the ones I was on. I have felt for a long time that the embargo was very hypocritical. It’s easy to single out a small country that is no longer a military threat to us and doesn’t really have that much we want other than cigars or rum. China on the other hand produces many products we want plus provides a good market for us. A U.S. embargo on China would be very costly and very unpopular and probably as ineffective as the one on Cuba.
Still which country poses the biggest threat to us? I don’t think it’s Cuba. I hope we can find a way to help the Cuban people. My heart goes out to them. I just don’t think keeping a failed policy in place is the best way to do it. Sixty years is a long enough sample size to know we need to try something else.