One of the arguments against the embargo that’s often put forward is that fidel really doesn’t want the embargo removed. That he uses it as an excuse to blame his failings on the “imperialist” neighbor to the north. I submit to you that that logic is wrong.
The first thing you have to know is that the embargo certainly hurts Cuba’s economy. Everyone agrees on that. Since Cuba has a centralized, planned economy loss of revenue to the economy means a much greater loss of revenue to the government than would be the case in countries with market economies where one sector might suffer while another flourishes.
The next thing you need to know is that castro does indeed use the embargo as an excuse. Both in Cuba, to explain, why everything the government tries fails and outwardly to the international community that is already predisposed to believe an anti-American propaganda. But the simple fact that he uses it as an excuse doesn’t make the excuse valid. And just because he uses it as an excuse doesn’t mean that removing the embargo will disarm castro of excuses and it certainly doesn’t mean he secretly wants the embargo to persist.
I submit to you that castro does indeed want the embargo removed. Except that he wants it removed unconditionally. He wants to continue to be able to rule with impunity, on his terms and be rewarded for it. Political prisoners? That’s an internal matter, he says. Room for political opposition? There is no opposition, only mercenaries of the empire, he says.
The following is an excerpt from an interview castro did for a Venezuelan newspaper in 1994 that I obtained via the Heritage Foundation’s web site:
The U.S. plan is to starve Cuba into submission, but even if [the U.S.] were to hurl an atomic bomb at Cuba, nothing would change. There is no solution but to end the embargo…. If [Cuba] had Venezuela’s oil and other economic resources, we wouldn’t even have developed tourism…. Lifting the embargo is fundamental…. The embargo is causing us terrible damage today when the socialist bloc no longer exists and we have lost 70 percent of our trade and imports…. What country in the world would have resisted the five years that Cuba has resisted?… The suffering hurts all of us, but we won’t exchange the independence of this nation for a plate of beans…. [U]nder no concept can lifting the embargo be conditioned to issues that affect our independence. The Cuban position is a worthy one: Lift the embargo without any conditions. It’s the only honorable course.
The European Union position on Cuba is to try to coax Cuba into joining the ranks of civilized countries through dialogue and engagement. A policy that Cuba rejects, by the way. You’ll remember that Europe slapped some mild sanctions (mostly of a diplomatic nature) on Cuba after the “Black Spring of 2003” during which 75 dissidents were rounded up and imprisoned and 3 Afro-Cuban men were executed for attempting to steal a boat. The regime denounces those measures as interference with Cuban sovereignty.
In short, castro wants to have his cake and eat it to, all while telling the rest of the world to shove it.
One of the examples that embargo opponents cite as proof that castro doesn’t really want to remove the embargo despite the official rhetoric is the Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown of 1996. It was well known that the Clinton administration was looking to normalize relations with Cuba. The Helms-Burton bill was headed for certain veto and then raul castro (most likely on orders from fidel) ordered the shootdown of two American civilian aircraft in international airspace, killing 3 American citizens and 1 American resident alien. In the aftermath of the shootdown Clinton signed the Helms-Burton bill into law. Embargo opponents argue that if castro wanted the embargo removed that he wouldn’t have ordered or allowed the shootdown that, in effect, sabotaged the potential lifting of the embargo. Similarly, castro has sabotaged other attempts to somewhat normalize relations with the U.S. For example in 1980 with the Mariel Boatlift.
I don’t accept these examples as proof of castro’s desire to keep the embargo in place. On the contrary, I see them as attempts to measure the temperature. That’s because even though he wants the embargo to be lifted, he wants to make sure that everyone understands that it was not due to any capitulation on his part. In other words, with the shootdown he was defiantly saying “I do what I do because I want to do it and if you don’t like it, tough. Now lower the embargo.” The thing is that even Bill Clinton was not willing to accept such a scenario.
So while castro understands that the embargo hurts the Cuban people, he is not willing to negotiate away his “right” to repress, murder and intimidate. It’s all an issue of sovereignty you see.
And while some of you out there might be comfortable with lifting legitimate sanctions against one of the most vile regimes the world has known, I sure as hell am not. fidel essentially takes responsibility for the misery of 11 million Cubans in the above excerpt. It’s his unbending will that causes Cubans pain and keeps Cuba in a draconian version of 19th century.