Unintended Results of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba
The recent relaxation of restrictions for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba have had unintended and not very positive results. It is enriching the coffers of the Cuban government. It is also providing aid – money, food, clothing – almost exclusively to white families on the island. Most Cuban-Americans in the U.S. visiting Cuba have contact with and bring help to their friends and family, mostly white Cubans. This has produced a deepening economic and social divide between Cuban blacks and whites. Blacks benefit very little from Cuban-Americans travel or remittances. Since Cuba’s population is over 60 percent black or mulatto, the Obama administration policy of liberalizing travel is counterproductive and benefits only a minority of Cubans.
Yet some in this country would like to extend this policy to American tourists and to end the U.S. embargo. They continue to claim that if the embargo and the travel ban are lifted, the Cuban people will benefit economically; American companies will penetrate and influence the Cuban market; the communist system will begin to crumble, and a transition to a democratic society will be accelerated.
These expectations are based on several incorrect assumptions:
- First, the Castro brothers and the Cuban leadership are naïve and inexperienced and, therefore, will allow tourists and investments from the United States to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments in the island.
- Second, that American tourists will achieve what millions of tourists from all over the world have been unable to achieve: bring democracy to the island.
- Third, Cuba will open up and allow U.S. investments in all sectors of the economy, instead of selecting the companies allowed to trade and invest.
- Fourth, the Castro leadership is so interested in close relations with the United States that they are willing to risk what has been uppermost in their mind for 50 years – total control of power and a legacy of opposition to “Yankee imperialism” – in exchange for economic improvement for the Cubans.
A further change in U.S. policy toward Cuba may have different and unintended results. The lifting of the embargo and the travel ban without meaningful and irreversible changes in Cuba will:
- Guarantee the continuation of the current totalitarian structures;
- Strengthen state enterprise, since money will flow into businesses owned by the Cuban government. Most businesses are owned in Cuba by the state and, in all foreign investments, the Cuban government retains a partnership interest;
- Lead to a greater repression and control since General Castro and the leadership win fear that U.S. influence will subvert the revolution and weaken the Communist Party’s hold on the Cuban people;
- Delay, instead of accelerate, a transition to democracy in the island;
- Allow General Castro to borrow from international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, etc. Cuba owes billions of dollars to the former Soviet Union, to the European lenders of the Club of Paris and to others. It has refused in the past to acknowledge or pay these debts. New loans will be wasted by Castro’s inefficient and wasteful system and will be uncollectible.
The reason Castro has been unable to pay back loans and Cubans are suffering economic hardships is not because of the U.S. embargo, but because of Cuba’ failed economic system.
- Perpetuate the rather extensive control that the military holds over the economy and foster the further development of “mafia type” groups that manage and profit from important sectors of the economy, particularly tourism, biotechnology and agriculture.
- Negate the basic tenets of U.S. policy in Latin America, which emphasize democracy, human rights and market economies.
- Send the wrong message to the enemies of the United States: that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and – eventually – the United States will “forget and forgive” and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.
The travel ban and the embargo should be maintained until the Castro brothers or a successive regime is willing to provide meaningful concessions in the areas of human rights and political change. To end them now would be to give the Cuban leadership a gift they do not deserve.
*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Mureau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of the PAN, now in its third edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.