On Cuba, Trump got it right
The Megarian Decree of 432 B.C. is believed to the first relevant policy of economic sanctions levied against a regime. In this case, the Athenian Empire’s executed formula against Sparta’s ally, Megara, was more in line with an embargo, which broadens the penalties and effectively seeks to limit and undermine the targeted enemy’s commercial activity.
Since then, and up until today, economic sanctions and embargoes against rogue regimes have remained an awesome asset in democracy’s arsenal to help render justice and promote better governance, when applied comprehensively and with consistence.
Twenty-three years ago, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, better known as the Helms-Burton Act, was signed into law. Beginning May 2, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration will comprehensively implement the most salient section of the legislation.
This will be a first time ever, and it couldn’t come at a more welcome moment. To fully appreciate the Helms-Burton Act, one must keep in mind it’s underlying rationale. Cuban communism represented the largest theft (non-compensated mass nationalization) in history of U. S. citizens’ commercial possessions. This convinced President John F. Kennedy that an embargo would be the least the United States could do in response. Additionally, as communist Cuba became a pivotal player in the promotion of Marxist subversion in the Western Hemisphere, regime change became an unstated goal, albeit of a secondary consideration but equally of moral importance.
Today, this policy of commercial and economic restraint constitutes the longest-running trade embargo in contemporary history. Its weakness has been not in its moral justification, but in the inconsistent and often contradictory manner which varying American presidencies have sought to apply it. In 1995, Sen. Jesse Helms. R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., sought to fix this with legislation setting forth coherent trade and economic sanctions policy against the Castro government that could not be diluted by presidential whims. Noting the success that economic sanctions had in producing regime change in racist-era South Africa, it was no coincidence that the Helms-Burton law contained aspects which mimicked the intention of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.
But the Helms-Burton bill, ultimately signed into law by President Bill Clinton, contained an unfortunate clause leaving the president in control of whether to waive its most powerful provision, Title III. In practice, this has rendered the Helms-Burton Act impotent, as every single American president has waived it. Until now.
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