Friday, April 06, 2007

Take down the barriers to U.S. ideals in Cuba

Detroit Free Press

April 6, 2007


I recently received a letter from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control notifying me that my application to travel to Cuba for humanitarian reasons had been denied.

Apparently no one told this corner of the federal bureaucracy that the Cold War was over.

The development of free trade around the world upholds the economic vitality of the United States. But free trade is about something else, too: a moral imperative that free trade leads to free people.

When the past 50 years of American-Cuban relations are considered, however, it becomes evident that this sensible idea has been dashed upon the rocks of political inertia, emotionalism and a disproportionately powerful domestic lobby.

The Cuban embargo began during the Cold War, when limiting Soviet encroachment into the Western hemisphere made strategic sense. When the Berlin Wall collapsed, however, the main reason to support the Cuban embargo also disappeared. But the federal government continued the embargo in the hopes that it would prompt the collapse of Fidel Castro's government.

The question then begs to be asked: How many years must a policy fail to achieve its objective before it is considered a failure? Not only has the embargo failed to spark Cuban democratization, it actually legitimizes Fidel Castro by enabling him to argue, with some truthfulness, that the embargo has thwarted Cuban economic growth.

The policy of isolating purportedly unfriendly regimes is also inconsistently applied. While forbidding American citizens to travel to Cuba, for example, the federal government encourages trade and commerce with totalitarian regimes like China and the House of Saud. Potent cigars and sunny beaches, it seems, are more loathsome than nuclear missiles and public beheadings. Furthermore, the federal government has the authority to limit the natural right of American citizens to travel freely only when it is a matter of vital national security.

The Cuban embargo fails to meet this criterion.

There is also a powerful moral reason to oppose the embargo. The scourge of economic strangulation is felt most acutely by impoverished Cuban men, women and children, whose standards of living would improve with increased trade and tourism. Such a dramatic social amelioration would encourage the development of an indigenous democratic movement in Cuba.

As the world continues to witness the derailment of America's imperial ambitions in Iraq, it is time for Americans to agitate for a different kind of global engagement: one defined by humility and humaneness. Americans across the political spectrum should rally against the nonsensical foreign policy that is the Cuban embargo. A half-century of failure is enough.

PAUL DAVIS, 22, of Grand Rapids, is a political science major at Calvin College and president of the student body. He can be contacted by e-mail at

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