Arizona State University Web Devil
By: Andrew Rowen
Published On: Monday, April 20, 2009
If you’ve ever wondered why it is that we can’t legally purchase Cuban cigars or even travel to Cuba’s waters, you will surely be disheartened to learn that the U.S. is alone in such restrictions. Fortunately, the U.S. and Cuba may be set to change their old stances of opposition with their new administrations.
There was a flurry of overtures between the U.S. and Cuba during last week’s “Summit of the Americas” held in Trinidad and Tobago. Much to the delight of the Organization of the Americas’ leaders, President Barack Obama made the first steps to open relations with Cuba by announcing his repeal of the restrictions made under both presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, granting Cuban-American families travel access and the ability to send money and gifts to non-governmental persons of Cuba.
Moreover, Obama’s declaration that “the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba” was returned with unusually bright response by Cuban President Raúl Castro: “We are willing to discuss everything: human rights, freedom of press, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything…”
Such words mark a different tone in a historically strained relationship between these neighboring nations. Cuba, currently home to more than 11 million people, was originally ceded to the U.S. from Spain in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, but quickly gained full independence in 1902. Once a prosperous nation with a strong middle class and a per capita GDP approximately equal to Italy’s, Cuba’s present-day wages (about $5 a week per person) and ’50s old-world conditions are testament to its time-capsule status of a Cold War era.
Cuba’s present-day plight was crystallized by the romantic 1958 Castro-and-Guevara-led communist revolution and subsequent alignment with the USSR. Under Castro’s political control, Cuba nationalized its industries and press, imprisoned dissidents and executed thousands — causing decades of a mass civilian exodus.
I’ve personally worked with a man whose family’s lucrative sugar business was seized by the communists and exiled to the U.S. Such accounts built the platform of our U.S. policies toward Cuba, such as JFK’s 1962 ordered embargo, which officially solidified our hard-line position against Castro’s regime. Now, nearly 50 years later, the U.S.-Cuban policies have remained unchanged in large part by a small yet powerful lobby in Florida.
Though a recent CNN poll found that 71 percent of Americans support re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, there’s still significant opposition from groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation. They believe it’s up to Cuba to change, not the U.S., and that conciliation on our country’s part would only strengthen the totalitarian regime.
These “tough love” approaches have proven ineffective and stubbornly isolated Cuba from the political, economic and social changes needed to liberalize the communist nation. Though the original intent of our trade embargo was understandable, our failed policies since have left us with nearly zero political leverage in Cuban matters. The U.N. General Assembly voted in 2002 to end the U.S. trade embargo by a whopping 173 to three vote, yet we still cling to Cold-War diplomacy, effectively ignoring the plight of the Cuban people.
The United States and Cuba should thaw their Cold War chill and begin to develop in the warmth of tomorrow’s promise. The generational gap between old and new has widened, opening a time rife with opportunity for political action.
It’s my hope that soon I can smoke a “habano” in celebration of a new day in Cuba.
Andrew is a construction major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.