U.S.-Cuba Relations and the Potential for Economic and Political Progress
Since President Theodore Roosevelt, there has existed in U.S. political culture a quiet dominion over the small island nation of Cuba. The bedrock of this U.S. policy is an ideology of benevolent domination. Created at the time of the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt captured this ideology quite simply in 1907 when he explained, “I am seeking the very minimum of interference necessary to make them good.” (Schoultz, 2010, 1). The United States and Cuba have had a rocky business relationship since the 1950’s, when, at the height of the Cold War, Communist Rebels took the country, backed by the Soviet Union. This has affected both trade relations as well as relationships, family ties, and other more personal aspects touched by the trade embargo. Both nations stand to benefit from a reformation of trade and business policy and the best direction forward is a positive one for both nations. Mutual cooperation and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo is an economically and socially beneficial plan for both countries.
The United States has remained relatively stagnant when it comes to loosening its grip on the relationship, at least economically. This stems mostly from the fact that the two nations’ political views are diametrically opposed, at least in principle. But there are plenty of instances where the U.S. And Cuba could benefit from a more open economic and diplomatic relationship. Not least of these reasons would be free trade and a more open Caribbean region that is friendly to the United States in all instances. The United States should not seek to tighten its grip, nor should it continue to view Cuba as the Communist threat it once represented to the United States. This perspective has shaped the structure of the relationship as well as the embargo that the U.S. has imposed upon Cuba for decades. Certainly the dissolving of the embargo and the Cold War era mentality would represent a massive political and social shift, but the benefits to such changes would outweigh the initial costs and potential for public outcry. Much of this outcry could stem from Cuba’s traditional stance against U.S. capitalism and the U.S. political machine.
Much of the resistance found around reforming the trade relations between these two countries may be disappearing, as older generations and ways of thinking become less and less influential in shaping U.S. policy toward the outside world. Also, the U.S.’s political and social structures, one adamantly opposed to the Communist country’s attitudes and agendas, has been slowly changing over time to reflect a more moderated, less ethno-centric attitude. The potential for a positive and mutually beneficial trade relationship with Cuba exists. However, not everyone feels as though both countries could benefit. This comes from the fact that Cuba has been relatively shut off from the outside world since the 1950’s and therefore does not possess much in the way of technology or infrastructure that could help to build a positive and lucrative trade relationship. Also, as some scholars argue, Cuba does not have much in the way of raw materials or resources to trade. In fact, according to a 2009 Council on Foreign Relations report, Cuba has the third largest nickel deposit in the world as well as a booming tourism industry worth over $2.7 billion dollars in 2008, fueled mostly by Europeans and Canadians (Hanson, 2009, 2). These facts coupled with Cuba’s strong ties to other more resource rich nations leaves much potential for U.S.-Cuban trade. These resources could also help bolster the global economic recovery by giving Cuba as well as other nations the opportunity to benefit from trade with the Caribbean island nation.
The U.S. has tried for over five decades to undermine the Castro regime through trade restrictions and embargoes that have not worked (Griswold, 2005). These restrictions were the product of a failed attempt to shut down the island’s economy and weaken its power structure. The U.S. political machine continues to parrot the same actions and attitudes that permeated U.S. political culture and discussions in the 1950’s. This is partly because of the lack of education that many Americans have relative to Cuba and the fact that ignorance relative to the positive gains both nations could make if they worked together is still the norm. The world has changed and the embargoes have been unsuccessful in getting rid of Castro. Certainly the Castro regime’s grip on Cuba’s population and human rights violations are examples of why Castro’s government needs to be reformed, but the fact that the trade relationship has not been modified, in either nations’ favor or for the good of the tens of thousands of Cuban exiles living worldwide, is testament to the fact that the U.S.’s stance is far outdated and needs to change.
Resources and Assets
Another major asset that Cuba has is a high number of highly trained healthcare professionals (Hanson, 2009, 1). This is quite surprising for some, given the fact that Cuba does not have much access to U.S.-based educational institutions or financial assistance. In fact, many of the best Cuban doctors and nurses end up working in countries like Venezuela, where Cuban ties are much stronger. There is certainly no shortage of highly trained and highly motivated professionals in Cuba itself, and this is yet another resource the small island nation could exploit in a more open business relationship with the United States. The remittances alone from many Cubans working abroad has helped to fuel the Cuban economy.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, remittances from Cuban-born professionals and families living within the U.S. were cut down from $3,000 per year to a mere $300 per year (Hanson, 2009, 1). These cuts came under the Bush Administration’s labeling of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the U.S. State Department (Hanson, 2009, 2). This label has been questioned and highly criticized as undeserved, and even as the U.S. holds many so called “terrorists” in its Guantanamo Bay detention center, the country itself has remained on this list. One of the biggest reasons Cuba is even on this list is because of the Castro family’s ties to a few militant Basque leaders in Europe. These ties are questionable at best, and the U.S.’s inclusion of Cuba on any sort of terrorist list is more evidence of the fact that both the U.S. And Cuba are beginning to run out of reasons and justification for continuing their current trade policies towards one another. In 2009 President Obama lifted the $300 per year restriction on remittances, instead limiting them to $3,000 per year once again and lifting many of the travel restrictions placed upon Cubans and Cuban exiles (Hanson, 2009, 1). However, it is still impossible to fly from the U.S. To Cuba because of the trade embargoes as the country’s place on the state sponsors of terrorism list. If the remittances were allowed to continue, they could become part of an international effort to help life Cuba out of the Cold War era’s socially and politically crippling mentality and perspective (Smith, 2009).
Cuba represents one of the best opportunities for the U.S. In strengthening ties in the Caribbean and with Communist states around the world. The U.S. has much to offer this tiny nation in terms of goods and services, and the country’s resources, both material and labor-related could help enrich the U.S. economy as well. Opening trade with Cuba could also do much to encourage more positive political ties between the U.S. And Venezuela as well, which sits on one of he world’s largest oil fields. The business benefits to lifting the trade embargo far outweigh the potential for political backlash. Cuba no longer presents a direct threat to the U.S., as it did in the Cold War days when the Soviet Union had a presence there. The Cuban leadership, which in 2006 was turned over to Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, is just as reluctant to change the stance on working with the United States until the U.S. agrees to lift many of the trade embargoes levied against Cuba (Schoultz, 2010, 6). As the larger, more powerful state, the U.S. would have to take the lead in beginning to change the shape of its policies toward Cuba.
Possibilities for Trade Relationships
Since both nations stand to both gain or possibly be harmed by opening up trade, it is necessary for each to stipulate certain conditions that may act to help ensure neither nation is taken advantage of economically or politically. These conditions could take the form of a trade agreement to be implemented in the event that the trade embargoes are lifted. One of the first and most important considerations for Cuba would be to ensure the U.S., with its larger, more powerful economy, did not drain Cuba’s resources outright (Schoultz, 2010, 6). This could come in the form of a brain drain, where Cuban professionals, eager to leave the country to earn larger paychecks and receive better benefits in the U.S., become attracted to the U.S. And flee the country. Cuba certainly needs to prevent a brain drain at all costs. It could do so by encouraging the U.S. To invest in its infrastructure and for U.S. doctors to train and learn at Cuban facilities, which, by all accounts, have some of the highest standards of excellence in the world (Schoultz, 2010, 8). By helping to build up the Cuban infrastructure, further economic trade could be encouraged. This could also help both the U.S. And Cuba exploit its other natural resources by providing the necessary framework for extraction and export of its huge nickel and sugar stockpiles.
With the coming economic recovery, the world will certainly need raw materials like nickel and steel as well as sugar to fuel the building and population boom that will more than likely follow a recovery. The political ties that bind the current U.S. And Cuban administrations from doing business in a time of need for both nations are rather archaic and unnecessary. Certainly both countries can benefit from open trade in their own way, and the rest of the world would likely benefit from more trade within this region as well. A healthy Cuba means more than just a healthy economy and economic ties with the U.S. It also means progress toward better human rights standards and a shift from the Bush-era ways of thinking about good vs. evil nation states.
The Council on Foreign Relations (Hanson, 2009, 2) report cites Cuba as a major violator of human rights in the Western Hemisphere. The UN takes a similar stance, citing Cuba’s 2003 rounding up of over 75 political dissidents for speaking out about the government and current state of affairs. If the U.S. is truly committed to improving human rights and economic relationships around the world, as the UN certainly is, it is important to recognize that with increased governmental transparency in Cuba vis-a-vis a more open trade policy with the U.S., human rights violations are far less likely to occur or to be tolerated. In fact, the U.S. could use its economic ties and relationship to help persuade Cuba to discontinue its policies that endanger human rights. The current trade policies that the U.S. operates under encourage further human rights violations by not encouraging political transparency (Coll, 2007, 202). From the U.S. perspective, conditions trade could be stipulated to encourage improvements in the human rights regulations or lack thereof in Cuba. It is an excellent opportunity to show the world how committed to this cause the U.S. really is.
From Cuba’s Perspective
The opening of trade between the U.S. And Cuba is not just about a U.S.-centric view on the world and the benefits likely to be had by the larger economy (Schoultz, 2010, 11). From Cuba’s perspective, such a move is just as inflammatory politically and certainly represents a potential for anti-U.S. attitudes to flare up once again. However, since Cuba no longer has the backing of a major superpower like the Soviet Union, it can no longer level the same threats it once could (Coll, 2007, 200). From Cuba’s standpoint, the potential to harm the U.S. has passed and the indecisiveness and political dynamite that exists surrounding this issue is no longer supported by a standing army or threats of a nuclear holocaust. In other words, Cuba no longer has any bite to aid in backing up its bark. It is time for Cuba to change its stance as well, since it has much to gain from an open trade relationship with the U.S. Certainly the Castro regime has been reluctant to open up trade with the U.S. For fear of a massive brain drain and social and political collapse. But in an age when information can circle the globe in less than a second, it is impossible to stop the impending changes from happening to Cuba. The major question for the Cuba leadership is whether or not this change will come in its terms or the rest of the populations’.
The opportunity is ripe for the Cuban regime to begin to mold its perception of the outside world and its future relations on its terms, which could prevent another revolution or breakdown of the social and political fabric of the nation. This is where the U.S. And the UN could make a serious impact if they encouraged a shift in the Cuban regime’s way of thinking and dealing with its own population as a reward for opening up trade with the United States. This is another arena where human rights could benefit from a powering down of sorts of the political and social attitudes and walls that have been built up by the Cuban regime over the past 55 years. From the perspective of Cuba’s leadership, opening its trade relations with the U.S. is in its best interests given that the power it currently holds over the population is not going to last forever in an age of free information and global trade relations (Coll, 2007, 203). From Cuba’s leader’s perspective, it would be in the best interest for the regime’s individuals as well as the people of Cuba to begin to slowly open up trade between the U.S. And Cuba while simultaneously helping the Cuban population to assimilate into the global social culture that has arisen over the past 50 years of isolationism. This isolationist attitude has kept over 11 million people from enjoying the fruits of globalized trade and opportunities within the U.S. And abroad (Griswold, 2005).
Lost Opportunities and U.S. Political Structure
Author Griswold (2005) also points out that not only are U.S. And Cuban families losing out in the trade embargo but U.S. farmers and U.S. citizens are also paying a high price for the archaic political machinations of the Cold War era policies. In 200, the U.S. Congress voted to modestly open the trade embargo. This came in the form of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, which allows cash-only sales to Cuba of U.S. farm products and medical supplies. The results of this action have been positive for both nations. Since 2000, total sales of farm products to Cuba have increased from virtually zero to $380 million in 2004. From dead last in U.S. farm export markets, Cuba ranked 25th in 2005 out of 228 countries in total purchases of U.S. farm products. In 2005, Cuba became the fifth largest export market in Latin America for U.S. farm exports. American farmers sold more to Cuba in that year than to Brazil. The U.S.’s leading exports to Cuba are meat and poultry, rice, wheat, corn, and soybeans (Griswold, 2005). This is promising for the future of trade relations between the countries and shows that progress can be made, at least economically or from a business perspective when embargos are loosened. Another interesting potential for the U.S. To retain part of its political power would be to stipulate that Cuba become more democratic after the embargo was lifted. This stipulation could help engender a more positive attitude towards Cuba from those in the U.S. who may still be concerned with the political attitudes of the small island nation.
Griswold (2005) goes on to highlight an even more promising link between the U.S. And Cuba. He points out that in 2005 the American Farm Bureau estimated that Cuba could potentially grow to become a $1 billion dollar agricultural export market for products of U.S. farmers and ranchers. “The embargo currently kills another $250 million in potential annual exports of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and tractors. According to a study by the U.S. International Trade Commission, the embargo costs American firms a total of $700 million to $1.2 billion per year. Farmers in Texas and neighboring states are among the biggest potential winners. One study by Texas a&M University estimated that Texas ranks fifth among states in potential farm exports to Cuba, with rice, poultry, beef and fertilizer the top exports.” (Griswold, 2005). These studies further prove that the U.S. And Cuba are hurting their own economies by keeping their attitudes toward free trade rigid and stagnant. These are just a few examples of the lost economic opportunities that are currently occurring due to the imposed trade embargo and blockade of Cuba. Perhaps these studies will also serve to help shift the attitudes of the U.S. political machine, which have been set in stone, so to speak since the 1950’s.
Cuba’s tourism industry is huge as well, as previously mentioned. But the United States has been unable to tap into this industry since 1959, creating a huge demand for U.S. tourism within Cuba that could be successfully exploited to both the U.S.’s and Cuba’s advantage (Sharpley and Knight, 2009, 244). The Cuban tourism industry would no doubt bring U.S. dollars to Cuba, but many of these dollars would make their way back to the U.S. And to other countries that are currently heavily invested in the Cuban tourism industry. There is a clear relationship between the evolution of Cuba’s political-economic structures and processes and their subsequent influence on the planning, control, development and ownership of tourism on the island. In particular the potential future of tourism in Cuba. Authors Sharpley and Knight challenge the widespread belief that, in a post-Castro era, the island’s tourism sector faces a bright future. They conclude that, even with a potential move towards market reform, significant improvements will be required with respect to the quality, value and diversity of the island’s tourism product (Sharpley and Knight, 2009, 246). This is a double-edged conclusion, and one that shows the need for specific infrastructure and social improvements to Cuba in a post-embargo world. It is therefore even more important to realize that Cuba would benefit greatly from a lifting of the embargo, as the tourism industry and the building of infrastructure on the island would create numerous business opportunities for many different countries.
A New Way Forward: Synthesis
The case for opening up trade relations with Cuba is quite compelling, given the many specific benefits to Cuba, the U.S., and the World. It would undoubtedly create a new paradigm of political and social relationships in the Western Hemisphere while helping to reduce human rights violations and encourage free trade and business. But the U.S. is not yet ready to give up its tough stance on the Cold War era embargo, which has sadly become part of its international identity. Millions of people would benefit from such a lifting of the trade restrictions yet the attitudes in both Washington DC and Havana have not been swayed. For the Cuban Castro regime, its days are numbered. It certainly would be in its best interest to avoid a coming second Cuban Revolution and begin to relinquish its tight grip on the Cuban people while it still can do so on its own terms. For the Obama Administration, the facts are on the table both economically and politically. There is little room to continue such an embargo in the face of the social and economic turbulence that is still created in the outdated and archaic political landscape relative to this issue. The business benefits are clear as well, around the world and in the Caribbean region.
Perhaps the best way forward for both parties is to begin to take a close look at the positive impact such a lifting would create. This means that both sides need to be honest with themselves and their populations in helping to redefine their identities in a post Cold War era. This is something that should have taken place twenty years ago, but has since slipped the grasp of both nations’ political machines. With free trade, Cuba and the U.S.’s healthcare industries could benefit as well, and the policies that the U.S. has toward other communist nations could begin to change from a political standpoint. Certainly this change may not be popular, especially in the conservative sections of the U.S. And Cuban political populations. But change is inevitable, and if the global economic recovery is to take place in the near future, what better way to help lift up the poorer and less developed nations than to reevaluate the U.S.’s trade policy toward Cuba? The answer is clear, the best way to do so, and the best way forward for the good of millions of people is to lift the trade embargo. To understand the role of this embargo on the shaping of Cuba as well as the U.S. political machine over the past 60 years is to better understand the lasting effects of Cold War policies. The U.S. has, for decades leveled one of the harshest trade embargos in human history on an island full of natural and human resources, ready for reform and inclusion in the global economy. The fact that other nations, eager to both help their own economic cause as well as Cuba’s have begun to invest in the nation directly is also a sign that there is much to learn and much to gain from a more open U.S.-Cuba trade policy. Both countries need to understand and act on the dynamics of the global economy instead of living in the Cold War dominated past.
Coll, Alberto R. (2007). “Harming Human Rights in the Name of Promoting Them: The Case of the Cuban Embargo.” Foreign Affairs. Vol. 3, No. 88. Pp. 199-209.
Griswold, Daniel. (2005). “Four Decades of Failure: The U.S. Embargo against Cuba.” CATO
Institute Homepage. Published 12 October, 2005 .
Hanson, Stephanie. (2009). “U.S.-Cuba Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations. Report delivered 14 April, 2009.
Schoultz, Lars (2010). “Benevolent Domination: The Ideology of U.S. Policy toward Cuba.”
Cuban Studies. Pp. 1-19.
Sharpley, R. And Knight, M. (2009). “Tourism and the state in Cuba: from the past to the future.”
International Journal of Tourism Research. Vol. 11. Pp. 241 — 254.
Smith, C.L. (2009). “Protestants, Revolution, and the Cuba-U.S. Bond – by Corse, T.” Bulletin of Latin American Research. Vol. 28. Pp. 561 — 562.
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