What is the Cuban embargo? It is an economic, financial and commercial embargo imposed by the United States government on Cuba. What does this mean? From the Spanish word “embargo”, which means hindrance or obstruction, it is the prohibition of exporting goods to Cuba, except for food and medicine. The first “embargo” was imposed by the United States against Cuba in 19 October 1960. This was after the Cuban government nationalized American-owned oil refineries in their country without offering compensation to the US government. But on 7 February 1962, the ban was extended to include virtually all imported goods.
The Cuban embargo, also called el bloqueo, is currently enforced on six statutes:
- Trading with the Enemy Act 1917
- Foreign Assistance Act of 1961
- Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963
- Cuban Democracy Act of 1992
- Helms-Burton Act of 1996
- Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000
The stated purpose of the Cuban Democracy Act is to keep sanctions on Cuba should their government continue to refuse democratization and greater respect for human rights. Meanwhile, the restriction of US citizens from doing business in or with the Cuban government was further enforced by the Helms-Burton Act. Additionally, it imposed limits on offering public and private assistance to government in Havana, unless certain claims against them were met. The trade ban was further extended by President Bill Clinton in 1999 to include the prohibition to trade with Cuba by foreign subsidiaries of US companies. But in 2000, Clinton allowed the sale of humanitarian products to Cuba.
To better understand how the Cuban embargo affects the public, it is best to know its pros and cons.
List of Pros of Cuban Embargo
1. Cuba has not met the US government’s conditions on the lifting of the trade ban.
The United States has passed an act in 1996, which clearly explains what the Cuban government needs to do so that the embargo would be lifted. Some of the conditions set by the US include granting pardon to political prisoners, allowing labor unions and legalizing political activities.
2. Cuba has always been known to respond to easing up of restrictions with aggression.
In the past, there were three attempts made by the US government to ease the restrictions of the trade ban. However, all of these were met with aggression by the Cuban government. One of those instances was when Cuba sent 125,000 immigrants to the US when Jimmy Carter opened an embassy in Cuba during his presidency in 1977. The problem was those people were believed to have mental illness or criminal records, which means that they were unwanted by Castro.
3. The Cuban government would be the only one to benefit from the lifting of the trade ban.
Since there are little to no private businesses in Cuba, any financial gains from the lifting of the embargo would only be enjoyed by the government and not shared with the rest of the population. Experts even estimate that $0.90 of every $1 would go to the Cuban government directly.
4. Cuba’s existing trade between other countries has not produced what opponents say the US would obtain if the ban were lifted.
Cuba has been trading with Europe, Canada and Latin America for decades now, but these nations have not really enjoyed the political and economic benefits that the opponents of the lifting of the embargo would produce. Instead, the Castro government continues to receive the gains that their existing commercial and economic relationships with these countries have brought about.
5. Cuba refuses to deliberately honor its commitments.
If and when the embargo is revoked and the trade with Cuba is opened, the United States would be forced into dealing with a “deadbeat” country that has no accountability over its liabilities. For one, they have defaulted on their $37 billion debt to the Paris Club nation. Cuba’s debt to Russia and Mexico has also been written off.
6. Repealing the Cuban embargo could ruin the U.S.’ image.
For one, ending the embargo would be a blow to the values that America has upheld since time immemorial. Without the restrictions, the US would strengthen their relationship with an authoritarian government and support its oppression of its people.
List of Cons of Cuban Embargo
1. The rest of the world is against it.
For twenty-two years in a row, the United Nations has voted to cancel the Cuban embargo in lopsided votes. It was only last year that the US and Israel voted against the resolution.
2. Experts believe it is ineffective.
The main purpose of the Cuban embargo is to break the country’s communist government. But five decades since it was first imposed, none of the two authoritarian heads of state was overthrown. The trade ban was also created to make Cuba promote capitalism, but has deliberately refused since and is not likely to welcome it. Besides that, many opponents say it has not achieved its objective, making it wise to let it go.
3. The embargo has failed to make significant changes.
Although Cuba is no longer considered a threat to national security, it has not met what was expected. And because it has not brought about worthwhile changes, it is thus rendered futile and meaningless.
4. An open trade with Cuba would have significant impact on small and family-run enterprises.
Although repealing the embargo could not make any consequential impact on the United States’ economy, it can help smaller companies in the US.
5. The banning of commercial and economic trade is expensive.
The embargo does not only hurt the Cuban economy, but also cost US businesses a lot of money. In fact, the US loses around $1.2 billion in forfeited earnings every year.
6. The Cuban population would be affected the most.
With the current restrictions in importing goods to Cuba, doctors have little to no access to medicines that are needed to save their patients. Aside from that, the trade ban would worsen the food shortage in the country.
The Cuban embargo may have been created to address economic, financial and commercial issues, but it has not served its purpose well. Perhaps, it is finally time to end the prohibition forever.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.