A Miami TV station recently aired home video of Cuban leader Fidel Castro dining in a fancy restaurant with a group of Italian businessmen. On the tape, Castro is seen savoring the restaurant’s finest French wines before indulging in a lavish meal with his fat-cat capitalist buddies.
Wasn’t the embargo, which was passed by the Kennedy administration more than 40 years ago, supposed to stop the flow of goods and services to the communist island? Isn’t the embargo, as Castro has claimed, virtually starving the Cuban people by denying them basic necessities? I guess when it comes to Cuba’s leader, that’s not the case.
Many, including the United Nations, see the embargo as a failed policy that should be put to rest. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly voted for the 12th consecutive year to denounce the embargo. The resolution received a record 179 votes to lift the economic sanctions, with only the United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands voting to keep it. Micronesia and Morocco abstained.
The U.N. vote followed votes by the U.S. House and Senate against restrictions on American citizens wishing to travel to Cuba. The Bush administration vowed to veto any bill to end them. Despite the threat, the recent votes by the United Nations and Congress make one thing painfully obvious: Most of the world has come to the realization that U.S. sanctions against Cuba are failed policies that have accomplished nothing.
Supporters of the embargo argue differently. They claim the sanctions have put pressure on the Castro regime and have been a vital negotiating tool on issues such as human rights and immigration. They add that the sanctions have prevented the flow of dollars to the island that could be used to fund oppression against the Cuban people.
Critics of the embargo argue just the opposite. They feel the U.S. policy has been a convenient excuse for Castro to blame all the ills of his failed revolution on Uncle Sam. The sanctions have conveniently isolated Cuba, allowing Castro to systematically violate human rights, export his revolution and thumb his nose at the United States, all the while playing the role of victim of a cruel imperialist power trying to crush his tiny island.
Last week, 71 American firms attended an international trade fair in Havana, hoping to take advantage of revisions to the embargo allowing the direct sale of food and medicine to the communist island. Many of those American firms signed lucrative contracts with the Cuban government. Richard Walzer, who owns a Florida-based tropical-fruit-drink company, summarized the feelings of many Americans when he said, “I am an American businessman exporting capitalism and helping our export deficit and our U.S. economy.”
Walzer has a point. Didn’t the Berlin Wall come down because communism simply could not compete with capitalism? Doesn’t it make sense for the United States to strip away the sanctions and allow American companies to deal directly with Cuba, and allow American visitors to see Cuba for themselves?
The most ironic point about the embargo and travel ban is that the biggest supporters of the policy are its biggest violators. Cuban-Americans in Florida are such staunch supporters of the sanctions that they will vote against any politician who opposes them. But it’s also true that Cuban-Americans—understandably so—travel frequently to Cuba to visit their loved ones, and send millions of dollars a year to their families on the island.
There are a growing number of Cuban exiles who realize that the embargo is a failure. True, the majority still supports it, but that same majority would support lifting it if there was another mechanism in place to pressure the hated dictator. For now, ending or even softening the embargo would mean allowing him to win.
So for the time being, we can expect to hear more rampages against the embargo from Fidel Castro. I’m sure that when he finishes those speeches, he will drive in his caravan of Mercedes-Benz sedans to the nearest five-star restaurant, open up a bottle of his favorite French wine and enjoy a six-course meal. Bon appetit, Fidel.
Maria Elena Salinas is anchor of “Noticiero Univision.”