On April 12 at the Summit of the Americas, US president Barack Obama publicly spoke with Cuban president Raul Castro about ending the tension between the two countries. This marks the first time Cuba has participated in the summit and hopefully marks the beginning of freer exchange and travel between the two countries. Obama had previously called the US embargo against Cuba “outdated” and expressed interest in normalizing relations.
Such a change should be welcomed. The embargo which began in 1960 has completely failed in its stated purpose of ending the Castro regime — which is clearly still in power. Embargoes tend to punish the general population for the actions of their rulers, and in the process weaken domestic opposition to said rulers. This is not to mentioned the lost opportunities for Americans wishing to do business with Cubans. The US International Trade Commission once estimated that the embargo costs American business $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, an amount that has likely grown since. While the Cuban government states that it cost it’s people $685 million annually. These costs contribute to most Americans opposing the embargo.
Furthermore the embargo, and the accompanying sanctions on international companies that trade with Cuba, limits the access to food, clean water and medicine among Cuban people. The shortages have been linked to outbreaks of infectious disease as well as blindness caused by poor nutrition. The people most greatly harmed or impacted by the embargo are Cuba’s poorest residents. The embargo has only made them poorer.
Imposing such penalties on poor Cubans is outright immoral, even if we overlook the losses assumed by American businesses, consumers and tax payers. While the freeing of travel and exchange should be fully supported, this should not be mistaken for an endorsement of any deal negotiated between the two countries. The US has a tenancy to negotiate trade deals that unfairly benefit large American corporations at the expense of smaller, often local competitors. This is especially true of deals which protect American patent and copyright claims. These are nothing more than government granted monopolies that limit the ability of people to engage in voluntary exchange. Unlike rule intensive trade deals, genuine free trade would require nothing more than for the governments involved to stop being obstacles to exchange. This is true of all countries. A policy of unilateral free trade would be far more beneficial to ordinary people.
The Cold war has been over for decades, and with it died the chief justification for the embargo. The Soviet Union is gone, and has taken global communism with it. Americans and Cubans should be free to peacefully interact as they please. Tragically this is just one of many cases of governments getting in the way of mutually beneficial interactions. Ultimately we need to build a society based purely on voluntary interaction. In the mean time ending this horrific embargo, as well as the sanctions against firms who trade with Cuba, is a great place to start.
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