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“North Americans need to put U.S. propaganda behind them and go to Cuba with an open mind...[and] help the Cuban people's struggle to survive...Viva Cuba!”
“Change will come to Cuba when all sides in the conflict cease viewing it as a conflict to be won, and instead begin to view it as a problem to be solved.” The Cuba Study Group
The first quote is from a friend who recently visited Cuba. The second is from a non-partisan think tank of Cuban-American business leaders. Although both these sources are probably on opposites sides of the political spectrum, they both believe U.S. policy toward Cuba is a failure and should be changed.
For our government Cuba has been a conflict to be won. Cuba was a pawn in the Cold War battle between capitalism and communism. For 63 years our government has imposed a trade embargo, travel restrictions and economic sanctions on Cuba. This battle has not been won, but many problems have been created for the Cuban people.
Theoretically the sanctions were to counter “threats” to our national security and to “help” the Cuban people throw off their communist “dictatorship.” These efforts, and other more aggressive actions, have been a complete failure. Communist Cuba, and its one party rule, has survived. But the U.S. imposed sanctions have severely damaged the Cuban economy and made life difficult for most Cubans.
The roots of the conflict have not been with Cuba's behavior. The basic problem has always been (and remains today) our government's unwillingness to tolerate a country whose ideology, political, and economic practices were different from ours. Cuba could not be allowed to succeed. A successful socialist Cuba would show that alternatives were possible and undermine capitalist hegemony. We simply could not risk leaving Cuba alone to build a successful socialist economy.
Why, if capitalism is wonderful and communism a tyranny, must we force capitalism on other people? If we really believe capitalism is a superior economic system than we would have nothing to fear from socialism or communism. People would see the benefits and choose the better path. Unfortunately people also see the downsides of capitalism – the greed, poverty, inequality, exploitation and environmental destruction – and have often sought a more fair distribution of wealth. The 1%, being unwilling to share, have seldom been willing to take the risk of true democracy and a truly egalitarian economy.
Unfortunately the immoral, counterproductive and confrontational policies of the past 63 years continue today. We fail to see how harmful this is to the Cuban people and our country. But the rest of the world sees the issues clearly. In November 2022, the United Nations General Assembly voted 185 to 2 to condemn the U.S. sanctions against Cuba. The U.S. and Israel were the two no votes. For the last 30 years the General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted every year to condemn U.S. behavior toward Cuba.
My friend has some good insights about Cuba. He says “...it's obvious from walking around that they have chosen some priorities and let other things go...High priorities are free universal health care and free education and basic food. Housing is adequate but a lot of the housing stock is old. Food is adequate and basic food is guaranteed but the variety is not like in a high-income capitalist country. There's no advertising or billboards... as this is a capitalist phenomenon and a waste of resources...what they have and don't have is a function of rational choices, not choices driven by short-term economic profit.” Cuba does have serious challenges like emigration. Cuba is losing population. But this is due to the hardships created by our economic sanctions rather than dissatisfaction with the Cuban government.
My friend suggests, “...some people want to live in a place like Miami where you can make more money and wander around Walmart and buy lots of unnecessary shit...there are people who leave for political reasons but from what I saw and read, it's not the main motivator for leaving.”
My reading supports this view.
Social and political change is always hard.
“Like any country...there is the basic challenge of finding a balance between promoting unity of national purpose and allowing room for dissent...The equation is different from the U.S...where toxic individualism is the bottom line for most everything. Socialism is ..better at attaining equality in economic development than U.S. capitalism...socialism is about formulating a national consensus that the community or group is at least as important as the individual or that individual goals can best be met in the context of community or national development.”
My friend continued: “Small is Beautiful. Taking a leaf from this 70s book, small groups can be the best vehicle for development or success...all the large national organizations, no matter what the purpose, are broken down to the neighborhood level so as to maximize the opportunity for participation and effectiveness. Health care is the best example...”
His conclusion: “Cuba is a vibrant flourishing culture as seen in the arts, the people on the street, and the comfortable mix of people of races and genders in every walk of life. North Americans need to put U.S. propaganda behind them and go to Cuba with an open mind and help the Cuban people's struggle to survive in the face of U.S. machinations to the contrary. Viva Cuba!
The Cuba Study Group (cubastudygroup.org) opposes our punitive policies for business oriented reasons. They say, “We believe that U.S. policy towards Cuba is counterproductive and warrants change. Policies of isolation and sanctions have rarely brought about transitional changes, and disproportionately hurt the Cuban people over the government it intends to compel to change...Ironically, such sanctions, originally intended to cause Cuba to change, are now becoming its major impediment to change.”
The Cuba Study Group recommends “engagement over isolation,” dialogue, reconciliation, and facilitating peaceful change. Their purpose is to, “Aim at facilitating change by bridge-building and reaching out to those with whom we differ, seeking a better understanding and mutual respect.” We need to stop trying to force change in Cuba. We need more bridge-building and an end to isolation and economic sanctions. It is long overdue that we end the trade embargo and normalize all diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with Cuba.