Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 July 2019

Cuban embargo turns 50 but must live a little longer

Phil Gunson: The US-led trade bans against the communist island nation should never have been imposed, but dropping them now would hand the Castro regime a propaganda victory.

The world's longest running and least successful trade embargo will this year "celebrate" its 50th anniversary. Washington's restrictions on trade with Cuba, which were first imposed in 1960, have not only failed to achieve their goals but they actually undermined the aims of their dwindling band of supporters.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, came close to admitting as much recently when she said the ruling Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, "do not want to see an end to the embargo ? because they would lose all their excuses". The restrictions have been blamed by Cuba - the only communist government in the western hemisphere - for a range of measures including rationing and curtailing political rights.

The ostensible reason for imposing the embargo was Cuba's seizure of property belonging to US nationals and the demand for compensation remains unsettled. Cuba claims the damage to its economy over the years totals close to US$100 billion (Dh367.29bn). On the US side, self-inflicted annual losses may amount to $1.2bn, calculations by the US trade commission claim. Opposition to the trade sanctions has brought together an odd, informal coalition of leftist pressure groups, human rights organisations and major business lobbies.

A senior member of the US chamber of commerce has conservatively estimated that relaxing the embargo could create 6,000 new jobs in the US and benefit exports by about $365 million a year. The US travel industry longs to exploit Cuba's spectacular beaches and cultural sites; oil companies fret that they are missing potential offshore crude deposits; and rice farmers want complete access to the biggest rice market in the Caribbean, just 145km from the shores of Florida.

But because food is partially exempted from the trade ban, the US has become the main supplier of agricultural goods to Cuba. Rice, chicken, wheat, soya and corn are among the products the communist regime imports from its historic enemy. Cubans, it has to be said, do not go hungry because of the US embargo. The lack of food, especially meat, in Cuba is a result of the spectacular failure of the communist regime to produce enough of it on a large island that is mostly given to agriculture.

Lifting the embargo, if it achieved nothing else, might at least scotch that particular myth. In the past, such a move would have represented a threat to heavily subsidised US sugar. Today that seems much less likely given that the once-mighty Cuban sugar industry has been driven into the ground by mismanagement and lack of investment. A government that once sought to produce 10 million tonnes a year now has difficulty producing 1.5 million tonnes.

Every October for nearly two decades the UN General Assembly has - except for the US, Israel and a couple of Pacific island nations - condemned the embargo. It is hard to disagree. The embargo is a unilateral, punitive measure that should never have been imposed. But there is a catch. The Castro regime has one of the worst human rights records on the planet. It also recently allowed protester Orlando Zapata to die as a result of a hunger strike. Inspired by Zapata, Guillermo Farinas may go the same way.

It is surely wrong for one country to seek to force regime-change in another by refusing to trade with it but it would be equally unthinkable to hand the Castros a propaganda victory by lifting the embargo just when the cruelty of their regime is most apparent. For now, it seems the embargo will have to stay in place. business@thenational.ae

Updated: May 23, 2010 04:00 AM