By Lekan Oguntoyinbo
Each fall, a representative of the United States government appears before the United Nation General Assembly to perform a silly task: tout a resolution calling for an economic embargo against Cuba. And each time, the resolution fails overwhelmingly.
Last October, only the United States and Israel voted in favor of it. Three tiny countries – Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau – abstained. And 188 countries voted against it.
That resolution is perhaps the most visible – and embarrassing – symbol of a failed foreign policy advanced by the U.S. The U.S. ought to take the hint and end the economic embargo against Cuba.
Washington began battling Cuba in 1961 when it imposed sanctions on the island nation in an attempt to vanquish Fidel Castro’s revolution. The economic embargo is just one of a long list of unsuccessful strategies that Washington has employed to oust Castro, who in 2009 handed over the reigns of power to his brother, Raoul, but still looms large in Cuban life.
And through all these decades, through 10 American presidencies, Castro’s Cuba has always managed to stick its thumb in Washington’s eye. Through all these decades, Castro has engineered the creation of one of the world’s most literate societies with a literacy rate higher than that of the United States. His regime has increased equal opportunity for all people in this multi-racial society, particularly for people of color.
In the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest patron and protector, collapsed, most analysts were certain that the Castro regime would go the way of communist dictatorships like Romania and East Germany. But nearly a quarter of a century later, the Castro brothers remain as entrenched as ever.
For this, Cubans have paid a huge price. The economic embargo needlessly hurts ordinary Cubans, depriving them of access to many basic goods and necessities that most countries take for granted. The embargo has failed to trigger the overthrow of the Castro regime, however. And by insisting on enmity with Cuba, the United States is missing out on what could be a strong economic and cultural partnership. The embargo is also a sticking point in U.S. relations with other countries in the Americas.
So is the designation of Cuba as a terrorist state. Since 1982, the U.S. State Department has listed Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism for its support of groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Basque Fatherland and Liberty group in Spain. In recent years, high-ranking officials have clamored to remove Cuba from this list, which also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan.
In many corners of the world, Cuba is widely regarded as a champion of freedom. It was a strong supporter of liberation movements in South Africa, Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique. Hundreds of Cuban troops died in Africa in the 1970s while fighting to help liberate some of these countries. Cuban doctors are considered among the best in the world. Hundreds of them are currently working in West Africa to combat the Ebola crisis.
In recent years, spurred by a battered economy, Cuban officials have made some significant economic and political reforms. More citizens are now allowed to take private sector jobs. The government has loosened restrictions on buying property and is actively encouraging foreign investment.
The government has relaxed travel restrictions, enabling more Cubans to travel to countries like the United States. The Cuban government has also slightly loosened restrictions on free speech.
To be sure, Cuba human rights record still leaves a lot to be desired. The government remains authoritarian. Harassment of dissidents and activists persists. In 2012, an anti-communist political activist died in a car accident under mysterious circumstances that the Cuban government has yet to fully explain.
But are the Cuban government’s undemocratic and repressive ways any different from those of some of the United States’ allies such as Nigeria, which hasn’t had a free and fair election since returning to civilian rule in 1999 and where military and law enforcement personnel routinely kill innocent civilians; or Bahrain, where the emir has used torture and other brutal tactics to maintain his hold on power?
Are the Castros really any worse than some of the many questionable bedfellows the U.S. has teamed up with in the last 55 years, including the Shah of Iran, the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Chile’s Augusto Pinochet and Saddam Hussein?
The U.S. needs to rethink a policy that has largely been dictated by Cuban-American exiles, many of who are out of step with the rest of the world and in many cases with their children and grandchildren.
President Obama has a tough two years ahead of him now that the Republicans have seized control of both chambers. Although he will need congressional approval to end the Cuban embargo completely, he has the power to weaken it significantly. Doing so would burnish his reputation and add to his list of signature achievements.
Besides, the U.S. has looked foolish for far too long.
Lekan Oguntoyinbo is a columnist for the L.A. Wave. Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo. Contact him at email@example.com.