Our view on Foreign policy: Cuba embargo support slips
Hurricanes offer opening to lift ineffective ban on trade, travel.
Before Hurricanes Gustav and Ike barreled into the USA, they devastated much of Cuba. With about half a million homes destroyed or damaged, many Cubans are in dire need of help. Food shortages are expected to get worse, as the double whammy wiped out a third of the island's crops.
A U.S. rush to the rescue? Not exactly, but the storms have at least produced a small break from the counterproductive U.S. isolation of Cuba. For the first time since the United States imposed a draconian trade embargo 47 years ago, it offered $5 million in direct aid and allowed $8 million in private aid donations. U.S. officials described the moves as unprecedented. Predictably, though, the Castro regime said no. (Dictator Fidel Castro has stepped aside because of illness, leaving his brother Raul in charge.) "Our country cannot accept a donation from the government that blockades us," Fidel Castro, who remains a domineering presence, wrote in the communist party's daily newspaper.
That's typical. Castro has long blamed the United States for all of Cuba's woes, using the embargo as Exhibit A.
The tactic still works in Cuba, but support for the embargo appears to be shrinking here. As the decades of embargo have worn on, and new generations have been born, opinion polls have found Cuban Americans increasing split on the embargo. Despite the conventional wisdom that it's political suicide in Florida to oppose the embargo, many younger Cuban Americans are less keen than their elders to press for restrictions — and to vote against a candidate who wants to lift them. U.S. public opinion more broadly is in favor of lifting the embargo.
One idea that has been put forward is to abolish restrictions that prevent Cuban-Americans from sending more than $300 every three months to immediate family members or making more than one trip every three years. That makes so much sense that even some hard-line Cuban American groups, normally cheerleaders for new restrictions, are for it.
It has long been plain that the embargo has utterly failed in its original purpose of removing Fidel Castro. As important, the United States is hurting itself. The continued embargo is driving Cuba into the arms of anti-American regimes that are more likely to bolster, not end, the island's dictatorial tendencies. Russia, for example, has sent plane loads of aid. Venezuela has been helping prop up the Cuban economy with cheap oil. Many U.S. farmers say they have been hurt by the restriction. Lifting it could help stem a potential new tide of refugees fleeing to the USA if the hurricane devastation drives them to try the dangerous crossing.
Rather than stick to outdated political games, the United States should deprive the Cuban regime of its scapegoat and lift the embargo. Castro's attempts to hold the United States responsible for his country's woes could then be exposed for what they are: an attempt to shift blame. And millions of Cubans can both be helped and start seeing a different truth from the Castro brothers' insistence that the U.S. is the author of all that goes wrong in Cuba.
Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, September 29, 2008 in Foreign policy general - Editorial, USA TODAY editorial