Tag Archives: foreign policy

The Case for Castro: Why the Embargo Needs to End in 2015

The United States has spent so long trying to supplant Cuba’s communist dictatorship with liberal democracy that surely, after more than five decades, it has exhausted its policy options. It tried to overthrow the Castro regime in 1962. It tried to assassinate Fidel on multiple occasions. Most enduringly, it has severed all diplomatic and economic ties with its neighbour some 90 miles south of Florida. One would think that, after failing so long to achieve its objectives, it is time for the U.S. to change its approach.

After President Obama announced diplomatic rapprochement on December 17, the sizeable and nationally influential Cuban-American contingent in Congress erupted with frenetic, emotionally-charged condemnations declaring the manoeuvre a “unilateral concession” to the Castro regime. Such rhetoric came not just from frequent Obama critics like Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) but from his own party’s leadership. Outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) echoed their sentiment, writing that Obama “has wrongly rewarded a totalitarian regime and thrown [Cuba] an economic lifeline.”

Impassioned as they may be, these and other embargo hawks who vehemently object to lifting the embargo have not proffered any explanation of how prolonging the embargo will improve conditions under the Castro regime. Former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) remonstrated that “we should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba”, despite not articulating a single policy alternative that might achieve that end. By reflexively and dogmatically opposing any Castro policy by virtue of its origin, embargo advocates are insisting the unattainable perfect be the enemy of the good.

It is high time to realise that a grand revolutionary moment is never coming to oust the Castro family from power. Democracy will not march down from Sierra Maestra, but will grow over time as the seeds of economic freedom germinate. Whether he knows it or not, President Raúl Castro has ventured Cuba forth on the arduous road to democracy.

Since assuming the presidency in 2006, Raúl has made GDP growth a priority, enacting modest liberal reforms including the relaxation of constraints on private property and industry. These aberrations are representative of a recent trend in Havana: the Communist Party envisions a market economy going forward. At the 2011 Communist Party Congress, it formally adopted a comprehensive plan to transform Cuba’s Soviet-style command economy, loosening central oversight of state-owned enterprises, eliminating universal subsidies, and allowing more small business to participate in the means of production. Freedom House notes that these economic reforms have yielded an improvement in civil liberties, with Cuban consumers allowed greater access to goods and the introduction of a state-sponsored campaign against homophobia placing Cuba as a standard-bearer for the LGBT rights movement in Latin America.

While the rest of the world stands to gain from the recent, unanimously-passed law designed to attract massive foreign direct investment, the U.S. self-inflicted policy of isolation shutters its companies from a burgeoning market and, more importantly, continues to prevent itself from leveraging its status as regional hegemon into influence in Havana. Economists project that a full repeal of the embargo could net the United States as much as $4.3 billion annually, primarily in the agricultural sector. Cuba would surely be asymmetrically dependent, importing more from the U.S. than it would export.

In addition, as long as the embargo persists, Castro will continue to exploit it politically, blaming Cuba’s problems on the United States to rally support for the regime and further justify the repression of political opponents and the media. Although purported to punish the Castro regime for their human rights violations, the embargo economically marginalises ordinary Cubans by helping the regime consolidate control over the economy, keeping the people poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

The most potent weapon in the U.S. policy arsenal is economic engagement with positive conditionality. In the past, the U.S. has successfully leveraged bilateral aid to both pursue its regional security interest and project “soft power”, making American values more attractive to aid recipients. After World War II, the Marshall Plan helped rehabilitate European economies and contain the spread of communism. Today, the U.S. has programmes like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which awards bilateral foreign assistance to states that have made strides to improve three broad categories: “ruling justly”, “investing in people”, and “encouraging economic freedom”. Offering development aid in exchange for political and economic reform ought to be the first step toward bringing Cuba into the IMF, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank. However, no efforts to integrate Cuba into the neoliberal economic global order will gain traction in Havana so long as Congress insists upon regime change.

President Castro’s acknowledgment that Cuba needs an economic relationship with the largest capitalist country in the world is not a “communist victory”, but the realisation that Cuba’s command economy is doomed in absence of a patron. Castro’s economic reforms, as well as his insistence on term limits, suggest that a regime shift (as opposed to a regime change) may be on the horizon in Havana, wherein the domestic political structure is deliberately altered to preserve the ruling position of the family and their cronies. Castro’s triumphant address to parliament in December framed the diplomatic reconciliation as an affirmation of Cuban sovereignty predicated on mutual respect for each country’s political and economic systems, although tacitly acknowledging that some market-oriented reforms are needed to grow the Cuban economy.

As Raúl Castro looks to appoint a successor in 2018, the United States needs to grasp this opportunity to socialise the present regime to the ideals of civil liberty, democracy, and free enterprise. Progress may be painfully slow, but will inch in the right direction. From the U.S. perspective, how can any purported drawbacks to engagement with Communist Cuba worsen either U.S.-Cuba relations or the living conditions of the average Cuban? Cuba’s human rights record is abhorrent, but there is no reason why that should preclude the U.S. from diplomatically and economically engaging with it. Strategic relationships with China and Saudi Arabia exemplify that humanitarian concerns are second-order priorities, and rightfully so.

The embargo was justified during the Cold War, when Cuba was a staging ground for Soviet military instalments. Today it is an anachronism, an unwarranted policy of economic warfare toward a country that no longer poses a strategic or ideological threat to the United States. Ending the embargo immediately will yield the U.S. favourable economic and diplomatic dividends in its neighbourhood and accelerate Cuba’s languid pace of domestic reform.

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Why “Justice and Interests”?

I named my site after the appropriate foremost pursuits of good government, which ought to serve as the principles guiding state behaviour. Domestically, the state’s purpose is to protect the natural rights of its citizens, recognising their equality under the law and treating them justly. Rights are universal and belong to man qua man — everyone has the right to property, freedom of contract, first possession, self-defence, and restitution.1 The state lacks legitimacy when it cannot protect its citizens from domestic and foreign threats to their opportunity for self-determination.

Pursuit of the national interest must be the state’s driving force in crafting foreign policy. The state has a moral duty to do what is best for its citizens — an obligation which does not extend beyond its borders. Man’s actions are bound by morality because of his natural capacity for reason, unique among the animal kingdom and bestowed by god. The state is unfettered by moral constraints in the international realm because its capabilities are not divinely ordained; it exists partially by consent of those living within its borders, who expect it to serve and protect them. Were a state to treat the welfare of foreign subjects citizens as of similar value to its own, it would inherently neglect its raison d’État. Cardinal Richelieu summarised that point adeptly:

“Man is immortal, his salvation is hereafter. The state has no immortality, its salvation is now or never.”2

It is therefore imperative for the state to have a clear definition of what the national interests are. This sounds like a no-brainer but has increasingly become a trend in the modern international system, the nature of which is more ambiguous than it ever has been. The rise of intergovernmental and supranational entities like the United Nations, UN Security Council, and European Union has, along with other factors like the liberalisation of social norms, advances in technology and media, and spread of nuclear weapons, obfuscated governments’ ability to discern their national interest.

Pursuit of the national interest often disposes the state to making unsavoury decisions in the eyes of their observers, like when a crusading democracy quietly backs a totalitarian autocracy for the benefits it receives from the relationship. In international relations, the ends justify the means by which they are achieved. Where there is neither a conflict with the national interest nor a great cost to the state, it should be a secondary objective to support justice and individual liberty abroad. Such is a risky endeavour; as it often necessitates a disturbance of stability. Stability, not peace, must be the objective of states participating in the international system because it is through stable order that states are most free to pursue their interests. “Peace” is too ambitious a goal and is incompatible with human nature; nothing is going to please everyone.

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I have boundless ambition to do, not to be. My life is dedicated to my country; I aspire to attain the level of influence that can improve my country’s standing on the global stage and strengthen the domestic institutions which make it unique. The United States, cast from gold, has become misshapen and lost its lustre — we need to recast our government through the hearth of justice and interests.

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”

                                             — Archimedes

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