After Obama win, goodbye to Cuban embargo?

By Bernd Debusmann
November 5, 2008

–Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – If votes in the United Nations serve as a gauge of global opinion, 98.9 percent of the world opposes the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, a measure imposed 46 years ago to isolate the communist-ruled island and bring down its leaders.

It failed on both counts. As far as international opinion is concerned, the country that is isolated is the United States, not Cuba. In the latest of 17 successive U.N. General Assembly resolutions on lifting the embargo, Washington mustered only two allies — Israel and Palau, a Pacific island nation difficult to find on a map. It has a population of 21,000.cubans

The Marshall Islands (pop. 63,000), which had voted with the United States from 2000 to 2007, unexpectedly and without public explanation broke ranks this year and abstained in the vote, a non-binding resolution taken a week before the U.S. presidential election.

The count — 185 countries in favor of lifting the embargo, three against — speaks volumes about a bankrupt policy stuck in the Cold War era.

Will that kind of America versus the world line-up change under Barack Obama? Not necessarily. The man who made history on Nov. 4 by becoming the first black to be elected president of the United States has promised to “ease” sanctions if Cuba took “significant steps toward democracy, beginning with freeing all political prisoners”.

He has not said what it would take for the United States to end the embargo, kept in place by 10 successive U.S. presidents, both Democrats and Republicans.

During the Cold War, when Cuba was a heavily-armed outpost of the Soviet empire just 90 miles (145 km) from Florida, a majority of Americans agreed with a hard line on a Communist government that violates human rights and holds political prisoners. That attitude has been changing since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

According to a Zogby poll taken a week before the election, 60 percent of Americans believe that Washington should revise its policies towards Cuba. In particular, 68 percent thought Americans should be allowed to travel to the island and 62 percent said U.S. companies should be allowed to trade with it.

If that happens, it won’t be soon.

Latin America in general and Cuba in particular are not likely to figure high on the agenda of a new president who is inheriting two wars and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. American presidents tend to promise greater attention to southern neighbors but usually do not follow through.

“I’m not so idealistic as to think that the embargo will be lifted immediately,” Cuban dissident and writer Jorge Olivera told Reuters Havana correspondent Jeff Franks.

“But I expect better times as much for the United States as for Cuba. I don’t want to die without seeing an end to this conflict that began when I was born.”

Worth noting: Under a 1996 law, the president needs congressional approval to lift the embargo or to recognize any government that includes Fidel Castro, who officially stepped down in February, or his brother Raul, who took over from him.


In the past, the most fervent opposition to ending the embargo — the effects of which have punished the population for the actions of a leadership it did not elect — has come from the Cuban-American community in South Florida. But even this is changing.

“U.S. policy towards Cuba is at best static and at worst counter-productive, a source of increasing frustration to many Cuban Americans,” Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), wrote late in October in a Washington Post opinion column that endorsed Obama.

CANF was set up in 1981 by Mas’s father, Jorge Mas Canosa, with the express aim of overthrowing the government of Fidel Castro. For years, the group exerted enormous influence on Washington policy makers — as well as on presidential candidates keenly aware that winning the White House without winning Florida is a very difficult undertaking. Obama won the state comfortably.

Cuban exiles, numbering around 650,000, account for just over a quarter of the total population of the greater Miami area. In the past, the Republican Party took the loyalty of most of them for granted — Cuban Americans have traditionally voted four to one for Republicans.

The three Miami-based Cuban American Republicans who serve in the House of Representatives — all supporters of the embargo — were re-elected. Their votes against changes Obama might propose once he takes office on Jan. 20 can be taken for granted.

Some of the most pointed criticism of the embargo has come not from Democrats but from conservative businessmen who resent the fact that American business has been kept out of Cuba while most of the world is engaged there.

In the words of Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “All you have to do is go over to Cuba and watch how the Spanish, the French, the Latin Americans and everybody else on the globe are building resorts or trying to invest, and we are sitting here with a 50-year-old policy that doesn’t work.”

The prime beneficiaries from an end to the embargo would be American agricultural exporters. “But just about every industry could benefit,” according to Donohue, “for the simple reason that there is such pent-up demand. Look at the cars they are running — Jack Kennedy was in office when half of them were sent down there.”

(You can contact the author at

(Pictured above: Cubans in Havana watch Barack Obama on the news on November 4, 2008.  REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa)


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… and a fine cigar it is. Let’s lift the embargo.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Obama had not even been conceived and was still in
diapers when the atrocities commited against the Cuban,
Cuban American and U.S. citizens occured in 1959-1963…
2008….. Does Obama plan to pay the more than 1.5 Billion owed to U.S. citizens as part of his “share
the wealth” or bring that government to trial. He faces
massive opposition on this!!!!

Posted by Adelaide | Report as abusive

More atrocities were committed by the Batista regime than all the years the Castro brothers were in power. This is the longest period in Cuban history that Cuba has had a government that ensures it’s independence. Most Cubans want a true independent Cuba free from outside intervention. Unfortunately, that government is communist. Hopefully that will change in the near future with Cuba maintaining it’s independence.

Posted by grant | Report as abusive

If you lived in a country that imposed the Platt Amendment 1902-34 and later the Helms-Burton act 1992, would you feel like rebelling.The U.S. should end the emgargo,distance itself from Cuban politics and communism in Cuba will sef destruct.

Posted by grant | Report as abusive

I am just back from a vacation to Cuba, today 29/11/08. I am British & did a 2 week tour.Some of my travelling companions said that they came deliberately to try & reduce the effect of the embargo. The last week was at a resort with many natonalities.Canadian, British, Brazilian, Russian, Spanish, Mexican etc. The embargo is useless & just gives the government there an excuse for its failures.But worst still it s helping keep the population in poverty. While i was there the Chinese President had just left & the Russian President had just arrived.Has the US government heard of “cutting your nose off to spite you face”?

Posted by Vincent O'Callaghan | Report as abusive

America is in a recession and is in need of additional revenue streams. Lifting the embargo would create jobs and billions of dollars for both countries. Get over a 50 year ols resentment and bury the hatchet. Obama needs to do whats right for the people.

Cuba Embargo
Castro should have paid for the stolen properties
By: Azuno Rodríguez

“When an injustice is committed even against a single citizen the whole Country should stand firm to correct that injustice.
That’s a sign of greatness”

The embargo in and of itself, is simply the refusal of the Castro regime to pay US citizens compensation for their seized properties. Had Castro paid, there would never have been an embargo.
During 2008, in a typical anti-American display, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted, almost unanimously, for a resolution asking the USA to lift the Cuban Embargo. They made a gross mistake because they were asking the wrong government. They should have asked Cuba instead, which is actually the only government that could unilaterally lift the embargo.
Was the purpose of the UN vote to help Cuba rise from poverty through commerce with our Country? It is unanimously evident that we are such an economic and generous power that even though Cuba can trade with all the countries on the globe, that it would perish if unable to trade with the US; am I missing something? I know that we are the greatest Country on earth, but I didn’t know that we were greater than all the rest of the countries combined. Thanks to all UN members for holding us in that high regard. Obama listen to their clamor: no change.
One thing remains clear from that UN vote: The USA is the only country who cares about the human rights of the Cuban people.
At the risk of being repetitious, let’s review a little history for many who appeared to have forgotten: After Castro seized the property of US citizens without compensation in 1960, President Eisenhower was forced to cease commerce with Cuba and in February of 1962 President Kennedy enacted a commercial embargo against Cuba freezing their assets in the USA.
Then in 1960, realizing that much of the existing machinery and equipment on the island was American made and required spare parts from the US, the Cuban government called a meting of its technical personnel. Experts from the Soviet block were going to instruct Cubans how to stand up to the embargo that had just begun. Some thought the Communists could teach the Cubans how to build those spare parts. A Hungarian technical “expert” opened the meeting and said “all you have to do is: buy through a third country” that was the beginning and the end of the meeting. That is how Cuba has been circumventing the embargo. Today products made in Florida by Cuban-Americans can be purchased in Havana’s dollar stores.
The seizure of American properties in Cuba was brutal, hateful and infuriating. For example, when Castro seized the Moa Bay Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Freeport Sulphur Company of Louisiana, it represented an investment of almost 90 million dollars, doubling the Louisiana’s company’s assets. Prior, and during a span of five years, the Louisiana Company developed a new process for extracting nickel and cobalt from the ore of Moa and during 1960 they were starting production runs. The final product was to be refined in Freeport. Then, Castro’s agents came to town in 1960, and gave the Americans 24 hours to close the plant and leave the island.
I am still ashamed by how my country treated and dispossessed these people of their property and livelihood. Most anyone who witnessed this first-hand would have shed a tear. I know because I knew them. As an engineer at Moa Bay I worked everyday hand-in- hand alongside Americans and Cubans. Bear in mind that only a small percentage of the personnel were Americans, most of the employees were Cuban engineers and laborers; my countrymen were being economically and emotionally raped by Castro government. In addition, the closure of the plant crippled a small town that was thriving economically because of its proximity to Moa Bay.
The plant was closed for over a year. Then Guevara asked some of Moa’s engineers, including me to help re-open the plant. I refused and surreptitiously left the Country within days when I was accused a traitor by Che Guevara. When the plant finally opened there was no market for its product. The final product of the plant could only be refined in Freeport Louisiana. The plant was opened by Che Guevara for the sole purpose of teaching the Soviets the process we created of extraction of nickel and cobalt through a new revolutionary chemical process of which the Soviets didn’t know anything about. Even if just for this single transgression, the embargo should only be lifted if Castro himself financially compensates those honest hard working Americans that worked at Moa Bay, along with an apology accompanied with a plea of forgiveness. Anything less will be immoral and criminal..
During a meeting in Europe, a few years ago, a Spanish military officer asked a closed friend of mine, Humberto Esteve, the following question: “Why is it than the Cuban diplomatic corps want the embargo lifted and our intelligence sections inform us that the Cuban military does not want it lifted? Humberto didn’t have an answer.
Let’s be clear, neither the Executive nor Congress could, unilateral remove the effect of the embargo. If commerce is open with Cuba, the Courts will be flooded with demands and financial embargos by the citizens whose properties were stolen by the Castro’s barbaric regime, and, that, ladies and gentlemen will be a much worse embargo than the one in place now.
For us to lift the embargo prior to 1992 it would have been a travesty of justice, an insult to every American citizen that lost his properties without compensation and an act of disrespect for this Country. Castro could have lifted it by paying and apologizing for what they robbed and then we may have talked about doing business with them, otherwise tell them and those here that wanted it lifted to go to hell.
Thanks to the efforts of the Cuban-Americans in 1992 the embargo was enacted into law as the Cuban Democracy Act and in 1996 the Helms-Burton Act was passed by Congress. Both of these were enacted to help the political freedom of the Cuban people. It provided further restrictions on any American commerce benefiting the Castro Regime. Now if Cubans are granted total freedom you can be sure that Washington will accept the return of the stolen properties or will credit the new free government on the Island the money necessary to compensate the rightful owners. UN General Assembly it is the Cuban dictator move; not the USA.

Let’s make Cuba free

Would ending the embargo stimulate the economy? We could market goods and services to them.

Posted by SJ | Report as abusive

Cuba cannot and will not return the properties it expropriated after the revolution.

The Cuban voting bloc has too much sway over the electorate. They only make up .003% of the US population.

Cuba is a sovereign country that will change in due time from the inside out.

Posted by END IT | Report as abusive

I am an african-american who loves latin music of all kind, especially traditional afro-cuban rumba; I play congas and to me, Cuba is a mecca of music. I think it is very unfair that Americans like me cannot travel to the island because of old cold war ideas. We can travel to China even though it is a communist country, so why not Cuba? Cuba, to me, is one of the very few places in the western hemisphere where you can find old african traditions that were passed down from Africa; it is, in that respect, a living time capsule, where you can glimpse into what 18th century african culture was like. I would love to go to Cuba for just 2 weeks out of the year and perfect my conga skills by learning from a great conguero in Matanzas. . . i would love to experience the strongest branch of my african heritage here in the western hemisphere. . .

Posted by Miko | Report as abusive

I am a southerner and they say that we are all living in the past down here. Well excuse me but the Cold War ended in 1991 and Cuba is no direct threat to the US. They have no human rights violations to compare to our biggest importer (china) which in itself is a Communist country so what is the problem? It was 47 years ago Barrack, Come on man get with the program.


I don’t think now as Obama has won there will be any change in the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. He has relaxed the restriction on travel to Cuba by people who has family in Cuba and money transfer to Cuba but that doesnot mean he wille ase the restriction on trade specially on things like Cuban cigar.

Posted by Biki | Report as abusive

in fact its getting better with Cuba but its pity that us people cant enjoy Cuban cigars

Posted by jamesbrown | Report as abusive

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