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.”

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


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Just as Cuba has been help hostage by the US embargo, so has the politics of the US. Those Cubans who fled to the US and have for 40 years waged a war against ending the embargo. Their cries of “Take back Cuba” echo in the halls of Congress and the White House forcing whoever is in office to placate these groups so as to fend off criticism of being “soft” on Communism and Castro. What they expected was to have Castro
fail and then march into Cuba, take over and have everything just as it was before the revolution . How many are there of these “Anti-Castroites”? Perhaps 750,000, yet there
are 12,000,000 on the island of Cuba. Do you think that after 50 years these islanders would let them come back and take over? Many on Cuba have been given opportunities
that would never have happened under the old Batista regime. Just try and “invade” Cuba and watch how fast the people of that island come to defend it. To paraphrase and American political saying, “Castro may be a political bastard, but he’s our bastard

Posted by David Dee | Report as abusive

I am a Cuban American and I oppose the embargo. It has done no good as far as deposing Castro. Ths Cubans have nothing to sell, except cigars and tourism, so lifting the embargo would only help Cuba’s economy marginally. Only if Cuban moves to a Chinese type of economy, and allows foreign investment in production facilities, will their economy be improved significantly.

Posted by George Gerson | Report as abusive

What about all the countries that Cuba has trade & buisness with? Spain, Germany, France ! They all have Super Resorts in Cuba, take in Millions of dollars a year. But the Communist Government takes the money for example a hotel worker would make $10,000 a year but the company pays the Government and the Government pays the worker $200 dollars a month if that! So the Communist Government is the first that must go! They control EVERYTHING in Cuba. The Ebargo is an Excuse for Communist corruption and control of the economy. But it sounds great to blame the devil to the north , the U.S. for the imposed poverty.

It’s about time to eliminate the embargo against our neighbor. We’ve punished Cuba enough for defeating us in this hemisphere. Isn’t it enough that we occupy some of their land (Gitmo)?

I can’t wait to go there legally and experience their music, food, arts…their culture.

Posted by Alex from Chan | Report as abusive

I am also a Cuban-American, born in Cuba and brought to this country in the Mariel boat lift. At first, I agreed with the embargo then I visited Cuba for the first time in 23 years. I was 9 when I left and I did not recognize anything. If it wasn’t for the little money sent to the remaining family members they would lead a very dificult life.Its been 4 years since the visit and now with all the hurricanes that struck the Island things are worse, there is no food even in the countryside where it waas easier to survive before, now even if you have Dollars there is no food. If it wasn’t for the kind of politicians that ran against the Diaz-Balart brothers this time around. I am a conservative Republican, i would of voted democrat just to be able to change the mindset and opportunistic position these people have been used to. THE EMBARGO HASN’T WORKED IN 50 YEARS, ITS ONLY MADE THE MIAMI POLITICIANS AND RADIO PERSONALITIES RICH WHILE THE PEOPLE OF CUBA STARVE AND THE RELATIVES IN THE U.S. HAVE TO PAY $.89 A MINUTE TO TALK TO THEIR RELATIVES 90 MILES AWAY. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Posted by Pedro Alvarez | Report as abusive

We do business with China and other bad people…why punish the people of Cuba/.

Posted by old ewok | Report as abusive

I find it interesting that at the CFR there is a expert named Julia Sweig who advocates loosening up trade with Cuba. However, none of the CFR friendly presidential candidates was willing to commit to ENDING the embargo. Instead the only presidential candidate who raised substantial money and was 100% in favor of free trade with Cuba was branded as a “isolationist” in most of the media. Ron Paul is for free trade with Cuba.

Canada and Mexico are the # 1 an 2 trade partners with the US …Cuba would probably be 3rd -5th in only a few years….this would be one immediate step that could be taken that would be a immediate plus on our hurting economy…and it has no drawbacks….yet the neo-cons and democrats persists in this idiocy. WHY? The election is over, it isn’t out of fear of floridian cuban voters. Democrats have majorities in all over the place and this issue would allow Obama to really embarass the republicans as all of the so called “free market fundamentalist” would have to admit that free trade with cuba is beter than no trade…and it would be the humanitarian thing to do for the cubans!

Yet the democrats have no interest in ending the embargoe.
Who benefits from us maintaining foreign enemies nearby?
Military industrial complex….people who wish to keep oil off of the market and prices high…people who resent the cubans for not having a criminal federal reserve bank connected to the same guys who just robbed our citizens of a trillion dollars.

Trade with Cuba? REsearch yourself how many nations send goods to Cuba but never get paid. Here is one of the latest:  /story/750294.html

The Embargo exists for one reason, for every country in the world to understand what the U.S. will do if you steal our business interests in your country and nationalize our investments.

Once Havana repays with interest what it stole from U.S. businesses, there will be little to keep the embargo in place.

History will absolve me!

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

As a Band leader on a cruise ship back in the 80′s we used to steam past Cuba a lot
I’ve always been aware of their great food and musical talent and always longed to go there someday… We the US have been duped into having an idiotic boycott of
that brave little country for years and now It’s time to extend the olive branch of peace…Lets all hope this new administration is up to it …GET REAL GUYS…

Isn’t it ironic that one of the many complaints successive Washington administrations have had against Cuba is that it imposes travel restrictions on its citizens while the U.S. does exactly the same? The United States is the only Western country that explicitly forbids its people to travel to a specific country; i.e. Cuba, and even fines them if they circumvent the ban. What Obama could and should do is lift its travel restrictions and allow every American to travel to Cuba. That in itself would hollow out the embargo. It might even result in the eventual collapse of the Cuban government. There really can be little doubt that Fidel Castro would not have stayed in power as long as he did if he did not have the embargo as a convenient excuse for everything that went wrong in Cuba, starting with the economy. Raul Castro has the same excuse. It should be taken from him.

Posted by Marco | Report as abusive

Well, why dont we go to Cuba and start trading. Obama said we will not go there unless Cuba releases it’s political prisoners. Do you really think that is going to happen. Cuba is being maintained by Hugo Chavez, who just finish nationalizing more companies in Venezuela. The point is that Americans want to go there and give more money to the regime, and they dont understand what it will do. Why isnt Bacardi running operations in Cuba anymore, because they are scared of getting nationalized. We should do it, and let every company get nationalized there. No one speaks about, and how lazy the Cuban government is to pay you back. It is communism for a reason people. Everyone makes the same amount there. You need to get the facts straight.

But…but… was a Democrat who started this nonsense, that apollo of elitism, John F. sorry-my-back-is-broke, Kennedy…and do you now want the second-rater will-o-the-wisp who is channelling him to summon up the political courage to do this?
Think again kids!
Just like celibacy is dogma so too is the embargo on Cuba. Abandoning it now means admitting that was wrong in the first place! That is admitting defeat! But then I suspect that the Obama Regime will admit defeat everywhere around the world!
One Great Future for A World-Beloved America…Coming Up!
And don’t give me all that guff about “the world, and America and the President have changed!” There are some enemies who sue for peace with you because YOU have NEVER sued for peace with them!
And hell, it’s just a few more years anyway before the Boys of Bahia, Fidel and Raul are dead, and Cuba gets back to being the lazy shiftless place it was prior to 1959!

Posted by elixelx | Report as abusive

I find it EXTREMELY sad that Americans are asking for the lifting of the so called Embargo, but are not calling for Castro to dismantle Communism instead.

Hey Castro, we just had free and fair elections, why don’t you try that as well!!!!!!!!!!

PS-, we already sell tons and tons of goods to Cuba on a cash only basis.

Dino: Following your logic, the U.S. should stop trading with China until they have free and fair elections?

Posted by Marco | Report as abusive

I am not ok with Communism anywhere in the world. If your argument is about third generation social rights, a European style social democracy fills those needs. Fundamental rights preserved, with a mixed market economy combined.

It should bother you that Communism exists period. I have nothing against social democracies, but Communism is too far.

Every freedom loving person needs to abhor a police state anywhere on earth. If you lived in Cuba, even writing your opinions on something like this, is forbidden. That needs to upset you.

I HAVE been to Cuba, legally, in recent years and I think it is time to relax the restrictions. Americans cannot appreciate the place by monitoring it from LandSat or KH-* satellites.

I suspect that the Americans are fearful that Cuba could become an economic superministate like Singapore or Dubai. There is money to be made there and why should the EU, China or Venezuela get the lion\’s share?

Posted by ricardo chelekis | Report as abusive

Another Cuban-American, here since 1960. Time to move on from that Cold War stuff. It serves no strategic interest of the US to continue the status quo. A ‘Glasnost’ attitude and allowing the Cuban people to decide for themselves without interference would work wonders.

The younger generation in southern FL calls it ‘abuelito’s issue’ because it is. The current Cuba isn’t the Cuba of the 60′s. We should support and encourage democracy in Cuba while accepting their right of self-determination.

Chastising Cuba by continuing the embargo actually punishes the Cuban people for not revolting against their government and installing a democratic government. I don’t think we have a right to ask them for that…

If American can elect a mixed race president, then it’s time to change all those old policies that are not working and haven’t worked.

Besides that, Castro has become an old man, surgery has removed some of his power, the rest has been given to Raul, his brother.

Now that we have Obama, it’s time for a complete change . . .

Posted by Apres Ski | Report as abusive

Cuba being held prisoner by the US embargo????? you have got to be kidding me. How about all the people imprisoned in Cuba because of resistance to the governement. Get real people Cuba is an island prison to their own people. People here in the US are so freaking spoiled and have no clue what its like to be ruled by communism. At least you are free to have these opinions and express them. In Cuba you would be thrown in jail never to be seen or heard from if you gave any opinions contrary to the beliefs of Castro.

The problem with Cuba before the revolution was corruption. By no means did the US own Cuba. Many counties had interests in Cuba and profited. But the Cuban people were also better off. Cuba was not that great of a place before the revolution is you lived outside the bigger cities in Cuba. This was the same for many developing nations around the world. Castro tricked his citizens into thinking he was going to rid the country of corruption(he did of the mobsters but just traded it for corruption of Cuban Communist officials). His slogan was also “Change” and he promised that he would later hold elections. He did not and has never relinquished his choke hold.

If his country supports him so much than why are Cuban citizens treated like prisoners on their own island? People have no idea what actualy goes on in this country and I have seen it first hand.

I have traveled to Cuba many times with a Swedish team to help solve problems and study how the revolution has worked. I too went in skeptical as to why the US would have this embargo to make Cubans suffer. The reality I learned is that it is not the US that causes this suffering, it is Castro and his communal government that are inept at everything but keeping their island a prison.

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive

I’m a Hispanic-American married to a Cuban, and I was able to legally visit the island this past Spring. It is true that the Spanish, Italian and others are investing heavily in the island while our businesses are shut out by a self-imposed handicap. Not only that, but Americans of all kinds are unfairly denied direct access to their relatives and families. My wife, for example, won’t be able to visit her parents and siblings until three years have passed since our last visit. What kind of anti-family policy are we maintaining? To what purpose?

Posted by El_Symber_Gwenza | Report as abusive