Issue Report: Ending US sanctions on Cuba

Should the United States drop its sanctions on Cuba?

Fidel Castro and his Communist government came to power in Cuba in 1959, much to the horror of the American administration of the time. Cuba was supported throughout the Cold War by the Soviet Union and became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions, notably during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis when Nikita Khrushchev sparked the most dangerous Cold War confrontation by attempting to place nuclear weapons on the island. America maintained near total sanctions on Cuba throughout the period since 1959, but before 1990 they were largely counteracted in their effects by the weight of support, trade and subsidy offered by the USSR, which amounted to $4-6 Billion dollars per year. Since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc the withdrawal of these subsidies has caused a 35% drop in GDP, which is only now starting to be reversed after market reforms that focus on foreign investment and tourism. The poverty of Cuba made the country much more vulnerable to the effects of sanctions. The decreased threat of communism and the perceived inefficacy of sanctions on achieving regime change caused the Obama administration to lift these sanctions on Cuba in 2016. The debate has continued, however, into Donald Trump’s administration.

Efficacy: Are sanctions a faulty policy in the effort to democratize Cuba?

Sanctions against Cuba have not worked at all in their long history.

They’ve made no political difference in the last 43 years, why would they now?

Ending the tourism ban would help undermine the Cuban regime

Tourism and its accompanying economic growth and cultural exchange all have the potential to undermine the Cuban regime. Whenever people are exposed to economic freedoms and to foreign cultural liberties, they will seek those standards in their own political system. This will help force the Cuban regime to change or risk rebellion.

Sanctions give the Cuban government an excuse for their failures

Sanctions make it possible for the Cuban government to blame its failures on the United States. Many Cuban people accept this proposition put forth by the Cuban government. If sanctions were eliminated, the Cuban government would no longer have the capacity to blame their failures on the United States, and the Cubans would not longer believe any such excuses.

Sanctions damage the spread of democracy

Democracy usually spreads through the gradual exposure of people to democratic practices, liberal economics, and the higher living standards associated with these systems. Sanctions damage the exposure of the Cuban public to this all, making it far less likely that they will move to demand democracy and liberal economics from their leaders.

Ending sanctions will allow US to expand influence in Cuba

International influence can be characterized, in large part, by the various influences and connections a country holds in another country. Such influence is fostered, in large part, by economic, cultural, and political investments and a country. Yet, sanctions are preventing the United States from investing in these things in Cuba, and deprives the United States of the kind of leverage it needs to produce real change in Cuba.

US sanctions against Cuba cannot work unilaterally

Sanctions are not very effective when implemented by only one country, as other countries may trade heavily with the sanctioned country, thus minimizing the economic harm from unilateral sanctions. The United States sanctions against Cuba are largely unilateral, and are subsequently having little of the desired effect.

Ending the tourism ban would help undermine the Cuban regime

Tourism and its accompanying economic growth and cultural exchange all have the potential to undermine the Cuban regime. Whenever people are exposed to economic freedoms and to foreign cultural liberties, they will seek those standards in their own political system. This will help force the Cuban regime to change or risk rebellion.

Sanctions are a powerful tool for liberalizing countries.

Aggressive U.S. engagement and pressure contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and it can work again.Now is exactly the time that the United States should be tightening down the screws so that Castro’s successor is forced to make real changes.[2]

Media helps soften Cuban popular impressions of US sanctions

While sanctions may be having unfortunate effects on the Cuban people, the impact of sanctions on the morale of the Cuban people and their respect for the United States can be mollified through various media sources broadcasting from the United States to Cuba. The intention of the sanctions to punish the Cuban regime and to help protect the freedoms of Cubans can be better explained to the Cuban people through these messages.

US sanctions back Cuban people's fight against totalitarianism

Sanctions are part of the Cuban people’s fight against totalitarianism. They are part of an effort to bring about either regime change or to lever dramatic liberalization. Do drop sanctions would be to abandon the Cuban people’s efforts to fight totalitarianism.

The Cuban regime won't democratize so must be ended with sanctions

There are strong indications that Castro, Raul, and the Cuban regime will not democratize. Their grip on power is firm and codified into Cuban law. The only way to wrench power from them is through sanctions, which has the power to cause regime change or leverage substantial reforms at the right time.

Sanctions should persist to leverage Cuban leaders that follow Castro

Sanctions are a good lever to influence Cuban political leaders toward liberalization. While this may not be achievable with Castro, it is certainly possible with the leaders that follow Castro. Sanctions have more potential to influence post-Castro Cuban leaders because these leaders will be less able to resist the public outcry against the government actions in Cuba that have led to the existence of these sanctions. Therefore, the liberalizing objective of sanctions are much more likely to succeed with the next Cuban leaders, and so they should be sustained so that they can be used effectively in this context.

Cubans aren't fooled by their regime's attempts to blame sanctions for failures.

Blaming America for all economic woes didn’t trick ordinary Russians and it won’t trick the Cubans. The mission of democratic reform, therefore, is not damaged in Cuban minds by US sanctions.

Security: Are international security grounds for sanctioning Cuba unfounded?

Cuba sanctions lost national security rationale after 1991

The initial purpose of sanctioning Cuba was to constrain the broader threat of the Soviet Union following Castro’s coming of power and the initiation of relations between the two countries. Indeed, Cuba, was a significant threat to the United States and international security at that time as a proxy of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But, after the Cold War ended, Cuba became a far lower-level threat as it ceased to be a proxy country of the Soviet Union. Sanctions, being leveled against Cuba in the Cold War context, are therefore no longer reasonable, as Cuba no longer presents the same threat to the United States and the world.

There is no evidence that Cuba is a sponsor of terror.

Cuba has no weapons of mass destructions. It has no biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Cuba holds fewer prisoners of conscience than China, Vietnam, Iran, or even Egypt.

Cuba has cooperated with the United States on security matters.

Following September 11th, for example, Cuba offered to share information with the United States that would help in its subsequent War on Terror.

Sanctions are superior to the use of military force.

Sanctions are often a “softer”, better alternative to the use of military force. This has some resonance in the case of Cuba. In 1996, two US civilian planes were shot down by the Cuban air force near Cuba. The United States could have responded, on some proportional level, militarily. President Clinton decided, however, to use sanctions instead to punish the Cuban regime with the Helms-Burton Act. Therefore, the continued sanctioning of Cuba through 1996 and to present was, to some extent, the preferred alternative within the Clinton administration to military action against Cuba.

The significance of the threat from Cuba justifies US sanctions

Cuba posses a significant national security threat, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of its support for Cuba in 1991. First, Cuba posses a direct threat to liberalism by continuing to pressure for communism internationally. Communism rests on principles that are directly antagonistic to democracy. Such principles, as was demonstrated during the Cold War, have the potential to be highly destabilizing and threatening to international security. The instability of Cuba itself, under such a communist regime, poses certain international risks as well. In addition, Cuba’s record of human rights abuses, nefarious international attacks, and even support of terrorism can be cited as a threat to international security and go toward justifying the current sanctions.

1996 Helms-Burton bill justly followed Cuba shooting down two civilian airplanes

Bill Clinton cannot be blamed for responding in 1996 to the shooting down of two US civilian aircraft with allowing the Helm-Burton sanctions act to pass. This was a proportional response. If he had decided to block the bill, protests from Americans would have been substantial.

The Castro brothers won't democratize so sanctions must persist

The Cuban administration refused to give help with the search for Al-Qaeda suspects.

Cuba is on the U.S. list of sponsors of terror.

Cuba provides a safe haven to many American fugitives.

Cuba is known to have a developmental biological weapons ‘effort'.

Cuba is recorded as breaking international sanctions to export dual use technologies to Iran.

Cuba has failed to stop drug shipments through its waters.

Cuban harms: Do sanctions significantly harm Cubans?

Sanctions against Cuba only hurt the Cuban public

Sanctions against Cuba are broadly damaging to the Cuban economy. This is primarily harmful to the Cuban people, as the Cuban leadership is able to insulate itself from these harmful effects. This means that sanctions are unlikely to compel the leadership to change its ways and democratize and that the United States sanctions are having an impact on par with an unjust war.

The sanctions cause real and unacceptable harm to the Cuban people.

In the 1990’s Cuba lost $70 Bn in trade and $1.2 Bn in international loans because of U.S. sanctions. Cuba is too poor a country not to suffer from these losses. The dominance of America in the pharmaceuticals industry, moreover, means that it is actually impossible for Cubans to gain access to many drugs. America would be the natural market for most Cuban products, and its refusal to accept goods with even the tiniest Cuban inputs from third nations damages Cuba’s ability to trade with others. Other South American countries have shown their reliance on the types of loans that Cuba is denied in the last few years to keep their economies on track.[3]

Sanctions violate the principle of just war

Just war typically follows the logic that measures taken in war should not target or have substantially negative impacts on civilians of other countries. And, yet, the primary costs of US sanctions are born by Cuban citizens, violating the principal of just war.

Sanctions hurt Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba.

Sanctions make it too difficult for Cubans in America to travel to see or to financially support relatives in Cuba. This harms both Cubans and Cuban Americans, and neither of these consequences help further the primary aims of sanctions.

US sanctions harm Cuba's tourism industry

The embargo on travel to Cuba from the United States damages Cuba’s tourism industry. This industry has immense potential for growth given the beauty of Cuba. It therefore has immense potential to benefit the Cuban economy, create jobs, and raise standards of living. Depriving Cubans of this industry is, therefore, egregious in the way of punishing the Cuban people.

Sanctions have not been the cause of the economic failure in Cuba.

The communist political and economic system has been shown to lead to economic collapse all over the world, whether sanctions are in place or not. Even if sanctions were lifted, lack of private ownership, foreign exchange and tradable commodities would hold Cuba back. The International Trade Commission found a ‘minimal effect on the Cuban economy’ from sanctions. In fact, it is by using sanctions to pressure Cuba into economic and political reform that the US can best contribute to an economic recovery there.[4]

Sanctions are a protest of Cuban govt humanitarian violations

Sanctions are a protest of the humanitarian violations of a government. They need not necessarily have an effective impact on the actions of a government to, nevertheless, represent a principled protest. The symbolism of this moral protest is as important to maintain as any of the other effects that sanctions are supposed to bring.

Sanctions against Cuba can be adjusted to reduce harms.

Many point to harms caused by the United States sanctions of Cuba. But this does not necessarily lead to a blanket condemnation of sanctions. It is possible for the United States to adjust its sanctions against Cuba to minimize any negative effects that are currently seen. It is possible, for example, to lift the tourism embargo on Cuba while maintaining other sanctions of the country.

Changing legally etched Cuban human rights violations requires sanctions

Cuba’s human rights violations are not merely a factor of capricious actions being taken by the Cuban regime. Rather, human rights violations are enshrined in Cuban law. The Cuban constitution does protect certain individual freedoms, but then nullifies them when they are contrary to “the goals of the socialist State,” “socialist legality,” or the “people’s decision to build socialism and communism.” By making individual rights conditional on the will of the Cuban regime, the door to human rights is opened very wide with no room for narrowing the gap. The only way that human rights violations can be ended in Cuba is if these laws are fundamentally changed or if the constitution itself is thrown away. Such drastic change cannot be achieved through gradual change, but requires sanctions for either regime change or as a lever to institute dramatic change.

Legality: Are US sanctions against Cuba illegal under international law?

Using sanctions to attempt regime change is illegal.

To maintain sanctions in order to change the form of government, as the United States claims it does, is totally illegitimate under International Law.

Sanctions against Cuba violate the UN Charter.

Sanctions against Cuba violated laws on the freedom of navigation.

Sanctions against Cuba violate United Nations resolutions since 1992.

These resolutions were passed with only the US and Israel in opposition.[5]

UN set precedent for sanctioning Cuba over human rights violations

Sanctioning Cuba is appropriate punishment for its flouting the UN

Prior to the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights repeatedly reported on the human rights situation in Cuba and took the step of appointing a Special Rapporteur. The Rapporteur was continually denied access by the Cuban government to perform its work in Cuba in examining Cuban human rights violations. Such examples of flouting the UN actually led to UN sanctions and warranted sanctions from other countries against Cuba.

Sanctioning Cuba has, at its heart, the intention to uphold international law and standards.

If sanctions break international law, it is only to hold the aims of international law.

United Nations Resolutions condemning sanctions have never passed through the Security Council and therefore lack any authority.

Double-standard: Do sanctions against Cuba follow an international double standard?

Sanctions against Cuba follow a double standard

How can the United States sanction Cuba for its undemocratic practices and alleged human rights violations when it does not sanction other countries for their tyrannical governments and human rights abuses. It is clear that democracy and human rights are not a consistent criteria in the United States for punishing other countries with sanctions. Such examples as the United States’ alliance with Saudi Arabia, who can be criticized as undemocratic and in violation of various human rights standards, can be put forth to demonstrate that the United States is applying a double standard against Cuba.

US business: Is the sanctioning of Cuba bad for US businesses?

Lifting sanctions against Cuba would benefit US exporters

There is a major market in the Cuba for United States export goods. Sanctions, however, deprive US businesses of the opportunity of profiting from these possibilities. In this way, the United States is harming itself in order to sanction Cuba, and this makes little sense. Mid-Western Republicans have all voted to drop the embargo because of the potential for profits in their farming states. This is a market for American products as well as a local producer. Further, if sanctions end Americans will be able to stop pretending that they prefer Bolivian cigars![6]

Lifting sanctions against Cuba will hardly benefit US businesses.

The total Cuban GDP is a small drop in the ocean of the US economy.

Economic considerations should not be taken over principles supporting sanctions.

Even if Cuba was a vital market for American goods it would be worth giving up some economic growth in order to maintain a commitment to the freedom of the Cuban people.

Punishment: Are enforcement and punishment measures appropriate?

Enforcing US-Cuba sanctions entails punishing businesses and allies

Because the embargo makes it illegal for many US-related businesses to trade with Cuba, it becomes necessary for the United States to enforce these laws. Enforcement typically follows the course of punishment of international businesses and nations. But, the United States should not be punishing legitimate international businesses and allies in order to punish what it considers to be a nefarious Cuban regime.

Travel ban to Cuba perversely punishes innocent travelers

Travelers are not acting nefariously by traveling to Cuba. There is little harm that can be done through such travel, and there are good lessons and experiences that can be had. And, yet, US citizens have been punished severely for traveling to Cuba, with the potential for prison time and fines up to $65,000.[7]

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