Economic sanctions rarely work. Trade and investment sanctions against Burma, Iran, and North Korea have failed to change the behavior of any of those oppressive regimes; sanctions have only deepened the deprivation of the very people we are trying to help. Our research at the Cato Institute confirms that trade and globalization till the soil for democracy. Nations open to trade are more likely to be democracies where human rights are respected. Trade and the development it creates give people tools of communication-cell phones, satellite TV, fax machines, the Internet-that tend to undermine oppressive authority. Trade not only increases the flow of goods and services but also of people and ideas. Development also creates a larger middle class that is usually the backbone of democracy.
President Bush seems to understand this powerful connection between trade and democracy when he talks about China or the Middle East. In a speech on trade early in his first term, the president noted that trade was about more than raising incomes. “Trade creates the habits of freedom,’ the president said, and those habits begin “to create the expectations of democracy and demands for better democratic institutions. Societies that open to commerce across their borders are more open to democracy within their borders. And for those of us who care about values and believe in values–not just American values, but universal values that promote human dignity–trade is a good way to do that.”
The president has rightly opposed efforts in Congress to impose trade sanctions against China because of its poor human rights record. In sheer numbers, the Chinese government has jailed and killed far more political and religious dissenters than has the Cuban government. And China is arguably more of a national security concern today than Castro’s pathetic little workers’ paradise. Yet China has become our third largest trading partner while we maintain a blanket embargo on commercial relations with Cuba. President Bush understands that economic engagement with China offers the best hope for encouraging human rights and political reforms in that country, yet he has failed to apply that same, sound thinking to Cuba.
In fact, the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez is doing more to undermine America’s national interest today than either Cuba or China. Chavez shares Castro’s hatred for democratic capitalism, but unlike Castro he has the resources and money to spread his influence in the hemisphere. Chavez is not only bankrolling Cuba with discounted oil but he is also supporting anti-Americans movements in Nicaragua and other countries in our neighborhood. Yet we buy billions of dollars of oil a year from Venezuela’s state oil company, we allow huge Venezuelan investments in our own energy sector, and Americans–last time I checked–can travel freely to Venezuela. The one big difference between Venezuela and Cuba is that we don’t have half a million politically active Venezuelan exiles living in a swing state like Ohio.
This is not an argument for an embargo against Venezuela, but for greater coherence in U.S. foreign policy. In a world still inhabited by a number of unfriendly and oppressive regimes, there is simply nothing special about Cuba that warrants the drastic option of a total embargo.”
Although Cuba is one of five countries the United States designates as state sponsors of terrorism, the report noted that no U.S. license is required for travel to Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria, and there are no restrictions on personal remittances of funds to those countries.”