US embargo on Cuba must end
By Anne Cassebaum
October 28, 2013
News & Observer
When I recently visited Cuba on a Witness for Peace people-to-people
tour, I had my own share of predictable expectations from salsa and
jazz to palm trees and smiles. All verified, though some smiles were
muted as we arrived on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion
with a hunger strike by U.S. prisoners underway at Guantanamo.
To visit Cuba is to face the brutal contradictions of the American
empire. It is to love one’s country and want badly to right it so our
principles shape our policies. In the case of Cuba, our policies were
worse than I thought.
I learned that in the 1990s, during what Cubans call the Special
Period, Cubans lost an average of 10 pounds per person. The collapse
of their trading partner, the Soviet Union, also brought down their
oil-driven agriculture, and the U.S. responded by tightening a trade
embargo imposed decades earlier to sink their economy and Fidel
On Tuesday, the Cuban government will ask the United Nations to
condemn the embargo. Each year, we get only one or two needy allies to
join us in backing the embargo. The vote last year was 188-3. Why do
we still maintain it?
As the representative at the U.S. Embassy in Havana explained to our
group: “These things have a life of their own.” If you’re thinking
there is no U.S. Embassy in Havana, that’s technically correct. There
is, however, a seven-story building on Havana Bay, a Swiss embassy
with no Swiss in it, where our Interests Section is lodged, displaying
U.S. power. In answer, a mass of Cuban flags rises as high as the
embassy and rip and roar in the gulf wind.
There we got confirmation that Americans and Cubans want to visit and
trade. About 400,000 Americans visited Cuba last year legally, and the
U.S. is Cuba’s sixth-largest trading partner (some say fourth) despite
the embargo that penalizes others who trade with Cuba.
Our embassy representative spoke dismissively of Cuba as having a
mid-size U.S. city’s economy while celebrating U.S. economic and
military force. However, the people in the room cared more about
America as a force for justice. For us, the most American thing one
can do is work for what Cubans want: an end to the embargo, a return
of Guantanamo, their deepest harbor, and normalized relations.
Our nations stand to learn from each other.Cuba’s struggle is
inspiring. Faced with the loss of oil and chemical fertilizers in the
1990s, farmers, professors and the government made strides in organic
farming that are noted the world over. While North Carolina rejects
federal medical funds for 500,000 low-income people, Cuba’s
medicare-for-all puts the country ahead of the U.S. in health results.
Excellent and free university education makes their technicians in
science, medicine and agriculture valued throughout South America. A
food coupon system secures 10 days of meals for each Cuban.
Some would be troubled by the slow email and dearth of malls,
commercials and stores. There is a wealth gap that may widen as dozens
of categories of businesses opened for private enterprise. Our
youthful Cuban guide longed, like others, for America’s consumer
culture that his father had disappeared into. That was until he served
in Nicaragua and saw the unaddressed poverty there; then he said he
understood the Cuban Revolution.
We spoke also with a farmer who enjoys a simple, thriving life, his
sons living on adjacent fields. He recalled for us the Batista years
with quotas on the tobacco sharecroppers could sell. His father had to
sell their surplus to the landowner who resold it for four times more,
right before their eyes.
Despite their poverty, Cubans are working together for a society where
everyone matters and resources are well used. Meanwhile in America,
the world’s richest nation, the few hoard wealth, and possibilities
for the vast majority shrink as resources are squandered. We need not
fear a successful Cuba – unless we are afraid of rediscovering
American values or addressing the excesses of capitalism.
With so much to gain through trade and exchange, why don’t we
normalize relations with Cuba and end the embargo? Let’s agree with
the rest of the world today when it votes once again to condemn the