Report from Havana: Time for a Reality Check on U.S. Policy toward Cuba

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Official U.S. and Cuban depictions of theeffects of the U.S. embargo differ notably fromCuban economic reality. This report, based onthe authors' recent visits to Havana and interviewswith top Cuban officials, dissidents, andother private citizens, shows that the embargo isnot responsible for Cuba's poor economic condition--as Havana claims--nor has it been effectiveat achieving Washington's goal of isolating theCuban regime.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and theconsequent loss of massive aid and trade preferences,Cuba has established more developed relationswith the outside world and introduced limitedreforms in areas including trade, foreigninvestment, and tourism without renouncingsocialism. Cuba is thus no longer backsliding,but neither is it flourishing.

A dense network of American contacts withCuba has also developed. About 3,400 Americanbusiness visits to Cuba took place last year, and80,000 Americans are visiting the island annually,in addition to thousands of Cuban Americans who,along with other Cuban exiles, remit $1 billion peryear to Cuba. Much of that activity violates the spirit,if not the letter, of U.S. sanctions law.

Interviews with leading dissidents also reveala preference for engagement with the UnitedStates and little support for maintaining theembargo. Moreover, many dissidents opposeproposed U.S. legislation that would provide aidto human rights and other activists in Cubabecause it would compromise their independenceand legitimacy.

Current U.S policy toward Cuba is based onhistorical inertia, domestic political calculations,and emotionalism. The embargo will continue tobe ineffective--especially given dwindling supportfor the policy, the ease with which Cuba getsaround the sanctions, and the ways in which Cubahas been adapting to changing world conditions.The United States could help improve Cuba'spoor human rights record and reveal FidelCastro's regime as the main source of Cuba's economictroubles by lifting the trade and investmentembargo, restoring the right of Americans to travelto Cuba, and rejecting any current or proposedofficial aid to groups inside Cuba.

William Ratliff

Jonathan G. Clarke, a former British diplomat, is a research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. William Ratliff is senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.