Foreign relations or a country’s relationship with the countries in the regional and international community is one of the most important aspects of administrating a government. Meaning to say, a country with deep pockets does not necessarily mean a rich and prosperous country. The key in leading a country towards prosperity is balance, and it has been proven in past literatures that that balance can be easily achieved through trade. Trade has been an ongoing process which can date us back to as early as the first few centuries of mankind’s existence, at a time when people heavily relied on the commodities being bartered by and from other tribes and settlements. Over the time, as these miniature tribes and settlements continued to grow both in terms of size and political and economic sophistication, more and more restrictive and facilitative actions towards trade have been invented. One of which is the trade embargo. Over the course of history, there have been numerous instances wherein the participants in international trade became involved in certain conflicts which could either be political, economic, and military in nature. Regardless of the type of conflict present and its roots, history has shown us that trade would be one of the first things to get affected. Trade has now evolved into a more comprehensive, albeit more complex process. Gone are the days when people had to literally travel long distances just to be able to close vital dealings with other traders. The only thing that remains unchanged with trade so far are these two: firstly, that no single country could truly prosper without trading, and secondly, that whenever there is conflict, regardless of the its type or nature, trade will always be one of the first things that would get affected, usually in a negative way. The objective of this paper is to discuss whether the United States should continue to dislodge the trade embargo that they imposed against the Communist Republic of Cuba since two years after the Communist Government led by Fidel Castro succeeded the Batista Administration. The research will be done by investigating the past history why the trade embargo was actually imposed and whether all grounds for imposition of such actions are legal, logical, or are simply driven by their inability to influence the country to turn democratic and allow for the promotion and preservation of human rights based on their own definitions.
A trade embargo is one of the few but direct ways how a country’s trade relationship with an international entity negatively. There have actually been many cases wherein two or even more countries imposed trade embargos against one another, which again is usually due to conflicts of political, economic, and military interests. An embargo is “a government order that restricts commerce or exchange with a specified country and is usually created as a result of unfavorable economic or political circumstances between nations and is aimed to isolate a certain country and create difficulties for its governing body, forcing it to act on the underlying issue” . An embargo is a huge barrier against trade because it literally restricts the external and internal flow of goods and commodities to and fro a country, which would eventually lead to the downsizing of that country’s economy. It technically operates similarly to a naval or armed forces blockade because trade is signify basically prohibited in an embargoed and blockaded country. The only difference so far is that an embargo is an internationally legal means of restricting trade; and that in an embargo; only the country or countries that the embargoed country has conflicts with would be the ones whom it will not be allowed to conduct trade transactions with—which means that trade would still be possible although it could only be done with neutral and friendly countries. Naturally, it would be a lot better for an entire nation’s economy if there would be no restrictions to its economic activities, and one thing that a trade embargo does is restrict such activities.
A Brief History of the United States Trade Embargo against Cuba
Tensions were on sky-high levels during the period wherein there is a fierce struggle of power between the current Cuban administration in 1953 headed by Fulgencio Batista and his allies and the communist forces led by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro, and a very important and influential man in the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara. The struggle of power lasted approximately 5 and half years, although the buildup of tensions that made the Communist leader and commanders rally for a revolution happened way earlier than that time. The main reason why the Communist forces in Cuba tried to overthrow the then current administration was because of the severe oppression that the Cuban citizens were suffering from the type of government that Batista had imposed—a dictatorship.
The struggle for power can be characterized by a series of wins and losses on both sides, although Castro’s side was clearly and considerably outnumbered. Some sources say that Castro’s forces only numbered over three hundred men—a number which in the later phases of the revolution, was reinforced by their group’s supporters, while Batista, the current president during that time, was backed by all the supporters of the government and the tens of thousands of military troops and personnel commissioned under the different military branches of the dictatorship-modeled government.
The United States’ perception of the revolution led by Castro was more negative than positive, although their actions, which were evidenced by their lack of military intervention, showed that they do not intend to intervene with the internal conflicts happening in Cuba, although the United States government was fully aware of the situation. One of the main concerns that the United States government had on the revolution and Castro and his forces’ slow but vicious victory over the Batista regimen’s forces was the spread of communism . It has been established by history that the Cold War between the Soviet Union on the East and the United States on the West started shortly after the defeat of the Axis powers and the Nazi Germany and the occupation of Berlin which marked the end of the World War II .
The U.S. seemed to have reason to believe that aside from the oppression and maltreatment that Castro and his forces’ used as the main pretext for waging a revolutionary war against the legitimate dictatorship government, the move was also a bid to spread the influence of communism, which the U.S. an advocate of democracy, was waging a fight against the Soviet Union for. Some sources suggest that Fidel Castro’s motive, aside from remodeling the Cuban government, was to support the Soviet Union in their intentions to spread the influence of Communism in the Asia Pacific region—which was evidenced by the surprise invasion of South Korea by the North Koreans supported by the Chinese , and in the West—which was evidenced by the occupation of Cuba by the alleged Communist-influenced Castro and his forces. The U.S. clearly did not want a communist country, which could host a satellite military base by the Soviet Union in a time of war—the Cold War, to be lying a few hundred kilometers from its main land. However, the dilemma is that during the Cuban revolution, it was not really clear what type of government the revolutionaries would try to establish after overthrowing the current administration and stripping the government off and replacing it with a new one, which they did in 1959.
After the revolution, Fidel Castro, which clearly appeared to be the most significant figure in that movement, visited the United States and said “I know what the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course, I have said very clearly that we are not Communists; very clearly” . Fidel Castro seems to have been denying the wrong thing because it really turned out that the government that he and his supporters established is Communist-based which proved the suspicions of the United States and the international community about the motives of the revolution correct. Now, this might actually be a very small thing for the United States to impose a trade embargo against the new Cuban government, in fact, it actually is. The new Cuban government did not stop there. Right after the new government has been formed, Cuba nationalized all of the properties possessed by United States Citizens in Cuba, even the high-profit corporations for no apparent reason and without establishing any dialogue with the U.S. trade authorities. This was apparently perceived by the U.S. as some form of economic and political hostility which basically works against the interests of the United States not only in Cuba—in fact, the move by the new Cuban government clearly violated the humanitarian and trade rights of the U.S. citizens whom they sacked, but in the entire Latin America.
A trade embargo, banning all forms of commodity, cash, and resource transfers between the United States and Cuba, was shortly imposed by the U.S. government after the alleged provocative behavior of the Cuban government towards the United States citizens in the country and in some other parts of Latin America, and in general against the U.S. . Based on this fact alone, we could tell that it was Cuba who started the conflict and it was also them who caused their own economy’s demise and suffering as a result of being isolated from one of the biggest markets and economies in the international community. Basically, the objective of the trade embargo was to encourage the Cuban government to reverse their actions and carry on through a more peaceful path, and keep itself from violating the human rights not only of the American people living in Cuba, but also of the Cuban people, as stipulated in the different doctrines of democracy, a type of government which the U.S. promotes because of the leniency and liberty that it offers to the people, but the Cuban government did and does not.
The Path towards Resolution
The U.S. embargo imposed against Cuba since 1958 up to the present has been amended several times, throughout the numerous administrative successions in the U.S. government . The embargo was turned into a formal law under the name Cuban Democracy Act which stipulates that the sanctions that have been imposed against the Cuban government—the trade embargo being one of such, be maintained as long as the Cuban government does not cooperate in moving towards the “democratization and greater respect for human rights”.
In 1996, another act was passed called the Helms-Burton Act which restricts all United States Citizens from engaging in any form of trade or economic engagement with and in Cuba . Another expansion on the trade embargo was the mandate about the restrictions on providing private and public assistances to any government that would succeed Havana unless all disputes and claims against the Cuban government are settled. Three years later, in 1999, former president further expanded the sanctions brought about by the Trade Embargo by prohibiting all U.S. companies from engaging in any form of business dealing with Cuba, specifically, the establishment of foreign subsidiaries that would be based in Cuba . The year after that however, the former president, Bill Clinton allowed for the trading of a selected group of humanitarian commodities towards and in favor of Cuba.
More than five decades have passed since this trade embargo was first imposed against not only the government of Cuba but also against the Cuban citizens —because in the end, they would be the ones who would suffer from the inflamed economic conditions caused by their country’s isolation. Up to the present, the Obama administration still perceives Cuba as a closed society that is unwilling to adhere to the outline of conditions that the U.S. government has laid out in the past years. These conditions are so far the real keys to end the ongoing conflict between these two countries.
All the Obama administration wanted to see as of this moment so that they can finally lift the trade embargo is Cuba’s willingness to open its isolated society. They could have well showed this to the international community many years ago by freeing political prisoners; allowing U.S. citizen-owned businesses to operate in Cuban soil; allowing U.S. telecommunications companies to build sites on the island; relieving the U.S. citizens in Cuba from the effort and additional taxes and duties whenever they receive remittances from their U.S. relatives; the lifting of the travel ban imposed on Cuban-American citizens; and in general, the promotion and preservation of freedom and human rights in the country. Until these and all other major conditions remain ignored by the Cuban government, the trade embargo imposed against the Cuban government will remain as one of the United States’ national interest .
As expected the people in Cuba and United States’ sentiments regarding the issue of finally lifting the trade embargo after more than fifty years is divided. There are some who believe that the establishment of free trade between the two countries would be for the better of both countries and in the same manner, there are also some who do not. Another major reason why most people and even the government are still reluctant on lifting the ban is Cuba’s image as one of the countries that support terrorism, an issue which the U.S. is so sensitive and adamant about.
Based on the history of the trade embargo, its details such as the types and articles of the economic and political restrictions and prohibitions, it definitely seems logical for the U.S. not to lift the trade embargo against Cuba. Based on their actions, Cuba still does not show any signs of willingness to cooperate with the U.S. authorities in working towards a real solution to the trade embargo that has injured their isolated economy for more than fifty years already. What the U.S. requests are actually simple except for the remodeling of the Cuban government’s position about basic human rights and freedom which the U.S. strongly condemns. Anyhow, based on the evidences and information gathered in this paper it would seem more logical and strategic for the United States to protect both the interests of its citizens and Cuba’s, to retain the trade embargo because yielding would only make the U.S. look like it is rewarding Cuba’s bad behavior especially with regards to freedom, human rights, and free trade.
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