America and Cuba Today: The Coming of Age of the Cuba Embargo Under the Obama Administration

In retrospect, the Cuban embargo was presumably logical. World order was essentially polarized into two distinct categories: Capitalism vs. Communism. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR, this approach seems worthless in terms of achieving peaceful, stable relations with Cuba in contemporary international relations. In short, the Cuban embargo is a product of the Cold War which went into effect shortly after the success of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Cold War tensions, the proximity of Cuba to the United States, and nationalization of U.S. business interests in Cuba led to a partial embargo and eventually a full embargo by the mid-1960’s.

From the Eisenhower Administration to the Obama Administration, the embargo has shifted in intensity. Before taking office, President Obama has shown an inclination toward a more forward approach in engaging Cuba and less intense restrictions. In contrast, many past administrations have perpetuated the embargo to the same degree as if it were 1968; President Obama has chosen a new path toward diplomatic and economic inclusion, which represents a shift from a stagnant Cold War mentality to a more forward, progressive approach. To be specific, President Obama’s administration has created initiatives, outlined in an omnibus bill, which would relax travel restrictions  in Cuban family members.

A Gallup poll suggests that since 2000, many Americans favor ending the trade embargo with Cuba, with 51% favoring and 38% opposing it. The trend in the poll shows the opposing group steadily decreasing while the former holding steady. While this may not translate into meaningful change in regards to the embargo, it does create a favorable atmosphere in which President Obama can harness and mold the embargo to reflect popular expectance.

Courtesy of Udo Springfeld via Flickr

President Obama is at a crossroads in which direction to take the United State’s relationship with Cuba.. The affirmation of the Cuban embargo may prove to be less politicized as opposed to developing ties with Cuba. Nonetheless, the advantages of engaging Cuba is significant from businesses perspective and diplomatic ties are beneficial, especially with a country so close to our borders. Reversing the outdated, Cold War paradigm is also in line with American public opinion. In the past, methods of exclusion have produced tense and rigid structures that require even more energy to maintain, such as the arms race between the United States and Russia. In other words, the old context for the Cuban embargo should not affect President Obama’s decision to develop economic and diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Historically, American foreign policy towards Cuba has been a process of negotiating with financial incentives in return for political reform and, as the Cuban embargo demonstrates, Cuba has been resistant in conceding to these demands. Instead, the United States’ foreign policy on Cuba has partitioned relations and created a “West versus the Rest”  mentality. However there seems to be a divergence from the past with the emergence of Castro’s younger brother, Raul Castro, as the provincial leader, and a more diplomatically inclined President Obama, the prospects of bilateral agreements on economic sanctions being lifted seems plausible. At the very least, a small but important step will have been developed for future leaders to shape and mold to their preferences.

The consequences of the Cuban embargo were felt almost immediately by all Cuban business owners, ranging from small to big, as well as the many investing companies from abroad. Cuban reliance on sugar export to the United States further affected the Cuban economic structure. President Obama should not take this area for granted. This economic area serves as a conduit for future diplomatic exchanges. Also, this area could potentially lift the burden that the United States has placed on the Cuban economy. Economic sanctions will only continue to promote slow development of revenue earning sectors in Cuba and restrict access to both Cubans and Americans to markets of labor and manufactured products. Such sanctions, as history has shown, will reluctantly force Cuba turn to other nations who can provide access to their markets – as Canadian companies have done so in the 1990’s.

The benefits of the Cuban embargo may have been relevant during the Cold War. Today, however, it seems to be more of an impediment to Cuban-American families and companies who seek entry into Cuban markets. The consequences during the onset of the Cuban embargo and Cuban Missile Crisis may have proven to be detrimental to our national safety.

President Obama has engendered a more diplomatic and forward-thinking approach in integrating states that have been on the fringe of international relations, such as Cuba. The Cuban embargo is undoubtedly a symbol of the Cold War era. It is time for a new chapter in Cuban-America relations to begin and President Obama has written the first page. The rest will depend on Congress and future administrations.

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