Trade embargo won’t promote change in Cuba

By Freedom Newspapers

Frederic Bastiat is credited with saying, “If goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” He knew the best way to keep nations on speaking terms with one another was trade.

It’s difficult for a nation to foment distrust of and anger with another nation when the people of both rely on one another to provide products they use in their everyday lives. It’s in everyone’s interest to keep trade free, so products can flow from producers to consumers.

Trade restrictions stifle that flow, and usually for little benefit to the restricting nation. That’s one of the reasons economic sanctions have such a poor record of prompting change in targeted countries.

For a good example we need look no farther than Key West, Fla. The United States banned trade and travel with Fidel Castro’s Cuba shortly after the communist dictator took over in 1959. The sanctions have been a stunning success, with Castro buckling under to U.S. demands in short order, right? We all know better.

After four decades of U.S. attempts to economically isolate the island nation, Castro is still firmly in power, even though he has been ill in recent years. Will his successor be better received in Washington? The world might never find out. There are moves afoot inside the Capital Beltway to loosen restrictions on some trade and travel to Cuba.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, unveiled a proposal that would make trade easier between the two countries and lift all travel restrictions on Americans bound for Cuba. Although their plan covers only agricultural products and medical supplies, any easing of trade restrictions is a step in the right direction. If a U.S. embargo hasn’t produced change in the decades it’s been in place, we think it’s fair to say it has failed.

Keeping the embargo in place simply punishes the Cuban people and deprives consumers in each nation of goods produced by the other.

Responding to Baucus’ proposal, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, “The administration … opposes any weakening of sanctions on Cuba and believes that these measures are essential until Cuba can realize its rightful democratic future … .”

We know this is the standard line of U.S. administrations through the years, but it should be obvious, even to hard-line anti-communists, that these “essential” measures aren’t working to loosen Castro’s grip on power.

One reason for this is other nations freely trade with Havana, thus providing the Cuban economy with many of the products it’s not getting from the U.S. That being the case, the United States might as well drop the sanctions and get part of the Cuban pie.

As for Cuba realizing “its rightful democratic future,” democracy is no guarantee of liberty. Or U.S. support. Just look at how the Bush administration reacted when Hamas took over the Palestinian government in what are generally regarded as free and open elections. Or how, last week, the administration backed the new Fatah-backed government in the West Bank after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the elected Palestinian government. Not much support for democracy there.

Apparently the administration supports democracy only when it gets the results it wants.

Economic sanctions against Cuba are one of the last vestiges of the United States’ Cold War foreign policy. In those days, it was considered immoral to cooperate with communist dictators. But times have changed and Washington has forged trade ties with communist governments, most notably China. There are few communist governments left.

It’s time to send the trade embargo with Cuba to the ash heap of history.