Cuba and U.S. Duke it out in the International Ring

By Sheli DeNola

After decades of stifling Cuba’s international trade abilities, the United States has been asked by the United Nations to lift the U.S.-sanctioned embargo, which many consider to be a debilitating force that has done more harm than good.

Since the embargo was first issued in 1992, the U.N. has called for its removal, but not much had changed until Oct. 30, when the U.N. finally stepped in and formally asked the United States to lift the embargo.

Earlier in the week President Bush reiterated the need to maintain the embargo, which he sees as a means to contain Cuba’s communism.

With Fidel Castro’s health in question and his move to relinquish power to his brother, Raul Castro, many questions loom as to what the near future will bring.

Recent changes began with the Clinton Administration, which ushered in an age of “trade not aid,” said Larry Birns, director of The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit research group working to increase inter-American relationships. In consortium with the U.S., the world treasury, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund called for the miniaturization of the public sector in Latin American countries.

“Distractions in Iraq allowed Latin American countries to emancipated themselves,” Birns said, explaining that in a recent press conference Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted that the United States has “no clout in events that take place in Cuba,” and that Bush said that “we have to go slow, we have little clout.”

Cuban communistic character made it a hostile figure in the minds of U.S. policy makers. “The U.S. devoted itself to isolating Cuba,” Birns said.

“However, the policy of isolation was unsuccessful,” he said. “If anything, it was able to establish a sounder economy, as its ties to other nations—like Russia and China—grew stronger. If anything, U.S. policy was isolated.”

The United States has received heavy criticism from the international community. Many feel that it should have little to no influence in the economic affairs of other countries, as is evident by the U.N.’s unanimous vote.

“During the Cold War, Cuba was considered by the U.S. a Soviet Trojan horse,” said Antonis Balasopoulos, a professor of comparative literature at UC Santa Cruz. “The U.S. demanded that Castro be removed and in his place a more liberal democratic regime be instituted. Cuba remains the last vestige of the Cold War.”

Organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, believe that Castro’s policies are “tyrannical.” Through economic policy, they assert, the United States hopes to influence the future of Cuba’s government.

Yet many believe that Latin American countries that have had troubled relations with the Unitd States. are forced to turn to nefarious commerce, especially the production of illegal drugs. “In blocking legitimate commerce there is an increase in illegitimate commerce,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

“In Colombia there is not a lot of infrastructure, it makes economic sense to [produce] cocaine. There’s going to be a market for illegal drugs. The profit makes it worth breaking the law,” Piper said. “They have to compete with a global economy, for more than a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day; many illegal drugs are really cheap to grow.”
Piper calls for the United States to be more responsible in curbing its own demand of drugs.

While Cuba produces very few black-market products like cocaine, many wonder if the nation will resort to this in times to come. Yet the trade embargo on Cuba has had little effect on the current government, although the inevitable political isolation has excluded Cuba from a more global network which would contribute to its ability to grow both socially and politically.

Ellen Farmer, the creator of a Santa Cruz-based Cuban study group, says that currently there is a wealth of opportunities to be found in Cuba.

“The Latin American school of medicine takes students who are seeking to become doctors free of charge,” Farmer said. “Cuba is known for practicing medical diplomacy; in fact, they offered the United States 1,000 doctors after Katrina. The State Department chose to ignore the offer.”