Towards A New Approach on Cuba
by Charles Lemos, Tue Dec 30, 2008 at 06:45:36 PM EST
On Thursday, the Cuban Revolution turns fifty. I do not expect the out-going Bush Administration to waiver from its stated policy towards the island which has seen a tightening of the politically ineffective 46 year old US embargo, increased Radio Marti news broadcasts into Cuba, curtailed visits home by Cuban-Americans and limited the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to relatives. I am, however, hopeful that the incoming Obama Administration will end the embargo and seek a new approach to US-Cuban relations.
In this, I am not alone. Two weeks ago at the Grupo de Río summit in Bahia, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the 33 member Latin American organization that he hoped the new Obama administration would bring " a change in US policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean". That included, President Lula said, an end to the embargo on Cuba "which no longer makes sense - neither economic nor political. In fact, there is no reason for it." The official joint communique called the embargo "unacceptable" and called on the Obama Administration to lift the embargo.
And before that in early December the 15-member Caribbean bloc Caricom said in a statement at the end of its summit that the governments "call for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against the Republic of Cuba." Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister W. Baldwin Spencer, head of Caricom, said the "transformational change" under way in Washington should relegate the embargo to history. It's rare that Latin America and the Caribbean speak as one voice but on Cuba it is only the United States that stands outside the currents of world opinion to its detriment and the detriment of the Cuban people themselves.
"The embargo is a policy that hasn't worked in nearly 50 years," Wayne Smith, the former head of Washington's diplomatic mission in Havana under the Carter administration, recently told the Associated Press. "It's stupid, it's counterproductive and there is no international support for it."
For too long, policy towards Cuba has been held hostage to the militant views of the politically important Cuban-American constituency in Florida that numbers at least 1.2 million with 70% of those living in Metro Miami. But now it seems that among Cuban-Americans there is a shift providing an opening for a new approach. A Florida International University (FIU) poll conducted this past November showed that 55% of Cuban-Americans in Miami, now favor lifting the embargo.
"The new poll from Florida International University is fascinating because on the one hand, it confirms a trend that they have been seeing since they started polling in the early 1990s: Over time, the Cuban American community has become more moderate and more open to the idea of U.S. engagement towards Cuba," American University professor for the School of Public Affairs Dr. William Leogrande told Reuters.
"In this poll, for the first time, a majority of Cuban Americans in South Florida, 55 percent, are in favour of lifting the embargo and 65 percent, are in favour of lifting all travel restrictions not just on Cuban-American but on all citizens of the United States. So that's really a tipping point in terms of attitudes within the community and I think it changes the politics domestically in the United States of the Cuba issue," Dr. Leogrande said.
But if this isn't enough to tip the scales, I might argue that we in the United States can actually learn from Cuba on a variety of critical issues. Cuba is one of two countries (the other is North Korea) to have endured a peak oil transition but unlike the PDRK, Cuba survived the loss of its fossil fuels supply without mass starvation though the average Cuban did lose 20 pounds. Cuba transitioned from large, fossil fuel intensive farming to small, less energy-intensive organic farms and urban gardens. Cuba also has managed to survive being battered by category four hurricanes year after year without large losses of life. That low death count can be attributed to island's efficient hurricane response system. Since the early 1990s, Cuba has invested heavily in a bio-tech sector developing it entirely independently. As such the knowledge and expertise which Cuba has developed remains an untapped resource for most of the world. And then there's health care where Cuba focuses out of necessity on prevention. What can we learn from Cuba? I suspect much. How many lives might be saved if we learned from Cuba? I suspect many.
Cuba isn't a democracy nor are the rights of conscience respected as they should be but let's face the fact that the near half century isolation of Cuba hinders not just the development of the Cuban people but ours as well. It's time for a new approach on Cuba. Lift the embargo and let's try engagement. Y al pueblo cubano, fecilidades.