“We stand with the Cuban people,” US President Joe Biden says in an official White House statement, responding to protests across the Caribbean island country, “and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel disagrees as to the nature of the protests. “All this discontent, these feelings of dissatisfaction, what is the ultimate cause of all that?” he asks. “It’s the blockade. This is part of the U.S. playbook to destabilize us, to generate chaos, to break our will and spirit.”
Diaz-Canel has a point.
There’s no actual “blockade,” but there is an embargo, now yearly 60 years long, under which most trade with Cuba is forbidden to American businesses (and foreign business which operate the US).
The supposed purpose of the embargo has been, simply put, to make life hard enough on the Cuban people that they rise up and overthrow the communist regime. So when Diaz-Canel blames the embargo for popular discomfort and dissatisfaction, a US claim that he’s wrong is essentially an admission that the embargo serves no worthwhile purpose whatsoever.
Which seems to be the case. Six decades of failure to achieve its purpose kind of speaks for itself, don’t you think?
If Biden really wants to “stand with the Cuban people,” there are two easy steps he can take to do so in an honest way.
First, he can ask Congress to lift the embargo and declare a policy of unilateral free trade with Cuba. If Cubans aren’t going to be permitted to trade with Americans, let the Cuban regime, not the US regime, be the ones to say so — and to pay any price in popularity that comes with the decision.
Second, he can ask Congress to end all restrictions on travel and migration between Cuba and the US. If you’re a Cuban who wants to visit or live in America, or vice versa, and if you can can find a way to make the journey, the US government won’t stand in your way (again, if the Cuban government does, that’s on them).
Will those two things happen? Not likely. Florida’s a swing presidential state with a strong lobby and associated Cuban-American voting bloc that favors economic protectionism in the name of an “anti-communism” that aims to keep Cuba’s Communist Party in charge at all costs.
But if he dares risk it, Biden can actually stand up for freedom — in a way that invites the Cuban people to reveal and act on their true preferences, whatever those preferences may be — instead of just mouthing dishonest platitudes.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.