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Debate: Ending US sanctions on Cuba

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Should the United States drop its sanctions on Cuba?

Background and context

Fidel Castro and his Communist government came to power in Cuba in 1959, much to the horror of the American administration of the time.
Cuba was supported throughout the Cold War by the Soviet Union and became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions, notably during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis when Nikita Khrushchev sparked the most dangerous Cold War confrontation by attempting to place nuclear weapons on the island. America has maintained near total sanctions on Cuba throughout the period since 1959, but before 1990 they were largely counteracted in their effects by the weight of support, trade and subsidy offered by the USSR, which amounted to $4-6 Billion dollars per year. Since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc the withdrawal of these subsidies has caused a 35% drop in GDP, which is only now starting to be reversed after market reforms that focus on foreign investment and tourism. Nevertheless, the poverty of Cuba makes it much more vulnerable to the effects of sanctions than it was. The decreased threat of communism has led to a re-evaluation of the sanctions in the US but so far the wounds of the twentieth century, and the electoral significance of Florida where most Cuban emigres live, has steeled the resolve of the White House. Sanctions were in fact strengthened significantly in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, although recent moves have made food and medicine a little easier to move from the US to Cuba.[1]

Contents

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Efficacy: Are sanctions a faulty policy in the effort to democratize Cuba?

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Yes

  • Sanctions against Cuba have not worked at all in their long history. They’ve made no political difference in the last 43 years, why would they now?
  • Ending the tourism ban would help undermine the Cuban regime Tourism and its accompanying economic growth and cultural exchange all have the potential to undermine the Cuban regime. Whenever people are exposed to economic freedoms and to foreign cultural liberties, they will seek those standards in their own political system. This will help force the Cuban regime to change or risk rebellion.
  • Sanctions give the Cuban government an excuse for their failures Sanctions make it possible for the Cuban government to blame its failures on the United States. Many Cuban people accept this proposition put forth by the Cuban government. If sanctions were eliminated, the Cuban government would no longer have the capacity to blame their failures on the United States, and the Cubans would not longer believe any such excuses.
  • Sanctions damage the spread of democracy Democracy usually spreads through the gradual exposure of people to democratic practices, liberal economics, and the higher living standards associated with these systems. Sanctions damage the exposure of the Cuban public to this all, making it far less likely that they will move to demand democracy and liberal economics from their leaders.
  • Ending sanctions will allow US to expand influence in Cuba International influence can be characterized, in large part, by the various influences and connections a country holds in another country. Such influence is fostered, in large part, by economic, cultural, and political investments and a country. Yet, sanctions are preventing the United States from investing in these things in Cuba, and deprives the United States of the kind of leverage it needs to produce real change in Cuba.
  • US sanctions against Cuba cannot work unilaterally Sanctions are not very effective when implemented by only one country, as other countries may trade heavily with the sanctioned country, thus minimizing the economic harm from unilateral sanctions. The United States sanctions against Cuba are largely unilateral, and are subsequently having little of the desired effect.
  • Ending the tourism ban would help undermine the Cuban regime Tourism and its accompanying economic growth and cultural exchange all have the potential to undermine the Cuban regime. Whenever people are exposed to economic freedoms and to foreign cultural liberties, they will seek those standards in their own political system. This will help force the Cuban regime to change or risk rebellion.


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No

  • Sanctions are a powerful tool for liberalizing countries. Aggressive U.S. engagement and pressure contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and it can work again.Now is exactly the time that the United States should be tightening down the screws so that Castro’s successor is forced to make real changes.[2]
  • Media helps soften Cuban popular impressions of US sanctions While sanctions may be having unfortunate effects on the Cuban people, the impact of sanctions on the morale of the Cuban people and their respect for the United States can be mollified through various media sources broadcasting from the United States to Cuba. The intention of the sanctions to punish the Cuban regime and to help protect the freedoms of Cubans can be better explained to the Cuban people through these messages.
  • US sanctions back Cuban people's fight against totalitarianism Sanctions are part of the Cuban people's fight against totalitarianism. They are part of an effort to bring about either regime change or to lever dramatic liberalization. Do drop sanctions would be to abandon the Cuban people's efforts to fight totalitarianism.
  • The Cuban regime won't democratize so must be ended with sanctions There are strong indications that Castro, Raul, and the Cuban regime will not democratize. Their grip on power is firm and codified into Cuban law. The only way to wrench power from them is through sanctions, which has the power to cause regime change or leverage substantial reforms at the right time.
  • Sanctions should persist to leverage Cuban leaders that follow Castro Sanctions are a good lever to influence Cuban political leaders toward liberalization. While this may not be achievable with Castro, it is certainly possible with the leaders that follow Castro. Sanctions have more potential to influence post-Castro Cuban leaders because these leaders will be less able to resist the public outcry against the government actions in Cuba that have led to the existence of these sanctions. Therefore, the liberalizing objective of sanctions are much more likely to succeed with the next Cuban leaders, and so they should be sustained so that they can be used effectively in this context.
  • Cubans aren't fooled by their regime's attempts to blame sanctions for failures. Blaming America for all economic woes didn’t trick ordinary Russians and it won’t trick the Cubans. The mission of democratic reform, therefore, is not damaged in Cuban minds by US sanctions.


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Security: Are international security grounds for sanctioning Cuba unfounded?

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Yes

  • Cuba sanctions lost national security rationale after 1991 The initial purpose of sanctioning Cuba was to constrain the broader threat of the Soviet Union following Castro's coming of power and the initiation of relations between the two countries. Indeed, Cuba, was a significant threat to the United States and international security at that time as a proxy of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But, after the Cold War ended, Cuba became a far lower-level threat as it ceased to be a proxy country of the Soviet Union. Sanctions, being leveled against Cuba in the Cold War context, are therefore no longer reasonable, as Cuba no longer presents the same threat to the United States and the world.
  • There is no evidence that Cuba is a sponsor of terror.
  • Cuba has no weapons of mass destructions. It has no biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
  • Cuba holds fewer prisoners of conscience than China, Vietnam, Iran, or even Egypt.
  • Cuba has cooperated with the United States on security matters. Following September 11th, for example, Cuba offered to share information with the United States that would help in its subsequent War on Terror.


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No

  • Sanctions are superior to the use of military force. Sanctions are often a "softer", better alternative to the use of military force. This has some resonance in the case of Cuba. In 1996, two US civilian planes were shot down by the Cuban air force near Cuba. The United States could have responded, on some proportional level, militarily. President Clinton decided, however, to use sanctions instead to punish the Cuban regime with the Helms-Burton Act. Therefore, the continued sanctioning of Cuba through 1996 and to present was, to some extent, the preferred alternative within the Clinton administration to military action against Cuba.
  • The significance of the threat from Cuba justifies US sanctions Cuba posses a significant national security threat, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of its support for Cuba in 1991. First, Cuba posses a direct threat to liberalism by continuing to pressure for communism internationally. Communism rests on principles that are directly antagonistic to democracy. Such principles, as was demonstrated during the Cold War, have the potential to be highly destabilizing and threatening to international security. The instability of Cuba itself, under such a communist regime, poses certain international risks as well. In addition, Cuba's record of human rights abuses, nefarious international attacks, and even support of terrorism can be cited as a threat to international security and go toward justifying the current sanctions.
  • The Cuban administration refused to give help with the search for Al-Qaeda suspects.
  • Cuba is on the U.S. list of sponsors of terror.
  • Cuba provides a safe haven to many American fugitives.
  • Cuba is known to have a developmental biological weapons ‘effort'.
  • Cuba is recorded as breaking international sanctions to export dual use technologies to Iran.
  • Cuba has failed to stop drug shipments through its waters.


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Cuban harms: Do sanctions significantly harm Cubans?

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Yes

  • Sanctions against Cuba only hurt the Cuban public Sanctions against Cuba are broadly damaging to the Cuban economy. This is primarily harmful to the Cuban people, as the Cuban leadership is able to insulate itself from these harmful effects. This means that sanctions are unlikely to compel the leadership to change its ways and democratize and that the United States sanctions are having an impact on par with an unjust war.
  • The sanctions cause real and unacceptable harm to the Cuban people. In the 1990’s Cuba lost $70 Bn in trade and $1.2 Bn in international loans because of U.S. sanctions. Cuba is too poor a country not to suffer from these losses. The dominance of America in the pharmaceuticals industry, moreover, means that it is actually impossible for Cubans to gain access to many drugs. America would be the natural market for most Cuban products, and its refusal to accept goods with even the tiniest Cuban inputs from third nations damages Cuba’s ability to trade with others. Other South American countries have shown their reliance on the types of loans that Cuba is denied in the last few years to keep their economies on track.[3]
  • Sanctions violate the principle of just war Just war typically follows the logic that measures taken in war should not target or have substantially negative impacts on civilians of other countries. And, yet, the primary costs of US sanctions are born by Cuban citizens, violating the principal of just war.
  • Sanctions hurt Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba. Sanctions make it too difficult for Cubans in America to travel to see or to financially support relatives in Cuba. This harms both Cubans and Cuban Americans, and neither of these consequences help further the primary aims of sanctions.
  • US sanctions harm Cuba's tourism industry The embargo on travel to Cuba from the United States damages Cuba's tourism industry. This industry has immense potential for growth given the beauty of Cuba. It therefore has immense potential to benefit the Cuban economy, create jobs, and raise standards of living. Depriving Cubans of this industry is, therefore, egregious in the way of punishing the Cuban people.


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No

  • Sanctions have not been the cause of the economic failure in Cuba. The communist political and economic system has been shown to lead to economic collapse all over the world, whether sanctions are in place or not. Even if sanctions were lifted, lack of private ownership, foreign exchange and tradable commodities would hold Cuba back. The International Trade Commission found a ‘minimal effect on the Cuban economy’ from sanctions. In fact, it is by using sanctions to pressure Cuba into economic and political reform that the US can best contribute to an economic recovery there.[4]
  • Sanctions are a protest of Cuban govt humanitarian violations Sanctions are a protest of the humanitarian violations of a government. They need not necessarily have an effective impact on the actions of a government to, nevertheless, represent a principled protest. The symbolism of this moral protest is as important to maintain as any of the other effects that sanctions are supposed to bring.
  • Sanctions against Cuba can be adjusted to reduce harms. Many point to harms caused by the United States sanctions of Cuba. But this does not necessarily lead to a blanket condemnation of sanctions. It is possible for the United States to adjust its sanctions against Cuba to minimize any negative effects that are currently seen. It is possible, for example, to lift the tourism embargo on Cuba while maintaining other sanctions of the country.
  • Changing legally etched Cuban human rights violations requires sanctions Cuba's human rights violations are not merely a factor of capricious actions being taken by the Cuban regime. Rather, human rights violations are enshrined in Cuban law. The Cuban constitution does protect certain individual freedoms, but then nullifies them when they are contrary to "the goals of the socialist State," "socialist legality," or the "people's decision to build socialism and communism." By making individual rights conditional on the will of the Cuban regime, the door to human rights is opened very wide with no room for narrowing the gap. The only way that human rights violations can be ended in Cuba is if these laws are fundamentally changed or if the constitution itself is thrown away. Such drastic change cannot be achieved through gradual change, but requires sanctions for either regime change or as a lever to institute dramatic change.


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Legality: Are US sanctions against Cuba illegal under international law?

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Yes

  • Using sanctions to attempt regime change is illegal. To maintain sanctions in order to change the form of government, as the United States claims it does, is totally illegitimate under International Law.
  • Sanctions against Cuba violate the UN Charter.
  • Sanctions against Cuba violated laws on the freedom of navigation.
  • Sanctions against Cuba violate United Nations resolutions since 1992. These resolutions were passed with only the US and Israel in opposition.[5]


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No

  • Sanctioning Cuba has, at its heart, the intention to uphold international law and standards. If sanctions break international law, it is only to hold the aims of international law.
  • United Nations Resolutions condemning sanctions have never passed through the Security Council and therefore lack any authority.


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Double-standard: Do sanctions against Cuba follow an international double standard?

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Yes

  • Sanctions against Cuba follow a double standard How can the United States sanction Cuba for its undemocratic practices and alleged human rights violations when it does not sanction other countries for their tyrannical governments and human rights abuses. It is clear that democracy and human rights are not a consistent criteria in the United States for punishing other countries with sanctions. Such examples as the United States' alliance with Saudi Arabia, who can be criticized as undemocratic and in violation of various human rights standards, can be put forth to demonstrate that the United States is applying a double standard against Cuba.
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No

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US business: Is the sanctioning of Cuba bad for US businesses?

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Yes

  • Lifting sanctions against Cuba would benefit US exporters There is a major market in the Cuba for United States export goods. Sanctions, however, deprive US businesses of the opportunity of profiting from these possibilities. In this way, the United States is harming itself in order to sanction Cuba, and this makes little sense. Mid-Western Republicans have all voted to drop the embargo because of the potential for profits in their farming states. This is a market for American products as well as a local producer. Further, if sanctions end Americans will be able to stop pretending that they prefer Bolivian cigars![6]
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No

  • Lifting sanctions against Cuba will hardly benefit US businesses. The total Cuban GDP is a small drop in the ocean of the US economy.
  • Economic considerations should not be taken over principles supporting sanctions. Even if Cuba was a vital market for American goods it would be worth giving up some economic growth in order to maintain a commitment to the freedom of the Cuban people.


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Punishment: Are enforcement and punishment measures appropriate?

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Yes

  • Enforcing US-Cuba sanctions entails punishing businesses and allies Because the embargo makes it illegal for many US-related businesses to trade with Cuba, it becomes necessary for the United States to enforce these laws. Enforcement typically follows the course of punishment of international businesses and nations. But, the United States should not be punishing legitimate international businesses and allies in order to punish what it considers to be a nefarious Cuban regime.


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No

  • Travel ban to Cuba perversely punishes innocent travelers Travelers are not acting nefariously by traveling to Cuba. There is little harm that can be done through such travel, and there are good lessons and experiences that can be had. And, yet, US citizens have been punished severely for traveling to Cuba, with the potential for prison time and fines up to $65,000.[7]
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Culture: Do US sanctions against Cuba undermine cultural exchanges?

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Yes


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No

  • Cultural exchanges with a communist people may be undesirable. While cultural exchanges may be a good thing, a main concern is that cultural exchanges with communists threatens that communist ideas will rub of on liberalized peoples. This may not be worth any cultural benefits.
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Symbolism: Do sanctions offer valuable symbolic messages?

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Yes

  • Lifting US sanctions will not be a victory for the Cuban regime Lifting sanctions on Cuba need not be seen as an admission of failure on the part of the United States' policy and, thus, a victory for the Cuban government. Rather, it can easily be framed simply as an alteration of approach toward the same goal of liberalizing Cuba. In addition, dropping sanctions, despite any immediate media benefits to the Cuban government, will be a long-term liability for them as it will become impossible to blame their failures on the United States. Their failures will be seen as their own, and this will be a certain cost for the Cuban government. In addition, policies should not be continued merely on the basis of costs surrounding admissions of failure. Failed tactics such as sanctions should always be ended if in the bigger and more important interest of "winning the war".


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No

  • This morale statement has important implications as far as asserting, without wavering, that the Castro regime needs to change. International support for reform in Cuba can be rallied only around such a principled stand against Communism.[8]


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US image: Does sanctioning Cuba damage the image of the United States?

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Yes

  • The Helms-Burton Act harms international businessmen, causing significant protest around the world. This makes a mockery of the US claim to be a guardian of International Law, not only in its dealings with Cuba but also in the negotiations over the future of Iraq. America could achieve its goals internationally more easily if it was not marked with evidence of its lack of respect for International Law.[9]


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No

  • Sanctioning Cuba upholds US image of a strong opponent of tyranny.


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US property: Are sanctions an unjust punishment for nationalization of US property?

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Yes

  • Cuba has offered to compensate the U.S. citizens whose property was nationalised in 1959.


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No

  • Cuba's government profits directly from resources stolen from United States citizens in 1959.[10]


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Democratic support: Are sanctions democratically supported in the US?

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Yes

  • US-Cuba sanctions exist only to appease Republicans in Florida One of the main criticisms of sanctions against Cuba is that they have a long history of being driven by the Cuban-American lobby. Yet, sanctions should not be driven by such a small segment of society.
  • Sanctions against Cuba are not democratically supported in America Sanctions are not the will of the American people but of a small minority of embittered Cuban Americans in Florida. National opinion generally expresses no preference or opposes the ban. Congress recently voted by 262-167 to repeal the Travel Ban to Cuba but will be thwarted by the insistence of George W. Bush that the ban remain. This is electioneering government at its worst.[11]


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No

  • Expert opinion matters more than public opinion on Cuba sanctions.


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International Opinion: Where does the international community stand?

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Yes


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No

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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No

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Pro/con videos

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Yes

"Ending the Travel Ban to Cuba"[12]

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No

"U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez stops attempt to weaken Cuba embargo". December 11, 2007.[13]

See also

External links

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