Date of Degree
American Politics | Defense and Security Studies | Economic Policy | International Relations | Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | Public Policy
Cuba U.S. foreign relations, normalization policy, economic and trade embargo, Cuba Lobbying, rapprochment
For longer than the past half century, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been one of antagonism, mistrust, betrayal, hostility and defiance. Decades of mutual hostility arising from Cuba’s post revolution adoption of an economic system that emulated that of the Soviet Union, along with the long history of U.S. interference in Cuba’s domestic and international affairs that predated the Castro revolution and continued afterward, have resulted in this rancorous relationship. Cuba’s move to communism shortly after the Castro regime came to power was regarded as a threat to both democracy and capitalism by the United States, particularly the national security establishment, who exerted powerful influence on the affairs of the state during the height of the Cold War. Hence, Cuba’s thorough distrust of U.S. motives throughout the period when economic sanctions were imposed upon it.
Through the years, the U.S. government has faced both support and criticism from political leaders within the U.S. and internationally for its belligerent posture toward Cuba, without having achieved the objectives of these policies – undermining the Castro government to the point of causing regime change, ideally resulting in the elimination of communism in Cuba and the Western Hemisphere.
Economic growth and development initiatives on the island have largely, although not completely, failed. The U.S. condition of implementing a system of democracy so that the embargo could be lifted has neither been accepted nor implemented. A policy of containment intended to weaken Castro, instead, enabled him to prove that his system was resilient in the face of economic punishment. Yet, despite the Castro government’s determined survival through the hardships imposed upon it over decades, the negative results have been considerable, with the worst deprivations being felt by ordinary Cuban citizens.
After completion of a thorough internal assessment and review of the U.S.’s posture with respect to Cuba, on December 17, 2014 the White House announced President Obama’s decision to take a new approach, one ending the period of estrangement and antagonism, and simultaneously beginning the process of normalization, both of which were agreed upon by Cuba through intermediaries using diplomatic channels. Obama’s engagement initiative seeks to strengthen U.S.’s leadership in the Americas, while promoting effective change and influence that can support the Cuban people.
Will a renewed policy bring about political and economic changes necessary for the Cuba people to have new prosperity and democracy, whilst bolstering American national security interests? What measurements of democracy will be used as criteria for lifting the embargo? What are the implications for both countries of this new process of economic and political rapprochement? Since small Cuba clearly has more at stake in engaging with the U.S., what effects would this new course have on it?
U.S. interference in Cuba’s sovereignty will be examined through historical lens. Key policies such as the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary, the Platt Amendment, and the Good Neighbor Policy will be assessed. Analyses of the origins of the trade embargo, Castro’s adoption of Communism and Cuba’s close alliance with the Soviet Union, Castro’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his military and financial support for communist and socialist groups and causes in Africa and other Latin American countries, will provide a measure of understanding for why the U.S. saw the need to initiate and maintain its hostile policies.
It is telling that throughout the period of estrangement from the U.S., Cuba continued trade with economically significant partners such as Russia, China, Canada and other European nations. In fact, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s economy was heavily subsidized by Moscow. All of these, taken together, mitigated but by no means erased the crippling effect of trade sanctions imposed on Cuba by the U.S., its most important trading partner, prior to the revolution. Lack of political transparency and democracy, combined with a hamstrung economic system, have kept a high percentage of the Cuban people in poverty without prospects for upward mobility, short of an infusion of significant new trade opportunities.
Prior to 2014, these opportunities and a host of other mutual benefits were foregone in favor of political gain the in the U.S. and resistance to outside interference in Cuba. The Cuban government has blamed the West, particularly the United States, for its economic failures, and used that as a rationalization against abandoning its political systems with free, transparent, multi-party elections, continuing to follow the Soviet model long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Cuba’s present position as a state in transition signals that it could undergo major political shifts within the next few years. Raul Castro, the current leader after Fidel Castro’s retirement, has instituted reforms, such as liberalizing some sectors formerly under tight state control, and allowing the small private sector to expand gradually, which has resulted in an increase in self-employed workers. There are also many more tourist visa granted to U.S. citizens and more direct air travel to and from the U.S. In addition, some U.S. corporations are being allowed to expand information technology and internet access across the island.
Normalizing relations between the two countries will also provide opportunities for improvement in medicine and medical research in Cuba. Further, Cuba has been willing, on humanitarian grounds, to share its own medical advances and personnel with countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. These measures and exchanges are only the first steps on the road toward more abundant exchanges once normalization is fully realized.
However, that most of Cuba’s economy remains state owned and controlled, confirms to those opposed to the new engagement policy that lifting the embargo will not guarantee many benefits for private citizens there. In fact, most imports are still required to go through Cuba’s government operated agency – ALIMPORT. For the U.S., that is the exclusive negotiating and procurement agency for all purchasing, documentation and other logistics related to agricultural products. It appears that for now, at least, it might be the officials within the Cuban government who are the primary beneficiaries for the changes taking place.
The lack of complete and immediate transformation of Cuba’s systems at the inception of the normalization policy should not be seen as a failure but the result of a slow transition in a wary relationship of long standing. Despite the relative slow progress, maintaining the current process is likely to lead to further reaching and mutually beneficial results, both economically and politically. Yet, despite reasons for optimism, it is important to note that policies implemented President Obama and subsequent presidents pursuing their own foreign policy and economic agendas, might not ultimately produce the results in Cuba that many at present are hopeful and impatient to see. This is in no way should deter or derail the process. Rather than maintaining an isolationist policy, it behooves U.S. political leaders to promote changes that stand the best chance of being mutually beneficial, including and perhaps especially the political freedom and right to self-determination of the Cuban people. It holds more potential for benefit to make Cuba a partner and ally in the Western Hemisphere than to isolate them. That is reason enough to be steadfast in pursuit of normalization now that it has begun.
Khan, Ramona N., "Normalization Policies with Cuba: Implications for Political and Economic Reform" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.
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