NOV. 3, 2016 — A growing numbers Americans are invading Havana’s Malecon — jogging, strolling and dancing to rumba buskers as waves pound the seawall. Cohibas clenched in teeth, they’re toting away bottles of Havana Club rum, filling up Airbnb rooms and flying back to the states on JetBlue. U.S. hotel chains are planting stakes, as trade missions staffed by politicians and businesspeople stream in and out.
Momentum is building in the ongoing detente between the U.S. and Cuba. Yet, something still isn’t right.
The economic embargo that the U.S. imposed on the Castro regime more than five decades ago remains in place. It’s an anachronism that simply doesn’t make sense to enforce any more, a formidable barrier to unfettered trade between two nations normalizing a once frozen relationship.
Last week, the U.S. abstained from an annual United Nations resolution condemning the embargo, the first time in 25 years that Washington has not voted against the resolution. The U.N. vote has always been a nonbinding, symbolic gesture that essentially allowed Cuba to show how alone America is in its policies toward Cuba. In the past, only Israel has joined the U.S. in its opposition to the resolution.
The abstention falls in line with a series of groundbreaking moves that President Barack Obama has made over the past two years to resurrect diplomatic ties with Cuba. Those moves include the reopening of embassies in each other’s countries, the resumption of commercial flights, an easing of restrictions on U.S. computer and telecommunications technology to Cuba, and even an end to limits on Cuban rum and cigars Americans can bring back from Cuba.
Obama has done all this through his executive powers, but that’s as far as he can go. The embargo falls under purview of the Republican-controlled Congress. The GOP has insisted the embargo will be lifted only after Cuba’s government has been ousted and its leaders held accountable for human rights violations. The embargo is 55 years old now, and it hasn’t loosened the Castro government’s grip on Cuba at all.
A remnant of the Cold War, the embargo has no place in a Cuba today on the cusp of transformation. At the core of Obama’s policy toward Cuba is this choice: Engage rather than alienate. It’s true, the Castro regime continues to trample human rights and stifle dissent, but the Castro brothers and their lieutenants are growing old. A new generation of leaders will take the helm in Havana, and a policy of isolation by the U.S. doesn’t make sense when the rest of the world trades freely with Cuba. Economic engagement is the better tack.