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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Obama: Do more on Cuba

After months of behind-the-scenes talks between President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro — with the help of Pope Francis, The Washington Post reports — the president announced a paradigm shift in American relations with the proudly socialist nation after more than half a century of antagonism. Full diplomatic relations have been renewed, the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana and, perhaps most importantly for the Cuban people, restrictions on trade and travel between the two countries have been greatly loosened.

For one, Cubans living in the U.S. will now be able to send $2,000 in remittances back to Cuba per quarter, a fourfold increase from the previous limit. With remittances at $2.6 billion in 2012 and $5.1 billion including donations in kind according to the Havana Times, this increased limit should strengthen the Cuban economy. Surely, most Cuban-Americans will not max out remittances to the new limit, but a 50 percent increase could more than double GDP growth.

This represents the major argument against normalizing relations with the avowedly Marxist-Leninist Cuban government: that it will provide allegedly undeserved economic growth that will legitimize the Communist Party’s rule. In other words, you better adopt capitalism or we won’t trade with you. It’s an argument that made little sense during the oft-absurd politics of the Cold War, and it makes even less now.

Opening relations with China — then in a fierce ideological battle with the USSR over who could stick to a more dogmatic form of Marxism — doubtless turned that country toward capitalism. It will do the same in Cuba.

It’s high time to finish the job and end the embargo entirely. Proponents of the embargo like Sen. Marco Rubio claim to have the best interests of the Cuban people in mind. An embargo that causes shortages of basic medical supplies — with the delusional hope of causing regime change, for bitter ideological reasons — does not benefit the vast majority of Cubans.

Still others will argue that Cuba has not done enough on human rights to deserve this change. This is disingenuous at best. These same people were hardly calling for an end to relations with China after Tiananmen Square or with Myanmar for countless human rights abuses, or with our beloved ally Saudi Arabia for its treatment of women.

This also fails to take into account the myriad ways in which the Cuban government is a leader on human rights. For example, Cuba has the most doctors per capita in the world, and it sends more of them abroad, particularly to Africa and the Caribbean, than the U.S. does. At the acclaimed Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, almost 20,000 aspiring doctors from more than 110 countries, including the U.S., are provided with a free education and living stipend in return for a commitment to practice medicine in underserved areas. 

“[The embargo] highlights and confirms the broadly held image of the U.S. as a bully,” said Marcela Vásquez-León, a professor of Latin American studies and anthropology. “Cuba is the U.S.’s only Latin American neighbor that has managed to keep narco-trafficking out and a very low crime rate; perhaps the US could learn something from Cuba.”

Ending the embargo would also benefit the U.S. materially. The U.S. has deprived itself of Cuba’s cutting-edge biotechnology sector and uses less effective vaccines than the Cuban-made ones used in Canada and elsewhere, according to Vásquez-León.

There are also less noble but more fun benefits to normalization. Instead of a special license, Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba on a general license, so long as they are going for one of the 12 approved categories — and they can now use their credit cards there. Moreover, Americans can now mule back up to $100 total of cigars and rum.

Drinking and smoking aside, the embargo does neither the U.S. nor Cuba any good. It’s an outdated policy for a different time. The world’s moved on, and so should we.

And besides, if our goal really still is to defeat Communism, the embargo clearly isn’t working. Let’s try a new approach –— one proven to have worked at least once before. We should normalize relations with Cuba like we did China.

And the cigars and rum are a nice perk, too.

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Martin Forstrom is a senior studying sociology and Latin American studies. Follow him on Twitter.

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