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GUEST OPINION: End the embargo of Cuba

Tony White

Tony White of Santa Rosa is a retired Sonoma State University history professor.

I recently returned from a trip to Cuba with 20 students from Sonoma and Marin counties, many from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Sonoma State University. While Americans may visit Cuba, it is illegal to send money to the Cuban government, which controls 85 percent of the economy. Therefore, we traveled on a special trading license issued by the Treasury Department.

Barack Obama is the 11th American president to enforce the embargo against Cuba, clearly a failed policy since the Revolution and its leaders are not only alive but still in control. Last year, the U.N. General Assembly condemned the U.S. embargo as an illegal blockade by a 187-3 vote. Rather than isolating Cuba, the embargo has isolated us.

Today, the embargo has no justification, since we maintain cordial relations with much more repressive governments in Asia and the Middle East. Cuba is not a threat to anyone, and its leaders have shown that they want to cooperate in the struggle against terrorism.

For 50 years, Cuba has been the target of terrorists, many of them trained by the CIA, and we are still using a piece of Cuban territory, Guantanamo, to house foreign terrorists captured in other countries.

The United States is also sheltering several Cuban-Americans who allegedly plotted and carried out the bombing of a Cuban airplane, killing 76 civilians, as well as planting bombs in Cuban hotels to discourage tourism and attempting to kill President Fidel Castro in Panama.

During our visit, we learned about an international campaign to free five Cubans serving long sentences in U.S. federal prisons for spying. After they were convicted in Miami, they were transferred to separate prisons, where they have been kept in solitary and denied visits by family and attorneys. Though they have admitted to spying on anti-Cuban terrorists in Florida, because of their attacks on Cuba and its leaders, “the Cuban Five” are viewed as patriotic soldiers performing their duty in the war against terrorism and are revered as national heroes.

Although Cuba provides free medical care and has clinics with a doctor in every neighborhood, and all Cubans receive a free education through a doctorate, there are obvious scarcities in this state-controlled economy. Some of them, like new cancer treatments developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies, are either not available or have to be purchased through third parties, increasing their cost.

While some of the shortages are caused by mismanagement, others are the result of the embargo and the current global recession. Fewer tourists are coming from Canada and Europe, the major source of hard currency as well as employment for many Cubans. While Cuban leaders blame the embargo for their mistakes, Cuban families are the real victims of our embargo.

Aware of these shortages, our group brought nonprescription drugs, art materials, and school supplies, which we donated at a medical clinic, a senior center and an elementary school. We also visited an urban organic garden project, a community mural project and a priest of Santeria, a religion blending Christianity and African religions. We were always greeted warmly and treated to live performances of Cuban music, from rumba to traditional to rap.

While there is no question that the government of Cuba, now in the hands of Fidel’s brother Raul, is a dictatorship that censors expression and arrests dissenters, there are signs of an economic opening, offering more opportunities for free enterprise and investment, and Cuba has recently released scores of political prisoners.

In Haiti, American and Cuban doctors worked together after the earthquake, while U.S. cargo planes fly over Cuba to deliver supplies to Haiti. We also share a concern about offshore oil drilling in the Caribbean, especially since new deposits have been discovered off the north coast of Cuba, less than 90 miles from Florida beaches. Given our current recession, Cuba also offers a potential market for exports beyond food and medicines.

Since Obama has lifted travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, he should also lift them for all Americans. It is time for Obama to exercise his constitutional authority end the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba.

Tear down that wall, President Obama!

8 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: End the embargo of Cuba”

  1. Tony,
    I ran across this post while surfing late one night. Nothing surprising about your POV, after taking numerous classes from you.
    I agree with you 100%
    AND, I wish the embargo would end so Cuban baseball players could play in MLB!

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  2. David J. Spencer says:

    Official U.S. policy is not to let a Communist State succeed in Latin America–that is the genesis of the Trade Embargo.

    But inasmuch as we are now making friends with the two biggest Communist countries in the world–G.M. is now selling more cars in China than in the U.S., and the Russians just got through promising millions to help keep Ft. Ross, the state park on the Sonoma coast, a viable entity– then perhaps it is time to re-examine our attitudes towards Cuba, a country that poses absolutely no threat to either us or the rest of Latin America.

    Cuba, in the lifetimes of the people reading this post, has never been a Democracy, and under the tenure of Castro’s predecessor Fulgencio Batista it was an absolute right-wing dictatorship.

    Hence, the Cuban revolution.

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  3. Really Big Fish says:

    First, how thankful I am that my kids never attended SSU. It’s somewhat embarrassing to have American professors slober over Fidel Castro and his thugs. Castro, hatred by his own daughter for his infumanity, is worth a billion dollars. Just like the other ‘revolutionary of the people” Arafat who also died a billionaire.

    Let’s hope the people of Cuba will soon be free and form their own republic. Via the Buena Vista Social Club!

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  4. Reality Check says:

    Some people won’t shop at Walmart because of moral sensitivities, but going to Cuba and spending money is not a problem. Does that make any sense at all?

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  5. Roger Carrillo says:

    Ending the inhumane embargo on Cuba is long overdue! Nice to see my old history prof saying what needs to be said!

    I had hoped Bill Clinton would have had the guts to do this but he didn’t instead he pardoned drug dealers as his last act in office! Now maybe Obama will have the courage to do this but I won’t hold my breath!

    We opened up to the Chinese dictatorship under Nixon so the human rights argument about who we should trade with or not doesn’t hold water!

    The only reason we continue this embargo is that US companies are holding a grudge over their lost profits! Much the same reason we invaded Iraq as revenge for nationalizing the oil industry in 1972!

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  6. Reality Check says:

    This article is too one-sided to be of much value. While I’ve never supported the U.S. trade embargo, it has become the scapegoat with which Cuban apologists blame for the dire poverty of most Cubans.

    There are about 5 or 6 other nations that support the U.S. embargo. As of a couple of years ago, they included Taiwan, Panama, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The point here is obvious, Cuba is free to buy goods from the virtually all of the world. In theory, the Helm-Burton Act prevents foreign companies from dealing with companies using American assets that Cuba confiscated, but the law has been suspended by every president for the last 14 years, I believe.

    Missing from the article is anything but lightest criticism of Castro’s past and present brutal treatment of political opponents. Between 10,000 and 15,000 political opponents of Castro have been murdered.

    I quote from the latest Amnesty International report on Cuba (May 2010):

    “Civil and political rights continued to be severely restricted by the authorities. Government critics continued to imprisoned; many reported that there were beaten during arrest.”

    Amnesty International has been declined entry into Cuba since 1990. Meanwhile, American groups with money, like those led by Mr. White, are always welcome.

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  7. Joe says:

    Has Cuba repaid the billions of dollars it cost American businesses? Has it paid for all the political prisoners it held? Has it paid us for having to blockade the island?

    Cuba has done nothing that would warrant us treating any different than we have for the past half century or more.

    If this professor had any morals he wouldnt have taken students to Cuba in the first place. Incidentally professor, what war did you volunteer to fight for America in?

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  8. Thanks for this discussion by someone who has actually BEEN to Cuba.

    My father and his parents lived in Cuba during World War II. They were German Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany

    For the over ten years I’ve been the principal contributor and editor at CubaNews, an online news service which focuses on Cuba and the Cuban diaspora. The service collects, and shares out information from, about or related to Cuba to over 1600 subscribers, mostly in the United States, but with an international audience as well.

    Details on the news group can be found here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/

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