Time to rethink the Cuban embargo?

Many expected the election of Barack Obama to bring changes to our foreign policy on Cuba, but the first volley for new thinking comes from a Republican.  Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has issued a report calling for a change in the decades-long embargo on Cuba and the Fidel/Raul Castro regime.  Lugar says the embargo has “failed”:

The US economic embargo on Cuba “has failed” and should be re-evaluated, senior Republican Senator Richard Lugar argues in a report.

“We must recognise the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuba regime in a way that enhances US interests,” Senator Lugar says.

President Barack Obama has promised a new look at US policy towards Cuba, including easing travel restrictions.

But he has said he believes the embargo is an “inducement” for change in Cuba.

Well, if it is, it’s certainly taking a long time to show it.  The US started the embargo shortly after Fidel Castro took power in 1959, and last time I looked, the Castros still run the show.  For almost 30 years, the Soviet Union floated them as a rebuke to the US in Latin America, but even after the collapse of the USSR, the Castros have managed to remain in power — for an additional 20 years.  Under any rational measurement, the embargo has failed to produce change in Cuba.

Would engagement have been a better policy?  Consider China as an example.  When Richard Nixon went to China, they were at least as oppressive internally and a bigger risk for metastizing communism around the world.  They’re still oppressive, but have gradually begun to adopt the free-market economics that will eventually free their people.  Without a doubt, the Chinese are more free now than in the early 1970s when Nixon met Mao, and engagement can get at least some of the credit for that.

I’m in favor of keeping pressure on the Castros, and in any event, they won’t be around much longer.  Fidel stepped down a year ago today, and now lives in an undisclosed location, if he’s alive at all.  His brother Raul is in his late 70s and won’t live forever, or even another ten years.  What will replace them?  The refusal to engage may allow a pristine democracy movement to come to power in Havana, but more likely it will be the army and people already in power, groups with no contacts to speak of with the US.

Lugar is correct.  The embargo has failed and left us in a poor position for the eventual transition to a post-Castro Cuba.  We need to find other ways to keep pressure on for change, but start looking towards the future.