Americans favor ending blockade against Cuba

Spurred by President-elect Barack Obama’s successful campaign and the prospects for stronger Democratic control of Congress, a new crop of analyses, statements and resolutions is emerging against Washington’s nearly half-century-long blockade of Cuba.

“It’s stupid, it’s counterproductive and there is no international support for it,” former U.S. Interest Section head Wayne Smith declared last summer. Smith, who headed the Interests section in Havana from 1979 to 1982, failed to mention the blockade’s cruelty and its illegality under international law.

Cuba’s increasing international ties, economic growth and reforms undertaken by the new Raul Castro government have discouraged U.S. fantasies about Cuban weakness. Business demands for easy trade with Cuba and the unpopularity of Bush administration restrictions on Cuban American support for families on the island also suggest a new era of struggle has dawned.

Obama has signaled plans to remedy Cuban American concerns on visits and aid to families. He has expressed willingness to talk with Cuban leaders and would “take steps to normalize relations once the “post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change.”

Last month, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times each called for reappraisal of U.S. policy toward Cuba in the context of overhaul of all Latin American policies. For the former, ending the blockade would test “intentions of the new Cuban leadership.” The latter sees the current U.S. approach as “anachronistic.”

Last month the Brookings Institution issued a report advocating engagement “on a range of issues of mutual concern with a view to ending the embargo.” Earlier, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs published an upbeat appraisal on Cuban developments including decentralized control of agriculture, attention to human rights, economic growth, the discovery of new oil reserves, openings to private businesses, and entrepreneurial farming. The result was a powerful, if implicit, case for ending the blockade, especially in light of the Council’s list of U.S. commercial losses.

In May, the Council on Foreign Relations issued a task-force report on U.S.-Latin American relations suggesting that “the time is ripe to show the Cuban people, especially younger generations, that an alternative exists to permanent hostility.” It proposed increased trade and relaxation of travel rules.

A Zogby survey in September found 60 percent of likely voters (84 percent of Obama voters) favor openings toward Cuba; 68 percent, freedom to travel to Cuba; and 62 percent, allowances for U.S. companies to trade. In Miami, even the Cuban American National Foundation took exception to Bush policies it viewed as “insulting.” U.S. failure to help out with damage caused by hurricanes was seen as a moral rather than political issue. But U.S. unions, anti-war groups, and civil rights organizations have so far maintained a low profile in opposing the blockade.

International pressure is unrelenting. For the 17th time, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution calling for the blockade’s end, this time by a record 185-3 vote. In August the UN Secretary General issued a report on implementation of the same vote last year that because of UN objectivity, promises to become a useful tool for anti-blockade agitation.

The report included statements by 122 nations justifying opposition to unilateral U.S. sanctions and summaries from 22 UN agencies providing comprehensive documentation of blockade effects on food supplies in Cuba, health care, schools, housing, energy, and more. Cuban economists calculate that since 1962, the U.S. blockade has cost Cuba $93 billion — or in today’s dollars, $225 billion. Some 75 percent of Cubans have lived their entire lives under U.S. sanctions.

Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Presidents Morales and Chavez of Bolivia and Venezuela, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Amnesty International enjoined President-elect Obama directly or through the media to rectify U.S. Cuban relations.

The record of nearly 50 years suggests that for elected officials to accept such advice or act on considerations of utility, legality or ethics is far from certain. Former Cuban President Fidel Castro pointed out last month, “There are those who still dream of bringing Cuba to its knees wielding the criminal blockade,” adding that if they remain in charge, “this useless policy against Cuba may remain in force for another half century.' Analysts see renewed political struggle and energized constituents as crucial.