Lifting the Embargo on Cuba

After more than 50 years of US Embargo on Cuba, maybe it is finally a time for policy change. The Atlantic Council recently issued a report calling for “policy shift” that would end the “el bloqueo” on Castro’s regime. This provoked strong political and social reaction in and outside the US.

The opponents of the Embargo say that the failed policy is a Cold War relic and has failed in achieving its main objectives. They argue that the sanctions clearly failed to promote democracy in Cuba, but rather hurt both the US economy and Cuban citizens. Maybe a lift of “the blockade” will give the small island country a chance to restructure its economy and start a new page of its history.

Obama and Castro

Proponents hold that Cuba has not met the conditions for lifting the Embargo and a change of policy would make the US appear weak on international grounds. This argument is especially strong given recent events in Crimea. Another hypothesis is that only the richest population in Cuba will benefit from trade and this is not a valid way to alleviate poverty in the country.

History of Cuba-US Relations

The United State and Cuba have not always been in conflict. In the late 1800s the US was purchasing 87% of Cuban exports and had a serious stake in the countries sugar industry. In the 1950s Havana was one of the most popular destinations for American celebrities. However, in 1959 Fidel Castro was able to overthrow the US-supported President Batista and pronounced Cuba as the first Communist state in the Western Hemisphere. In 1959 and 1969 Castro seized $1.8 billion of US assets in Cuba. On October 19, 1960, President Eisenhower signed a partial Embargo on Cuba. In 1961, he ended diplomatic relations and closed the US embassy in Havana.

After a US spy plane observed Soviet Union ships carrying nuclear missiles to Cuba, President Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447, which virtually prohibits all trade between the US and the island country. There is a myth that the night before signing the embargo, President Kennedy sent his Press Secretary to buy 1,200 Cuban cigars.

The period from October 15 to October 28, 1962 became known as the Cuban Missile

mariel-boatlift-thumbCrisis and ended with an agreement for the USSR to remove its weapons from Cuba. In 1963 travel and financial transactions with the Caribbean country were prohibited. In 1977, US President Jimmy Carter made an attempt to improve relations with Cuba by opening the US Interests Section in Havana (a de facto US embassy). In 1980, Castro authorized the Mariel Boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans, including prisoners and mentally ill, were transported to Florida to seek refuge. The US gave refugee to the Cubans and was considered to have been humiliated by Castro. In 1982 Cuba was added to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism for supporting communist rebels in Africa and Latin America.

Recent Developments

The 1992 Helms-Burton Act strengthened the economic embargo on Cuba by Prohibiting US subsidiaries from trading with the country. The bill also allowed for sanctions against companies that invested in American properties seized by the Cuban government. Despite the Embargo, Cuba managed to sustain its economy with $3 billion annual aid from the USSR. The collapse of the Soviet Union caused Cuban economy to decline by 35-50% between 1989 and 1993. To fight the economic downturn, the government partly allowed tourism and foreign investment in 1994. In 1995, President Clinton lifted some of the travel restrictions and allowed Western Union to open an office in Havana. The US and Cuba signed an agreement following the devastating Hurricane Michelle in 2001. It allowed US companies to sell food to Cuba for humanitarian needs and soon after the US became the largest food supplier of the island nation. President George W. Bush added harsher restrictions to the Embargo and limited the freedom of Cubans in America to visit their families or send money home.


In 2008, health issues forced Fidel Castro to step down and turn the presidency to his brother. Raul Castro showed motivation to stabilize US relations, but has done little to make any real impact. In 2013, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the Embargo for 22nd consecutive year. After 50 years of strengthening and easing sanctions, the US Embargo on Cuba remains in place and the debate over whether to maintain and lift it continues.

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