The Contradictions of Our Cuba Policy
By Joseph Szyliowicz. University of Denver
Reviewed by Ted Wilkinson
Dr. Szyliowicz, acting Dean of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies, took advantage of the easement in U.S. citizen travel restrictions that have been in effect in recent years to make a “study” visit to Cuba. As with many visitors, he found signs of change creeping into the stale rigidities of Castro communism, including limited low-level private enterprise. He talked, for instance, to a house-owner who was allowed to rent out a room but was denied permission to install a Jacuzzi.
Encouraged by these signs, the author believes they could be stimulated and accelerated by changes in U.S. policies. The American embargo on Cuba trade, the longest in history, is full of contradictions, foremost among them the exception for basic food exports that benefits U.S. farmers to the tune of about a half billion dollars in exports annually. He believes that the embargo reinforces hardliners in the regime rather than loosening their grip, and that it damages other U.S. interests such as potential cooperation in enforcement of justice, environmental issues, search and rescue, and humanitarian matters. While there is some ad hoc cooperation even now, it could be much better with open intergovernmental channels. Moreover, he argues, 60 percent of Americans—and even 50 percent of Cuban Americans—favor changes in U.S. Cuba policy.
As first steps, Dr. Szyliowicz thinks that the Obama administration should consider releasing Cuban spies now servicing sentences here in exchange for the imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross, and removing Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism (along with Syria, Sudan and Iran), where it is an anachronism. He acknowledges the political obstacles to conciliation, but maintains that a minority is holding the president back principally because of unresolved property claims and human rights considerations.
Dr. Szyliowicz is no doubt right about the political obstacles to change in U.S. Cuba policy, which involves political life-or-death issues for several key legislators. Taking this into account, the Obama administration has avoided the high-profile steps that the author advocates, but nevertheless seems to be following a cautious path of unobtrusive small steps toward normalization, in the hopes of encouraging further Cuban liberalization.