The United States and Cuba have been engaged in a diplomatic stalemate since 1960. Under President John F. Kennedy, the U.S. imposed an embargo on Cuba to encourage free markets and democratic governance. Over a half-century later, President Barack Obama normalized relations with the island nation. These were later rolled back by the Trump administration, including the imposition of sanctions and suspending most embassy services.
During the campaign, President Biden pledged to return to the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with Cuba. However, the Biden administration has done very little in the way of defining its Cuba policy. President Biden should follow in his former boss’s footsteps and seek improved relations with Cuba.
Working with Congress to lift the archaic and ineffective embargo would be an ideal first step, and would go a long way toward strengthening relations and helping the Cuban people, who recently have taken to the streets to protest Cuba’s six decade autocratic rule. It is imperative that the United States lift the embargo if there is any chance of normalizing relations with Cuba or improving conditions within that country.
The embargo is an outdated policy, coming into effect during the beginning stages of the Cold War when the United States was at the height of its fear of communism, especially in the Western Hemisphere. A “product of the Cold War,” rooted in an antiquated preoccupation with the spread of communism, the policy does not belong in the twenty-first century.
Now, the United States must create policies and take actions, like lifting the embargo, that are relevant to the new century. The United States has been able to move beyond Cold War fears and establish normal ties with countries just as or more authoritarian than Cuba. If those relationships were able to move successfully into the twenty-first century, then it is time for America and Cuba to do the same.
Additionally, the embargo has blemished the United States’ image around the world and has been particularly damaging to its relations in the Western Hemisphere. This especially true at a time when the Biden administration is working to restore American leadership in the world and bring multilateralism back to the forefront of American foreign policy. Moreover, the United States’ strongest allies in the region criticize this ill-fated policy.
More broadly, outside the Western Hemisphere, nearly all of Washington’s allies disagree on this issue. One of President Biden’s overarching foreign policy objectives is restoring relationships with its closest allies. Repairing its relationship with Cuba and working with Congress to remove the embargo would be the first step to improving its reputation, restoring its global leadership, and mending some of its most important relationships, both within the Western Hemisphere and around the world.
Further, the embargo is ineffective; it is actually counterproductive to the United States’ goals in Cuba. The United States maintains this obsolete policy, originally seeking to depose Fidel Castro, for fear that Cuba is incapable of any reforms. The embargo, however, failed to dislodge Castro. Instead, it has solidified empathy and support for Cuba abroad, served to justify its perpetual authoritarianism, and fostered Cuba’s close relationships with U.S. adversaries like Russia, China, and Venezuela. Fidel Castrol is no longer in power in Cuba, which is now run by Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first non-Castro to lead Cuba in the nation’s history. Yet, the embargo is still in place.
President Obama took the correct action with Cuba to open embassies and begin normalizing relations. This shifted under the Trump administration but can be corrected under the Biden administration. The time is right for President Biden to follow through on his campaign pledge to reengage with Cuba and take the necessary political steps toward building a normal relationship with its island neighbor.