When I went to Cuba in 2010 as part of an American Association of University Women delegation, our group heard the same mantra over and over from every group that met with us – “Please end the blockade.” We were to take this message (a message, I've come to agree with) back to anyone who might listen. It was clear that the U.S. trade embargo, enacted in 1959 after Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led a revolution that toppled US-backed President Fulgencio Batista, had more than served its purpose. The Castros, of course, went on to establish a revolutionary socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union, and the cold-war U.S. was, understandably, on high alert, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But, as so many Cubans pointed out to us, 1959 is ancient history in today’s geopolitical arena. There are countries that pose much greater economic and political threats to the U.S. than Cuba does, and we willingly trade and talk with them. Why the long-standing cold shoulder? It was more than punitive. People in Cuba were suffering, and not just because they couldn’t buy new U.S. cars. Not only could no U.S. business trade with Cuba, but the U.S. forbid any ship from any other country to dock in any Cuban port before entering the U.S. Foreign trade ships who did work with Cuba were forced into a charade of stopping at another foreign port, however briefly, before entering U.S. waters in order to keep on our good side. And Cubans paid the price of this double docking duty. Anyone who traded with them (and who wished also to trade with the U.S.) had to charge them extra. What a lot of rigmarole. Not to mention being overly taxing to the current economy of this struggling country.
|Havana, Cuba, 2010|
Here’s the good news. President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met at the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, and announced more progress toward the end of their differences. The meeting marked the first formal talks between the two countries' leaders in more than half a century, and both leaders expressed hope for, as President Obama put it, “a new relationship between our two countries."
Cuban President Raul, as expected, called for the lifting of the US economic blockade on Cuba and the country's removal from Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Obama administration is expected to remove Cuba from the terrorism list in the coming days, something Latin American and Caribbean leaders welcomed as healing for the region.
The embargo, hopefully, will be the next item on Washington’s agenda.