Eclectic Rant: Time to End the U.S. Economic Embargo of Cuba

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday March 21, 2011 - 02:34:00 PM

The United States is the last country in the Western Hemisphere with no formal relations with Cuba. It is time for the United States and Cuba to mend fences. For a start, the U.S. should end the economic embargo against Cuba. The embargo makes it illegal for U.S. corporations to do business with Cuba. U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba are also a form of economic sanctions. 


The rest of the world wants the embargo ended as seen by the October 2010, United Nations General Assembly overwhelming vote -- for the 19th year in a row -- in favor of condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The vote was 187-2 with 3 abstentions. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against the resolution.  

In September 2010. President Barack Obama extended U.S. sanctions against Cuba under the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), saying that he failed to take a long overdue step toward dismantling an ineffective and detrimental policy.  

Cuba-U.S. Relations in a Nutshell 

In 1854 a secret proposal known as the Ostend Manifesto was devised by U.S. diplomats to acquire Cuba from Spain for $130 million. The manifesto was rejected due to objections from anti-slavery campaigners when the plans became public.  

In 1897, U.S. President William McKinley offered to buy Cuba for $300 million.[9] Rejection of the offer, and an explosion that sunk the American battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor, led to the Spanish–American War. 

U.S. military rule of the island lasted until 1902 when Cuba was finally granted formal independence. An agreed condition between Cuba and the U.S. to secure the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the island was Cuba's adoption of the Platt Amendment. 

The Platt amendment to a U.S. Army Appropriations Bill of 1901 gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever the U.S. decided such intervention was warranted. Cubans were given the choice of accepting the Platt Amendment or remaining under U.S. military occupation indefinitely. 

U.S. intervention endowed Cuba with a series of weak, corrupt, and dependent governments. In 1903, the U.S. and Cuba signed the "Cuban-American Treaty," giving the U.S. a perpetual lease of, and absolute control over, Guantánamo Bay, a blatant example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy. 

The current Cuban government considers the U.S. presence in Guantánamo to be illegal and the "Cuban-American Treaty" to have been procured by the threat of force in violation of international law. 

Even a cursory review of Cuba-U.S. relations reveals that the U.S. has much to answer for. After Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz came to power in 1959, overthrowing the U.S.-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista, the U.S. could have embraced Castro and offered him assistance. 

In April 1959, shortly after taking power, Fidel Castro traveled to the U.S. The Eisenhower administration could have embraced him, offering him economic assistance. But remember this was during the Cold War and Castro smacked of socialism/communism. Eisenhower snubbed him. He met instead with Vice President Nixon for a few hours. No economic assistance was offered. The next year Castro turned to Russia for economic assistance and the rest is history. 

On July 31, 2006, following intestinal surgery from an undisclosed digestive illness, Fidel Castro transferred his responsibilities to the First Vice-President, his younger brother Raúl Castro, On February 24, 2008, the Cuban National Assembly elected Raúl Castro to succeed Fidel as the President of Cuba. 

It would seem that Raúl is now the undisputed Cuban leader, although the shadow of Fidel will linger over Cuba until his demise and possibly long thereafter. Who will succeed the 79-year old Raúl? And will the U.S. keep its hands off after his death? These are questions for a later time. 

Brief History of U.S. Embargo and Travel Restrictions of Cuba 

In 1961, the Kennedy administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, and in 1962-63, the U.S. imposed an economic and trade embargo and travel restrictions following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles. 

In 1977, the Carter administration lifted the travel restrictions. In 1982, the Reagan administration re-established the travel restrictions; and in 1989 travelers to Cuba could spend only $100 per day. 

In 1992, the Clinton administration, imposed fines on Americans traveling to Cuba from a third country; in 1993, travel was allowed for religious, educational, and human rights groups; in 1994, travel restrictions were tightened in response to a mass exodus from Cuba across the Florida straits; in 1995, travel restrictions were reversed to promote democracy in Cuba; in 1996, all direct flights from U.S. to Cuba stopped because Cuban MiGs had shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes; in 1998, following Pope John Paul II visit to Cuba direct flights to Cuba were allowed for religious pilgrimages; in 1999, people-to-people trips were increased; and in 2000, ended travel for tourist activities  

In 2001, the Bush administration started enforcing restrictions for "unlicensed" travel; in 2003, travel was no longer limited to humanitarian needs, amount of money that could be carried raised from $300 to $3,000; but in 2004, announced the most stringent travel policies in years limiting Cuban-American travel to once every three years, limited to $300 quarterly that can be sent to Cuba, spending in Cuba limited to $50; and in 2005, religious travel reduced to once a year for groups up to 25. 

With a Raúl Castro leadership, a Obama presidency, and perhaps just the passage of time, Obama and Congress seemed to be taking a fresh look at the 49-year old embargo and travel restrictions. In 2009, Congress removed the Treasury Department's funding to enforce Cuban-American family travel restrictions. 

Obama responded by changing regulations to allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives once a year instead of once every three years. In April 2009, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for Cuban-Americans, allowing them to freely visit Cuba and stay as long as they like, and to send financial help to family members. 

The U.S. also shut down a ticker atop the U.S. interests section in Havana, Cuba, that had since 2006 scrolled anti-Cuba slogans in 5-foot-high crimson letters. 

In February 2010, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645) was introduced in the last session of Congress. This bill would have restored the right of Americans to travel to Cuba and would have lifted restrictions on agricultural sales to Cuba. The proposed legislation died in the last Congress. Bills not acted on in one Congress, ordinarily die when the next Congress convenes.  

In January 14, 2011, President Obama rescinded most of the Cuba travel restrictions. Described as Purposeful Travel to enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society including religious , cultural and educational travel. Information on travel to Cuba can be found on the following website: 


My wife and I traveled "legally" to Cuba in November 2003 on one of the last so-called "People-to-People" tours, visiting Havana, Viñales, and Santiago de Cuba. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Treasury Department stopped issuing "people-to people" licenses. As the remaining licenses expired — most in November or December 2003— so did those trips. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. With this year’s recision of most of the remaining travel restiictions, we may legally travel to Cuba again.. The next step is to formally end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. We in addition, the U.S. should consider returning Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.