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Open-eyed historical understanding




In the April 17th article “Obama Says U.S. Will Pursue Thaw With Cuba,” The New York Times reported that President Obama is open to discussing “everything (Cuba) wants to talk about,” including, presumably, the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against that country.

President Obama proclaimed his forward-looking intentions: “I didn’t come here to debate the past. I came here to deal with the future.” Obama called on Latin America to pursue a “new way” in which the United States is not blamed “for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.”

However, the task of developing a new foreign policy toward Cuba must be undertaken with open-eyed historical understanding, including an understanding of whatever problems may have been generated by current and former U.S. policies toward Cuba. The economic and human consequences of the trade embargo are severe, as Amnesty International notes that the Cuban government is greatly hampered in its efforts “... to purchase essential medicines, medical equipment and supplies, food and agricultural products, construction materials and access to new technologies.”

Additionally, the embargo prevents Cuban-Americans from returning to their country of origin, in violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by the United Nations in 1948.

During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the U.S. intervened in Cuba chiefly to prevent Cuba from achieving independence from Spain on its own terms.  Rebels had promised agrarian reform to the Cuban people, threatening U.S. agribusiness interests in Cuba. Under the Platt Amendment, Cuba became a U.S. protectorate with limited autonomy. The U.S. had extensive legal powers over Cuba, including the right to maintain military bases, veto treaties, and supervise the Cuban treasury. The rebel general Maximo Gomez lamented the “... military occupation of the country by our allies, who treat us as a people incapable of acting for ourselves, and who have reduced us to obedience, to submission and to a tutelage imposed by the force of circumstances ...”

During the years that followed, the U.S. supported a string of repressive military dictators. What this history shows is that the economic strangulation of Cuba is not aimed at promoting democracy in Cuba, but is instead aimed at punishing Cubans for attempting to pursue independence from de facto American rule.

Timothy Prisk
IU graduate student

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