Feb 012015


Young Politics Feb 2015

What do you see as the positive and negative of President Obama’s moves to lift the embargo on Cuba and to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba?

Arianna Mendez Profile Phot cropoArianna Mendez – FL, Florida International University 2014 Masters Degree, Bio – As an American of Cuban descent, the Cuba policy change is a deeply personal and emotional issue. My parents fled Cuba to the United States seeking political and economic liberty.

After the 1959 revolution, the new Castro government began to nationalize private property (including U.S. owned property) and stifle political speech. In October 1960, the U.S. placed an economic embargo on Cuba in retribution for the nationalization of U.S. owned assets on the island.

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. embargo on Cuba does not prevent Cuba from trading with other countries. Cuba has continued to do international trade with third-party countries and is a member of the World Trade Organization. The idea the embargo is responsible for the economic plight of the Cuban people is incorrect.

President Obama and all those who endorse this policy shift do so on the faulty premise that more commerce, access to money, and goods will mean the Cuban people will have more political freedom. For 55 years, Cuba has enjoyed access to commerce, money, and goods from other countries, and yet, the Cuban people are still not free from the Castro tyranny.

Supporters of this policy change argue re-establishing diplomatic relations and loosening trade and travel restrictions will help effect change on the island. Unfortunately, the U.S. concessions were given without expecting anything in return. The Castro regime did not make commitments to make political or economic reforms in exchange for these concessions. The U.S. is rewarding an unrepentant authoritarian regime.

The suffering and pain caused by the Castro regime past and present can’t be easily forgiven or forgotten. No economic and political reforms have occurred in Cuba to justify these policy changes. U.S policy had not changed in 55 years, because the Castro regime never changed.

WVM Photo columnist Paul Bremmer crop 2x2 YOUNGPOLITICSPaul Bremmer – Wash D.C., St. Bonaventure University 2012 Graduate, Bio – I fear President Obama will legitimize the Castro regime by lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba. The U.S. imposed the embargo more than 50 years ago and said it would not lift it until the Cuban government became more democratic and began to respect human rights.

Well, Cuba remains a repressive communist country. The State Department considers Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, based on its Cold War-era ties to Marxist revolutionaries. Cuba also remains close with Iran, Syria, and North Korea, three countries hostile to the U.S.

The Castro brothers may have called themselves presidents, but they both ruled as dictators. I think it says a lot that so many Cubans flee to the United States. They have experienced the horrors of communism firsthand, and they want no part of it.

President Obama’s decision essentially excuses the Castro regime’s record of repression and hostility over all these years. The Castro’s have not shown they are turning a corner. Their values and interests remain opposed to those of the U.S. Obama’s move will be a huge public relations victory for the Castro brothers; it will confirm they don’t need to change their communist ways in order to gain respect from the world’s greatest superpower.

On the bright side, Americans will now be able to travel to Cuba. They will have a chance to interact with the Cuban people, who, by all accounts, are a people too good for their government.

WVM Photo Columnist Nana O crop 2x2 YoungPoliticsNana Osei – SC, College of Charleston Student, Bio – I see President Obama’s efforts to the lift the embargo on Cuba as a positive move in the correct direction. Ties between the U.S. and Cuba have been hostile for over 50 years. The US is taking steps in the right direction by allowing for Cuba to have more economic freedom and financial freedom.

Over the last 50 years we have not seen the embargo execute the goals it was set out to do when put in place. The restrains intended by the embargo were to promote Cuba to change its political system to democratic state. Obama would like for Americans to be able to travel to Cuba and vice versa. On this issue I agree with the President that it has been too long of a dispute between Cuba and the U.S.

The embargo was activated by JFK at a different time in the world when Cuba was an acting threat to the U.S. Today we see Cuba’s middle and lower class hurting from this embargo. While it doesn’t benefit the U.S. in many ways, it simply harms Cuba. Although not our ally 50 years ago, it seems Cuba wants to try to make changes and better their relationships.

President Obama has had large amounts of backlash in his pursuits of lifting the embargo. Not only from Republicans but also from strong Democrats. The reasoning behind keeping the embargo is due to the fact Cuba never met the conditions to lift the ban.

By lifting the ban, it would make the U,S. look weak by folding before demands were met. Along with that, lifting the embargo would benefit the government more than the actual citizens of Cuba. There are virtually no private sectors in Cuba as 90% of the economy is state owned, which would lead to government and military reaping benefits rather than the citizens.

In other words, by lifting the ban, we would be strengthening their government instead of their citizens, which is the whole reason for the embargo to weaken their government. President Obama will have to address the issue, so we can gain a broader understanding of his efforts to lift embargo.

WVM Photo Columnist Josh Lim Young Poltiics 1x1 headshotJosh Lim – PA, University of Warsaw 2012 Graduate, Ateneo de Manila University 2014 Graduate, Bio  – It’s been 54 years since the U.S. first imposed the embargo against Cuba. Since then, we can only ask, “What do we have to show for it?”

Back in 2009, I watched a Current TV documentary on Cuba and whether the effects of the Cuban Revolution fostered any sort of counter-revolution among the country’s youth. Cris Arcos, once U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, described our situation with Cuba quite succinctly, “The whole world has relations with Cuba. We’re the only ones who don’t.” Where the rest of the world moved forward, we stayed put.

President Obama’s move last year to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba is unprecedented but also unsurprising. Given the United States’ poor track record of fomenting positive change in Cuba, a different approach to pursuing change is way overdue.

While it is too early to tell what the ramifications of normalization are, nonetheless we should look at whether or not normalization allows both sides to meet halfway where more confrontational tactics have failed.

On the one hand, President Obama extending the olive branch to Cuba allows for a new relationship to grow with a clean slate. We have to recognize first, Cuba won’t change, and second, Cuba still thinks America is out to get them, leading to continued suspicion of American intentions.

Normalization sends the signal to Cuba that the U.S. is sincere in making amends, and it’s serious about dialogue. While it doesn’t lead to the embargo going overnight, at least the ground’s been set for dialogue, where previously it wasn’t.

That being said, we must consider some might think Cuba “forced” the U.S. to yield unfairly. While yes, it is true Cuba made significantly fewer concessions compared to the U.S., we must consider the ball is still effectively in America’s, and specifically Congress’s, court, since only they can lift the embargo.

Because it is in Cuba’s interest to curry favor with American economic interests to save its economy, with no other alternative to turn to, Cuba is bound to listen and do what’s asked, even if it doesn’t want to. After all, money talks and values walk.

But negotiating with Cuba is risky, and Cuban Americans are rightfully upset President Obama went ahead and “negotiated,” if you will, with Cuba, potentially endangering Democrats’ credibility with Cuban Americans. And, they are a critical constituency in a swing state.

But ultimately, it begs the question, “What action is more likely to lead to revolution?” Given the critical role Cuban Americans will play in a post-Castro Cuba, is President Obama’s action a case of short-term pain for long-term gain? I’m inclined to believe it is, and it’s a masterstroke that could only be done by a now-lame duck President. At least the wheels for change to happen in Cuba are now turning.

Cubans have a saying: “No es fácil.” (“It’s not easy.”) Any sort of negotiation on change in Cuba, including lifting the embargo, will be a long, drawn-out process that could possibly take years before anything happens, and no one said it was going to be easy. The fact we’ve waited 54 years for change should have sent the signal that our old approach to Cuba was and is no longer effective.

And while it remains to be seen what sort of changes we’ll see that will be owed to President Obama’s announcement, at least we can be confident in saying the wheels of progress towards Cuba are finally starting to turn, even if it came 54 years too late.

WVM Josue Gonzalez 1x1 YoungPolitics cropJosue Gonzalez – CA, Southwestern Community College Chula Vista Student, Bio – Light overcomes darkness, and the darkness what is seen as communism is best dispelled by the light of capitalism. The return of some American money to Cuba might prop up the Castro regime temporarily, but it also will help Fidel and his brother Raul to continue blaming Cuba’s bad economy solely on the U.S. embargo.

The importance of the new update on Cuba relations is simple. When the Cuban people are exposed to the possibility of a better life in their own country, they are likely to increase their demands for freedoms they have been denied for more than five decades.

When President John F. Kennedy announced an embargo on all trade with Cuba on Feb. 3, 1962, he noted as his rationale the close ties the communist country had with the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and the economic problems now faced by Russia, and with socialist Venezuela no longer able to act as an economic sugar daddy to Cuba, due to falling oil prices, that rationale no longer exists.

Rather than attempting to block the partial lifting of the embargo, the new Republican Congress should require reciprocity from the Cuban government before lifting additional restrictions. In this case, I could add that the negative side of this reform is in fact the partial lifting.

Among other things, President Raul Castro has promised to open access to the Internet for the Cuban people. Making sure he follows through ought to be a top U.S. priority. There is no faster way to spread freedom than to expose Cuba to the outside world and allow accurate information to trump communist propaganda. Since the most powerful thing about education is that one must have it to even understand why it is needed.

The new regulations will allow Americans to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons, including family visits, education, and religion, without first obtaining a special license from the U.S. government as was previously the case. But general tourism will still be banned.

WVM Photo Columnist Vincent Harshaw 1x1Vinny Harshaw – OH, Wittenberg University 2012 Graduate, Bio – The normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba seems like the reasonable next step for the United States in order to develop democracy with a country neglected for so many years. If the U.S. can ever expect a change, it must try something new from what has been done over the past 50 years to actually develop progress.

What is important to understand is this is not an easy solution for the U.S. In fact, many Cuban-Americans disagree with this decision, because of their hatred for the Castro family. This hatred stems from years of poverty in education, health, and employment. The distrust of the Cuban regime is absolutely understandable and should be respected. However, both countries could benefit from strengthening their relationship, and progress is the goal.

What President Obama has done by softening the embargo on Cuba is one of the most controversial moves of his presidency. He has changed the way the U.S. will practice its relationship with what is still a Communist country by reversing 50 years of the cold shoulder from the U.S. government. Some people may be upset by this, but let’s ask ourselves, “What has really been accomplished by this embargo anyway?”

Since the embargo was placed in the 1960’s by the Kennedy administration, we’ve experienced the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile crisis, long stalemates that have brought on conflict with the Soviet Union, awkwardness amongst the U.S. and Central American countries, and several recorded failed attempts by the U.S. to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Cuba is still a Communist country, and the Castro family is still in power. Cuba has survived by making allies and trade partners with countries other than the U.S., and most importantly, the standard of human rights in Cuba is still in need of substantial improvement.

Today Cuba has one of the best literacy rates in the world, shares the same life expectancy as the U.S., and has one of the best disaster response medical systems in the world. This is due to its constant hurricanes. They even sent 250 medical doctors to West Africa to confront the Embola outbreak.

Furthermore, Cuba would not be the only Communist country the U.S. trades with. Don’t forget China and Vietnam who have been strong trading partners since before I was born. The U.S. even trades with Saudi Arabia which has one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.

What can the U.S. gain from this normalcy? Well for starters, Alan Gross, the U.S. spy who had been held captive for the past 5 years is now released from prison. On top of that, U.S. banks could invest in infrastructure for retail and travel (at this point Cubans are freer to travel to America than Americans are to Cuba).

Also, the U.S. benefits from the open use of the Internet allowing information between the two countries to be shared. This would be a great step toward fixing the human rights issues within the country by broadening the thinking of the citizens who have not had the benefit of a free press.

I hope by now most people know propaganda exists, and the leaders on Capitol Hill hold grudges just like we do as everyday citizens. The point is that does not make it right. Yes, Cuba has a long way to go, but the normalization could open up to better opportunities in the future.

WVM February 2015 YounPolitics Image

Photo Credit – Carrapide