In 1992, when the Soviet Union dismantled, we had a golden opportunity to end the embargo and normalize relations with Cuba. This would have been a magnanimous gesture, and would have sent average Cubans the message that the U.S. was not their enemy and could be trusted. Instead of choosing to open the door and allow them “a way to come back,” as President Jimmy Carter would say, our choice was to turn up the heat on the embargo, and increase hostilities.
The fact that Cuba was not longer a threat to the U.S. was not even considered by Castro/Cuba haters, and President Bush Sr., having close friends and collaborators opposed to "Castro" (such as Posada Carrilles) signed the misnamed “Cuban Democracy Act” on October 23 1992. Congressman Torricelli said at the time that this would bring down Castro “within weeks.”
This, of course, would have been a good time to show Cubans “our good side.” Instead, as a direct result of loosing up to $6 billion in trade with the Soviets, and the increased heat of the embargo, older and younger Cubans paid with what Dr. Michele Barry describes in the American Society of Internal Medicine Journal (Vol. 132, #2, 1/18/2000) as “an epidemic of blindness that was partially attributed to a dramatic decrease in access to nutrients” and with substantial weight loss in children and adults. A soap shortage forced Cubans to use lye as a substitute, causing an epidemic of esophaegeal stenosis in toddlers who inadvertently swallowed the lye.
In 1996 President Bill Clinton, passing through Florida on the way to the White House for his second term, signed the meanest version yet of the embargo, nicknamed the “Helms-Burton Act” after its authors. This “Act” was widely criticized for it’s arrogant extraterritorial reach, and many countries were forced to pass legislation eliminating its effect. (Clinton still lost Florida, but showed that you could loose here and still get to the White House.)
More recently, in September and October of 2003, the House and the Senate both voted to end the travel ban, and many conservatives acknowledged that the ban did not uphold American values. Again, the voice of the many went unheard, but that should not surprise anyone, as the voice of the people has never been a factor in U.S.-Cuba relations. (This goes as far back as Cuba’s 1st war against Spain [1868-78]. In 1869 the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution to recognize the Cuban rebel government, but President Grant’s administration never acted on it, wishing instead to absorb Cuba as a slave-owning state.)
Are we kicking them, or are we just kicking ourselves? Will Cubans ever trust the U.S. government? Will they trust Cuban Americans? Can we continue pretending that we want to starve them for their own good?
Can you imagine what Marti and Maceo would say of an embargo that prevents their homeland from purchasing necessary food and medical supplies?
In his article, Dr. Barry asserts that “we as health care professionals have a moral duty to protest an embargo that engenders human suffering to achieve political objectives.” As Cuban-Americans, or, more precisely, as Cubans in America, don’t we have the same moral duty to our loved ones on the island? And what duty do we have to our old neighbors and friends who didn’t or couldn’t make the trip across the lake?