The United States and Cuba, Moving Forward Step by Step
Winter and bitter cold weather is coming. At one point we will imagine ourselves in someplace warm. Imagine this. You’re sitting on a beach drinking a mojito. The faint smells of cigar smoke and ropa vieja are in the air. You look down the beach and see a sixteenth century fort that once protected the island from pirates. As you walk back to your hotel you are surrounded by architecture in a rainbow of pastels. Where are you? Cuba.
In 2014, President Obama took steps toward normalizing US-Cuban relations. Since June, President Trump has started to reverse these steps. Current US policy toward Cuba is unclear, somewhere between the policies of the two presidents. Moving forward, the US should work step by step to slowly normalize relations with Cuba which should include both lifting trade and travel restrictions and combating Cuba’s human rights violations.
An improved US-Cuban relationship helps our security and economy. A stronger relationship with Cuba would assist the United States in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. Lifting the trade embargo would increase US exports and boost the economy. A stronger relationship would also restore family and business ties across the Florida Straits. Improving the relationship would also allow for more educational and cultural exchanges which would provide Cuban students and professionals the opportunity to learn from their neighbor and bring these lessons back to their homeland.
The United States should reinstate relations on a reciprocal basis. For example, the US should slowly reinstate relations following the Cuban government’s completion of specific tasks. These should include reducing human rights violations and promoting democracy and civil rights. This policy has several advantages.
It allows the US to maintain oversight of human rights violations. A reciprocal approach gives the United States the ability to reinstate relations while monitoring human rights violations in order to work toward reducing them
It provides incentives for Cuba to cooperate. Trade and tourism with the United States would improve Cuba’s economy. Reciprocity allows the United States to regain credibility and keep its leverage. The fact that the United States could pull out of the deal should Cuba misbehave creates incentives for cooperation.
Finally, it would strengthen both economies through tourism and trade. The trade embargo is estimated to cost the US approximately $1.2 billion worth of exports annually. Cuba’s largest imports include machinery and chemicals. The United States can supply these products. Lifting the embargo would also make the US more competitive with Cuba’s leading trading partners—China, Spain, and Canada.
Would this policy be safe? In recent months, it came to light that staff members at the embassy in Havana were subjected to acoustic attacks that affected the health of at least 22 diplomats and family members. After these events, some will argue that this policy is unsafe. Our citizens’ safety should of course remain our number one priority, and we should press the Cuban government for a clear explanation. Yet security risks can be managed. If Americans are put at future risk, the United States can always back out of any deal.
Current US policy toward Cuba needs clarity, and the best policy is for the US to work step by step to slowly normalize relations. We should end trade and travel restrictions and develop a new approach. We should fight totalitarianism and promote democracy. Ultimately, we should support American ideals and signal to the international community that we are a forward-thinking country.