Celebrations Tuesday in Cuba are commemorating the 51st anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution. It was after the 1959 revolution, when Fidel Castro and his communist party came into power, that the United States began a trade embargo against the Caribbean nation. Decades later, the economic embargo*** remains in place, as does Mr. Castro's regime.
President Kennedy and his administration announced an embargo on trade with Cuba in 1962, with the intent to change Fidel Castro's repressive rule. Camila Ruiz, the Washington, D.C. Director of the Cuban American National Foundation, says despite the years that have passed, the embargo still remains an important policy tool for the United States.
"As soon as we start opening up that part of it, it's going to mean a windfall of money of hard currency into the regime, which as we know does not trickle down to the population," she says. "Basically what it does is help the regime to maintain power and to have more resources to continue its repressive practices."
But for Joy Gordan, Philosophy Professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, the embargo should be lifted. Ms. Gordan says economic sanctions historically are not very effective.
"One study says that in about a third of the cases, economic sanctions will actually result in what they say they are trying to achieve," she says. "And another study that says it's less than five percent. Certainly if the goal on the sanctions in Cuba is to change the regime, well, it's been many decades and that hasn't happened."
Ms. Gordan says humanitarian damage in Cuba has been extensive as a result of the extreme restrictions, and despite the fact that Cuba has trade agreements with more than 60 other countries, Ms. Gordan says the U.S. embargo hurts the Cuban people in specific ways.
"The fact that Cuba cannot buy pharmaceuticals from the U.S. has a huge impact, because many of the pharmaceuticals that have come on the world market in the last 20 years are by U.S. companies, or foreign companies that are owned by U.S. companies," she says.
Ms. Ruiz disagrees. She says the U.S. embargo is not to blame for Cuba's problems. Rather, she finds other reasons for Cuba's lack of resources.
"A lot of times they don't have anesthesia or basic needles, and these are things that are consistently donated by corporations in the United States to Cuba," she says. "So where are all those medical devices or syringes or you know the anesthesia or the aspirin going? It's certainly not going to the population."
Ms. Ruiz says lifting the embargo*** will not improve humanitarian conditions in Cuba. For Ms. Gordan, however, humanitarian relief will reach the vast majority of the Cuban people only when the embargo comes to an end.
***Correction issued 3 August 2004.