Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) turned heads on Monday when she discussed her recent fact finding trip to Cuba. Castor has gone on record stating travel restrictions and the embargo should be relaxed. From a policy standpoint what she is articulating makes too much sense. Cuba would be a natural market for American and in particular Floridian goods, while providing an opportunity for families to visit one another. Also, from a historical standpoint most economic embargoes fail. The British led embargo on Italy following the invasion of Ethiopia did virtually nothing to stop Mussolini’s aggression, sanctions against Rhodesia and South Africa for racist policies probably played little role in the eventual downfall of those white minority governments and thirty-three years of US led sanctions against Iran have done little to cripple the Iranian economy nor the pariah behavior of Teheran’s fundamentalist religious regime.
The US sanctions against Cuba have been long viewed as a joke in Western Europe, and arguably have done little over a half century to modify the behavior of the Cuban regime. Since President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton law in 1996 which among other things aggressively sought an international embargo against Cuba, trade between Western Europe and the Communist regime in Havana has more than doubled according to the Financial Times.Tourism from Europe to Cuba is most certainly up significantly since that law was signed by President Clinton though I could not find a statistic to verify this.
In short not only has the US failed miserably to bring about regime change in Cuba, we have been unable to persuade our own allies to join our embargo against the Castro Government. Some argue sanctions hurt the people and not the regime of the intended countries, but I think our Cuban policy has actually hurt Americans more than Cubans. It has hurt American manufacturers, farmers, merchants and traders who could do business with one of our neighbors. It has hurt Florida’s economy denying us the relationship with a potential trading partner that is nearby and could be an even better market for our goods than other Caribbean nations currently are.
The current Cuban policy has not worked. But it is passe’ in Florida politics to overtly step out on this issue. What Congresswoman Castor has done is courageous but is sure to elicit much criticism and potentially lots of cash for a potential opponent should any dare to challenge her in this heavily Democratic district. Castor’s move pushes the discourse in a direction it needs to go but were she not in a safe seat would she have been able to take this leap? Will other Democrats in the Florida Delegation such as the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz follow Castor’s lead and support sensible policy changes, or will politics continue to dominate her thinking as well as that of many other Florida Democrats?
While we can hope for the former, the later is the likely outcome and for that Florida and America loses. Hats off to Congresswoman Castor, and let us hope her courage did not occur in a vacuum.