Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The embargo’s golden anniversary

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, a living relic initiated by President Eisenhower before President Obama was born, got its start 50 years ago today.

Like many things that last 50 years, it has changed. So have the reasons for maintaining it – to respond to Cuban expropriations, to counter Soviet involvement in Cuba and this hemisphere, to defend human rights, to establish “leverage” over Cuba now or at a time of leadership change.

It has amounted to “50 years of failure,” according to John Stossel of Fox News. I would add that it may be, over the years and through all its changing objectives, the policy with the greatest mismatch of ends and means in our history.

Back in 1960, the idea was to use the embargo and other means “to weaken the economic life of Cuba” by making “the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

That’s from an April 1960 State Department memo on “The Decline and Fall of Castro” that you can read here. The idea was that Castro was entrenched and there was “no effective political opposition,” hence economic war was needed. Today, the embargo’s strongest advocates argue that the opposition is strong and Cuba’s government is “on its last legs,” hence continued pressure is needed.

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