Normalizing Relations with Cuba: Good PolicyRandall Holcombe • Wednesday December 17, 2014 11:53 AM PST •
President Obama announced that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which is a good move for both countries. The economic impact of the policy will be limited, however, because the economic embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba can be removed only by Congress. This presents the obvious political roadblock of a lame duck Democratic president pushing up against a Republican Congress.
If the trade embargo were relaxed or eliminated, it would benefit Cubans more than it would affect anyone in the United States, because it would give Cubans more access to US goods. The impact on the US economy would be minimal, because Cuba is small and poor. Commerce with a poor country of 11 million people cannot have much of an impact on a wealthy country with a population well above 300 million. Their economy can’t produce very much to sell to us, and for the same reason, Cuba can’t be a large market for American exporters either.
The trade embargo has surely done more to support Cuba’s communist government than to undermine it. The embargo allows the Cuban government to blame the country’s economic hardships on the United States. Were the embargo to be removed and relations completely normalized with Cuba, the Cuban government would no longer have the US to blame for its problems, which would make it more apparent to Cuban citizens that their poverty is a direct result of their own government’s policies.
Congress should follow the president’s lead and remove the embargo. Doing so would have only a small effect on the American economy, but would have two positive effects on Cubans. First, it would enhance their standards of living by giving them access to American goods. The Cuban people are the biggest victims of their government’s oppressive economic policies, and don’t deserve being further oppressed by US policies. Second, it would make the effects of the Cuban government’s oppressive policies more apparent to Cubans, who would exert more pressure on their government for reform.
President Obama made the right move, but in Washington, where everything is political, it appears the Republican Congress will do what it can to stand in the way of further progress.