Officially end the embargo, let the sun shine on Cuba

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Now that President Obama has re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, it's time for Congress to repeal the U.S. trade embargo.

The well-intentioned policy has hurt the U.S. and provided a catchall excuse for the Castro regime to explain its failures.

That's the view of Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who in a welcome display of bipartisanship are leading efforts to convince their congressional colleagues that lifting the embargo is in America's best geopolitical and economic interests, and in the best interest of advancing human rights in Cuba.

Speaking at a Monday event in Minneapolis organized by Global Minnesota and the Engage Cuba Coalition, Emmer took the long view on policy that's passed its usefulness.

"We created an economic embargo for the express purpose of undermining a communist regime that (former lawmakers) believed was unfriendly so that we could once again empower the Cuban people, the individual citizens, to self-determine, self-govern," Emmer said. "And in fact what our policy has done is just the opposite." As a result, the regime turned toward the Soviet Union, whose collapse should have spurred change. "Instead what it did was allow a charismatic leader to blame everything that was wrong in his country on the United States of America."

Klobuchar, who joined Emmer as part of a congressional delegation that accompanied Obama on his historic trip to Cuba last week, observed that the American people "are ahead of their government as they are in Cuba."

That fact is apparent in the contrast between the enthused Cuban response to Obama's visit and 89-year-old Fidel Castro's bitter 1,500-word screed issued Monday. And in the U.S., it's backed up by several polls, including one from the Pew Research Center last year that found 72 percent of Americans favored ending the trade embargo. So while Castro continues his Cold War rhetoric in Cuba, in the U.S. the politics that have paralyzed the debate may be changing.

If so, U.S. businesses — including many Minnesota multinationals — stand to gain. But they must move soon, said Mike Fernandez, a Cargill corporate vice president who also spoke at Monday's event. Cuba has normalized relations with other countries, and "they're not just waiting on America," Fernandez said. "If we don't get in the game and laws don't change, other countries are going to beat us there."

Many U.S. firms believe that dropping the embargo "will not only help with Cuba but with South America," Klobuchar said.

And beyond the economic benefits, there likely would be diplomatic dividends. Pew's 2015 Global Attitudes survey found that 76 percent of those polled in Latin American nations supported the U.S. ending the embargo.

Beyond the economic benefits, the most important outcome could be improving human rights conditions for Cubans. Engagement, not isolation, is the best method to accomplish that goal.

"If you are interested in human rights, think about this: We had thousands of human rights observers walking the streets of Havana last week," Emmer said of the visit. Continuing the embargo and allowing the Castro regime to keep control of the population would continue the human rights abuses, he said. Instead, Emmer added, "allow Americans to travel, to be there, to create transparency. Sunlight has a funny way of bringing things out and curing things."

It's time for more sunlight. It's time to end the embargo.