Ohio can win with Cuba ties

The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio stands to benefit if the Ohio State Council of Engage Cuba, a Washington D.C.-based business group seeking to end the 56-year-old U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, is successful.

The Ohio State Council includes consumer-products giant Proctor & Gamble and the Ohio Farm Bureau. Others include Kirk Merrick of the Ohio Soybean Association, Brad Moffitt of Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers, Michael V. Drake, M.D., president of Ohio State University, and Columbus attorney Luis Alcalde.

The embargo imposed after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba and installed a communist regime has been wholly ineffective at ending or moderating the Castro regime, now headed by Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul Castro.

In fact, the embargo helped the Castros maintain their grip on power because it gave them a convenient excuse for the repression and poverty they imposed on the island. Cuban dissidents routinely are portrayed as tools of Yankee imperialism, and the poverty resulting from the Castros’ communist system was blamed on the U.S. refusal to trade with the island. This rationalization was nonsense, because Cuba remained free to trade with the rest of the world. The real problem was that Cuba’s anemic communist economy had little to offer the rest of the world.

Ohio already exports corn and soybean products to Cuba under humanitarian exceptions to the trade ban, but Cuba is barred from making credit arrangements with U.S. businesses that would facilitate and enlarge this trade. As a result, U.S. food producers, including those in Ohio, lose out to producers in Argentina and Brazil.

Normalizing trade and travel to Cuba also would improve the economic prospects for Cubans, and interaction with American businessmen and tourists would generate greater pressure on Cuba’s government to liberalize politically and economically.

And while rules governing interactions between Cuban-Americans and their relatives in Cuba have been relaxed in recent years, a full lifting of the embargo would allow these families to strengthen their bonds and help each other even more.

President Barack Obama, who visited Cuba last month in order to promote warmer relations, has been criticized for not exacting concessions from Raul Castro in return. But if 55 years of embargo failed to wring any concessions from the Cuban regime, it’s hard to see what additional leverage Obama could bring to bear.

In fact, Cuban concessions are more likely to follow after a lifting of the embargo, by hooking ordinary Cubans and the Cuban government on the economic benefits of unfettered trade with the United States.

And even if that weren’t the case, there still would be no credible rationale for maintaining the embargo. The United States maintains trade relations with any number of nations that have repressive, hostile and unsavory governments. There is no reason to continue treating Cuba as a special case.

Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely told The Dispatch, “In agriculture, we tend to be free-trade oriented. One of the things we have a competitive advantage in the United States is food production,” he said. “When you consider 95 out of 100 potential customers are located outside of the United States, any time we can find new markets for our products we think is a positive development.”

Cuba and the United States are too closely tied by geography and family to remain separated. Lifting the embargo would restore a natural and healthy relationship.