Cuba in the Nick of Time

IMG_9899Just a few days ago I returned from a “people-to-people” trip to Cuba. This morning, the current US administration banned such trips. This not only hurts the Cuban people, it hurts the American people. And as with everything else this administration does, it also boosts Russian power.

The United States imposed an embargo on American trade with Cuba in 1962. They expanded the embargo in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act to penalize foreign companies trading with Cuba. In other words, not only do we block our own companies from trade, we effectively block foreign companies from trade. Combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this has had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy. It did nothing, however, to change the political structure – our stated goal.

As the aging Fidel Castro turned over control to his brother Raul, the United States had an opportunity to change a policy that for more than half a century had essentially no impact on global relations. President Obama restored diplomatic links and even visited Cuba in 2016. These actions provided some hope that the United States could become a world leader in bringing Cuba into a 21st century economy and lead to a modernized political structure. These hopes were dashed, however, when the current administration reversed all the gains made under Obama.

And now they are banning the one option most Americans had to visit and learn about Cuba. “People-to-people” programs, which includes the Road Scholar tour I just returned from, allow personal interactions with the Cuban people. We met artists in their homes, talked with the owners of paladars (family-owned small restaurants), and saw performances of dance and music. In every case, the Cuban people were welcoming and friendly. There was no personal animosity against the American people. We saw first hand the hardships Cubans must endure (lack of supplies, long lines waiting for basic commodities like chicken, eggs, and rice), and learned that “all Cubans are mechanics” by necessity, as they must use inventiveness and innovation to make up for non-availability of basic parts to keep machinery and cars running (only 1 in 167,000 Cubans has a car because of shortages). The embargo, and this expansion, hurts the Cuban people greatly.

It also hurts Americans. Americans wanting to travel abroad are now blocked from doing so even more than the severe restrictions that were already imposed. American companies can’t expand their markets. American allies are blocked from independent trading because of the penalties we impose. The rationales offered for such restrictions are pathetically dishonest as we willingly trade with multiple countries that sponsor terrorism and even use our own weapon sales against us and our allies (neither of which Cuba does). The ban is purely political and highly punitive.

Who the increased ban does help is Vladimir Putin. With every attack the current administration makes on our allies and our American norms, the administration strengthens the global power of Russian and the Putin-led Russian oligarchy. As the current administration weakens US influence and power in the world and spits on our allies, it is China and Russia that benefit the most.

Elections have consequences. While most Americans might not care about what happens to the Cuban people, they should care about what happens to the American people. The current administration has intentionally dismissed American norms, American intelligence, and the American people. It’s time to remove this disgrace from office.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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