Fifty years ago this week, on September 4, 1961, the U.S. Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which prohibited all aid to Cuba and authorized the President to declare a “total embargo upon all trade” with that Caribbean island nation.
Advocates heralded this bold move as a sure measure to “create the conditions” necessary for Fidel Castro to be removed from power “within one year.”
The American conceit was that, denied aid and trade with the United States, the Castro government would face an internal uprising, and that his days in power were numbered.
Fast forward half a century, and both Castro and the embargo remain.
The embargo, in many ways, represents the worse of the U.S., since it makes America seem like a petty, vindictive and irrational nation. And in both political and economic terms, the embargo has been a complete failure of U.S. foreign policy.
The embargo, rather than weakening Castro, emboldened him. For decades he has been able to position himself as a champion against impossible odds. The Cuban nation has rallied around him, as much from their national pride as for their affection for this “David” who has stood firm against “Goliath.”
Around the world, enemies of the United States have been able to point to the embargo as proof of America’s vindictive nature, of its willingness to deliberately enact a policy to punish innocents and impoverish an entire nation. Castro has been welcomed by other Third World dictators as both an inspiring figure of resistance against American “imperialism,” and as an avuncular counsel on how to remain in power indefinitely.
As a foreign policy instrument, the embargo has also failed. It has not done anything to make the Cuban people more free, and it has denied Americans of the right to travel freely as they see best. For American business interests, billions of dollars have been ...