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Democracy Can’t Take Root in Isolation

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October 14, 2014

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On Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial urging the Obama administration to dismantle the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba. Given the shifting domestic attitudes and policies towards U.S.-Cuba relations and the changing economic climate on the island, Obama now has a unique opportunity to re-engage with Cuba, thus ending more than half a century’s worth of hostilities. In The Times’ “Room for Debate,” Christopher Sabatini makes a case for the political expediency of liberalizing elements of the embargo on Cuba to allow for social and commercial exchange.

Democracy Can't Take Root in Isolation

By Christopher Sabatini

Human rights abuses continue in Cuba and U.S.A.I.D. contractor Alan Gross remains in prison. But it is precisely for that reason that President Obama needs to continue to lift the veil of isolation the U.S. has placed over Cuba – doing so will promote a greater flow of information and independent activity that has led to political opening across the world. It’s no coincidence that there’s never been democratic change in a country under as tight as an embargo as the one the U.S. has had on Cuba for 53 years; and it's no coincidence that it has failed.

Because of the 1996 law (the unironically titled Libertad Act) much of the embargo is codified into law and requires an act of Congress to lift it. Given the paralysis of the current congress this appears very unlikely. But there is scope for the president to use executive authority to liberalize elements of the embargo, including nontourist travel, greater opportunities for commerce with the growing nonstate sector, U.S. telecoms investment and sales on the island, and removing Cuba from the U.S. Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. In the latter case, there is no evidence to support the current designation.

All of these measures are not only immediately possible, but they are also desirable. Recent steps taken by the Castro regime to “update" its failed socialist economy, like permitting the formation of small private businesses, as well as steps taken by the Obama administration, like allowing unlimited travel and remittances from Cuban-Americans and broadening purposeful travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens, have produced real, measurable changes, including the emergence of over 450,000 small businesses and a palpable space and optimism for change, especially as the Castros (Fidel is 88 and Raul, his brother and now president, is 83) near the end of their time in power.

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