Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 
America Libre

By David G. Young 

WASHINGTON, DC, March 24, 1998 --  

Here we go again. The Clinton administration's quiet revision of the Cuban sanctions policy was thrown into the spotlight by last week's escape of four Cuban baseball players. This has re-ignited the same dogmatic debate over the trade embargo that has existed for almost 40 years. It's time to change the terms of this discussion. The change is long overdue.

When passing laws about Cuba, the U.S. Government can't do anything to directly control Castro or any of the other people living in the country. All it can do is restrict the actions of those living in the United States. This is what the sanctions debate should be about: Should the United States prosecute its citizens for meeting or trading with people of the Caribbean island?

The existing laws prohibiting travel and investment in Cuba take away the rights of U.S. citizens. It is Americans -- not Cubans -- whose actions are restricted under threat of legal prosecution. A law that threatens Americans with a felony conviction, 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for exercising the human right of freedom to travel is not consistent with the principles of liberty upon which America is founded. It is outrageous that the nation that is the world's free market champion prevents its people from investing money and buying products from people in a neighboring nation.

While the U.S. Government has been very lax about its enforcement of the travel ban, the absence of felony indictments does nothing to lessen the immorality of the law. It simply means that more subtle and insidious methods are used to achieve the same ends, specifically via commercial air and sea travel restrictions. The present situation is clear: The U.S. Government represses its citizens from visiting and trading with people in Cuba. This is not just wrong, it is indefensible.

Why don't others see it this way?

Since 1959, two extremely distasteful groups have held a virtual headlock on the terms of the debate. On the one side is the Miami-based community of right-wing Cuban exiles. Their hate for Castro is so scathing that they would rather see their countrymen suffer abominable living conditions than give Castro a million-to-one chance at success. On the other side is the hodgepodge coalition of left-wing Castro apologists, most of whose members still harbor the romantic notions of socialist revolution that followed his ascension to power in 1959.

Both groups make legitimate (although disingenuous) points. The exile community does a good job of highlighting Castro's horribly repressive policies. The apologists succeed in bringing attention to the terrible human effects of the trade embargo. Forgotten in this debate, however, are the Americans who are the direct targets of the supposedly anti-Castro policy.

Neither group shows an interest in discussing the effect of sanctions on U.S. citizens. The exiles decry Castro's prosecution of Cubans who attempt to go to the U.S., yet advocate an equivalent policy for Americans. The apologists don't care about defending the freedom of Americans, because they aren't concerned with human freedom in any country.

By framing the debate on their own terms, the groups have forced the U.S. to adopt laws that restrict the rights of Americans to influence the future of a small Caribbean island. These laws may have been justifiable during the Cold War, when the very real threat of nearby Soviet missiles clouded the issue of American rights. Today, no such threat exists. Yet the exact same Cold War justifications are given for continuing the embargo. The exclusion of discussion about the rights of Americans can only be justified in a climate of war-a condition that clearly no longer exists.

The traditional arguments for and against the embargo are irrelevant. In the modern world, there is simply no reason for it to exist in the first place.

Will lifting the economic embargo on Cuba improve living conditions and hasten Castro's downfall? Who knows. Will lifting the embargo make Americans more free? Absolutely. To a government responsible to the American people, this should be the only question that matters.