Reflections on a Week in Cuba

To view a slide show of pictures from my trip, go here.

My recent one-week visit to Cuba revealed why our relationship with this island country – less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida – has been problematic for the U.S. for the last half-century. Once the Castro brothers are gone, the government of Cuba may change in dramatic ways. The once-thriving Cuban tourism industry could prove to be the catalyst for economic growth. But such a transition would have to be accompanied by a change in U.S. policy to Cuba.

Every U.S. administration in the last 53 years has supported the embargo on all Cuban goods, although the U.S. is the only major developed nation to have such a policy against Cuba. While I was there as part of an educational tour, the U.N. voted 188-2 to ask the U.S. to end its embargo. Only the U.S. and Israel voted against the non-binding resolution.

The U.S. justifies its embargo based on Cuba’s human and civil-rights violations. But the U.S. imposes no trade restrictions on other countries with similar, if not worse, violations – Saudi Arabia and China, for example, are major trading partners.

The embargo persists because of the will of nearly two million Cuban expatriates, most of whom live in Florida. Many Cuban-Americans had their property and businesses taken by Castro’s government, and they support an embargo until Cuba returns to a market economy and the property is returned to its original owners.

Elections in Florida hinge on the Cuban expatriate vote. Florida is a “swing state” and has been decisive in presidential elections, notably in 2004. No U.S. president has been willing to challenge this community and run the risk of losing the Floridian electorate.

Returning to the pre-revolution position is no longer possible, but it is possible to open new economic opportunities for investment to rebuild Cuba’s tourist economy.

Today, Cuba is a failed state. It stands out as an example of the failure of communism as a system for running an economy. The standard of living for its citizens ranges from poor to desperate.

According to Cubans, however, communism is not the source of their trouble. They believe that the trade and travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. that inflict unnecessary suffering on Cubans.

I’ll look at how the Cuban economy operates and the choices the U.S. faces with its policies. First, let’s do a quick recap of Cuba’s history and look at life for the average Cuban citizen.