“Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy. This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century – of elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won’t stand for this injustice, you won’t stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba. That will be my commitment as president of the United States of America.”
These words, spoken by senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama to the Cuban American National Foundation last week, are an indictment of oppressive governmental power.
Though he claims to be on the side of justice, the candidate pledged in the same speech to keep the present U.S. embargo on Cuba, which DemocracyNow.org called a “threat to win Cuban reforms.”
The embargo on Cuba is “a policy that was put into place at the height of the Cold War, when fears of Soviet missiles and communist penetration were at their peak, (and) has been maintained even though the threat that prompted it has collapsed,” according to CubaHeadlines.com.
Obama said he would open the doors of diplomacy between Cuba and the U.S., a motion that candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain have refused to make, according to Fox News. This somewhat validates his campaign slogan of change. However, while increasing diplomacy would be a step forward, it is not enough to simply hold conversations with the leaders of other nations without taking away the pressure of power.
Meetings and negotiations mean nothing when one party has a proverbial gun to its head and everything to lose, while the other is comfortable in its seat of power and dominance.
Removing the embargo would send a clear signal that the U.S. is ready for real negotiation and respects the Cuban people enough to stop denying them normal trade, travel and diplomatic relations.
It is unfair that Cubans suffer because of U.S. leaders’ relations with the country’s former president, Fidel Castro.
According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the U.S. embargo is largely to blame for a shortage of medical supplies and many public health disasters in Cuba, including a blindness epidemic caused by scarce access to nutrients, Guillain-Barre outbreaks stemming from a lack of chlorination and an epidemic of lye ingestion among toddlers caused by a shortage of soap.
Economic development has also been hampered because the embargo denies the Cuban market access to medicines, tourism, food and various goods that are helpful or necessary in the development of a nation.
But the U.S. embargo not only affects the availability of goods, it affects the spread of information. U.S. researchers are restricted from traveling to the island, and books, CDs and software are not allowed to be sent to fill the requests made by libraries and researchers. The quest for information and scientific inquiry should be encouraged, not inhibited.
These policies are in direct conflict with the values of freedom, democracy and humanity that Americans are supposed to hold so dear.
If the leaders of this country really care about helping the Cuban people, they should lift the embargo, as well as other restrictions, and send humanitarian aid, medical supplies, food and other necessary services directly to the Cuban people. They should work with the Cuban government, which has shown a changing attitude toward freedom of speech and economic policy since the transition of power into the hands of Castro’s brother, Raul.
Communication is key in the game of world politics. However, communication cannot properly take place in an environment of dominance and force – an idea that none of the three well-funded contenders in the race for the Oval Office seem to understand.
Jose Ferrer is a sophomore majoring in sociology.