By Alison Shim
'February 7, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the ongoing US embargo on Cuba, a nation off the coast of Florida. Fifty years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was optimistic at what the embargo could accomplish: “The loss of this income will reduce the capacity of the Castro regime… to engage in acts of aggression, subversion, or other activities endangering the security of the United States and other nations of the hemisphere.” Ever since, the embargo has continuously consisted of economic sanctions and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under US jurisdiction. Despite being the longest trade embargo the U.S. has ever imposed, some also now deem it the least successful. Many have recently contested whether or not the embargo is now actually harming the innocent people of Cuba under the current regime.
The embargo currently creates mass food shortages across Cuba, depriving the very people the embargo sought to empower. With inefficient domestic farms and a lack of access to cheap American agricultural markets, it becomes nearly impossible for the people of Cuba to obtain the food necessary to feed the entire population annually. Trade restrictions imposed by the embargo prevent Cuba from obtaining much needed agricultural benefits. Isacc Inkeles in the Harvard International Review of March 2013 contends, “The state farms are terribly inefficient and some years produce only 20% of the food necessary for the Cuban people. Thus, Cuba must import a large quantity of its food”. It is radically unfeasible to assume that Cuba can support its people and their basic necessities solely on its own domestic production. Greg Pugliese of the George Washington University International Affairs Review furthers in 2011, “Because of the American embargo, imports are extremely expensive… the nation’s vast amount of low-wage workers can not afford the prices of imports.” As a result of the embargo, it has become increasingly expensive for Cuba to afford foreign imports overall, impairing the ability of the people of Cuba to maintain a basic standard of living. Cubans without foreign connections and access to remittances barely survive on an old Soviet-style food-rationing system that provides each household with coupons redeemable for basic foods. Providing Cuba with access to low-cost American agricultural products will benefit the Cuban people and in turn, improve America’s standing both in Cuba and Latin America. Ultimately, as a champion of human rights, it is the United State’s obligation to support the struggling Cubans, those most discontent with the Castro regime and those who most deserve change.
In addition to helping the people of Cuba, lifting the embargo will be able to benefit the U.S. health sector by supplying the U.S.’s current shortage of doctors. Cuba’s heavily developed health sector contains thousands of doctors eager to immigrate to the United States, but the embargo currently prevents this from occurring. An article from Foreign Affairs reports in August 2010, “The travel restrictions impair thousands of highly skilled Cuban medical personnel from pursuing employment in the United States, where higher paying jobs make the move highly attractive.” Essentially, the embargo prevents thousands of qualified doctors from working in jobs that could significantly benefit their families financially. According to the American College of Physicians in 2011, the United States has approximately one doctor for every 2,500 patients and a critical shortage of nearly 17,000 doctors. Lifting the embargo will allow Cuba’s medical sector to fill these gaps for the benefit of America’s public health. With the recently enacted federal health-care reform law putting more than 30 million more Americans on insurance, the need for physicians is dramatically increasing. Cuban physicians will be able to shoulder the burden and treat American citizens, increasing remittances to Cuban families and helping American families.
Overall, the Cuban embargo has now become outdated and frivolous. For the sake of both the people of Cuba and American public health, it is time to lift the embargo and reinstate trade and free travel between the two nations.