They have done it again. For the twenty-third time, the New York social gathering known as the United Nations General Assembly has voted to “condemn” the United States for its embargo on Cuba, and for the 23rd time, few, if any, noted the economic, political, and cultural embargo on the West that Cuba imposes on its citizens.
The vote passed overwhelmingly, as is now customary. The New York Times reports only two nations opposed it–the United States and Israel–and three Oceanic states abstained: Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. Cuban diplomats used the occasion to grandstand about the gross injustice that has befallen them–as is also now customary.
“Although our social and health system have prevented the loss of lives,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, apparently not in jest, “no honest person, in the world or in the United States, can support its devastating consequences.” The New York Times, an ally of the Castro dictatorship from the cradle, preempted the vote with an editorial demanding an end to the embargo in the name of “expansion in trade, communications and relationships between Americans and ordinary Cubans.”
The Cuban government’s assertion that few in the world disagree that free trade between Cuba and the United States would lead to positive change is, to some extent, valid. There is evidence in the history of the fall of international communism that true free trade help can loosen its yolk on a people previously too blinded to know there was more to life than party propaganda and the rationed slop that passes for food. Even Miami Cuban-Americans–the most stalwart of anti-communist, solid Republican Party voters–seem to agree that opening the floodgates of capitalism on the island would stoke the fires of being exposed to relative deprivation. Being aware of what they could have had under a free system could very well prompt the Cuban people to fight for it.
But that is not what an end to the United States embargo would mean. An end to the embargo with the Castro family still in power is a conversation in which “ordinary Cubans,” those hapless victims for whom the Times is so eager to ride in on a white horse, have no place. It would mean an end to the embargo that prevents multi-million-dollar corporations from funding the state sponsor of terrorism, which is essentially what the U.S. embargo is. The Cuban embargo on the U.S. is something far more insidious–the blockade on ordinary Cubans engaging in any way with free Western society, despite geography demanding for them a rightful place as a Western society.
Cubans cannot freely travel from their island nation to anywhere else in the world. The Castro regime claimed to “lift travel restrictions” in 2013–and, indeed, some dissidents were allowed to travel the world for show. Cubans still need special visas to leave the country, with only minor exceptions. (Cubans can visit Cambodia, Laos, Russia, and Haiti, for example, visa-free.) Almost immediately after the government announced that the travel ban was “lifted,” reports surfaced that nothing would change. Passports and visas are expensive in a nation where even the most educated are forced into multiple jobs, and Cuba ensured the nations for which it lifted bans that its own ban would have restrictions of its own.
Cubans cannot freely receive gifts from the United States. Sensing that Cuban Americans were staging their own mini-overturning of the embargo by spending millions on basic goods for their family at home–soap, underwear, food, and other necessities–the Cuban government severely restricted transport of goods into the island in travelers’ luggage in September. In highlighting the human toll the Cuban embargo on America takes, the Associated Press quoted one 75-year-old woman, who lamented, “All the clothes and shoes that I have come from my granddaughters in Spain or my siblings in the U.S.” This policy will not change if the United States lifts its embargo, which prevents corporations and individuals from doing business in Cuba. This followed a significant reduction in the number of visas provided to Americans (who are not barred by the embargo to travel there, i.e., Cuban Americans) to visit the island.
Cuba’s embargo against America–the embargo no UN official talks about–is stronger than ever.
Many will benefit if America lifts its embargo. Yes, wealthy Americans will get to enjoy the island’s natural beauty, legendary cigars, and access to one of the world’s most sophisticated child sex markets. The privileged of America will be able to feast upon the riches the Cuban government denies its own people, just as the privileged of other countries do now. UN ambassadors of other nations will be able to invite their American friends along for the ride the next time they visit apartheid Havana.
The same will not be true for the impoverished Cuban people, who do not have the luxury of representation at the United Nations General Assembly.