From the business community's perspective, U.S. policy toward Cuba is an anachronism. The nearly half-century-old embargo was intended to pressure Fidel Castro to democratize. Instead, it's made a martyr out of a tyrant and has helped prop up his regime.
Fortunately, President-elect Barack Obama supports suspending restrictions on family visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban-Americans. While these are excellent first steps, the new administration should also commit to a more comprehensive examination of American policy, which could have the power to transform Cuban society.
Our first steps toward getting Cuba right should emphasize humanitarian values. The U.S. should immediately loosen restrictions on money sent by Cuban-Americans to their families in Cuba. These restrictions are self-defeating and provide the Cuban dictatorship with a scapegoat during these tough times.
Because hunger should never be a tool of U.S. policy, another good place to start is with sales of basic foodstuffs. In 2000, Congress approved a law that permits U.S. exports of food and medicine to the island, though the law does not allow U.S. banks to finance such sales. Allowing private financing would eliminate some of the red tape that limits these sales.
Commerce has the power to transform societies, which is why the best path forward would be to lift the embargo completely. But business executives understand that real change is often incremental. Why not begin with these straightforward measures? The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Thomas J. Donohue
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
When I arrived in the United States as a child in 1959, I could not understand why another human being could not drink from the same water fountain as I did, simply because of the color of his skin.
But America taught me a great lesson. Pressure, boycotts, civil disobedience, and a magnificent struggle for civil rights brought change and put an end to segregation and Jim Crow laws. Years later, sanctions helped put an end to apartheid in South Africa.
It should not be any different with Cuba. That is why the embargo must not be lifted until certain requirements are met: respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners, and free and democratic elections.
After almost 50 years of ruling Cuba with absolute power, an ailing Fidel Castro transferred power to his brother Raúl two years ago. But Cubans remain third-class citizens in their own country: They have extremely limited access to the Internet, for example, and cannot even stay in hotels, which are reserved for foreigners.
In 2003, 75 men and women seeking peaceful and democratic change were arrested. Sentences ranged from 15 to 28 years. Their crimes? Being writers and human-rights activists, and having the courage to express their opinions and to oppose the Cuban regime's censorship by creating independent libraries. Along with hundreds of other political prisoners, 59 of them remain in prison, some without access to medical assistance.
The United States cannot reward this kind of behavior by lifting the embargo. It's the Cuban regime that must change, not U.S. policy.
Ninoska Perez Castellon
Cuban Liberty Council