Obama should end all sanctions on Cuba

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2009, 12:00am


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US policy towards Cuba has been a failure. The Castro regime is no nearer to collapse than when the economic embargo was imposed 47 years ago. US President Barack Obama's executive order ending restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel and remittances to the Caribbean island is a major break with an ineffective and unjust approach. A first step has been taken; allowing all Americans to visit and do business is the natural next move in a reshaped strategy that has to end with the scrapping of barriers.

Cuba proves that sanctions are no way to bring down a repressive government. Politically, they have served only to strengthen the Communist Party's hold on power through the oppression of critics and opponents. Economically, the effect has been minimal. The island's economy is shaped by Cuban policies, not the United States' unilateral trade embargo.

It is those domestic policies - centralisation, collectivism and restrictions on private initiative among them - that are fundamentally behind the hardships many Cubans face. The embargo has denied them economic possibilities with the US, just 160km to the north. But the restrictions have also violated basic human rights. They infringe upon the internationally recognised right to freedom of movement and breach the international prohibition on the involuntary separation of families.

Mr Obama made his order ahead of a meeting with Latin American leaders at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend. Cuba, having a non-democratically-elected government, will not be represented. The embargo will nonetheless be a central topic of discussion. There is no better forum at which to broaden the lifting of sanctions to cover all Americans.

Capitalism will weaken the Castro regime and make Cubans less reliant on their government for survival. The surest way for this to happen is to allow unrestricted US investment, trade and travel. Mr Obama has taken the landmark step of beginning that process. He must follow it with a policy aimed at scrapping all restrictions.