There is a country just ninety miles from the shores of the United States that I have never been to. The Republic of Cuba is the home of my grandmother and countless uncles, aunts and cousins scattered throughout Florida and points north. I am not allowed to travel to Cuba because there is an economic embargo on that country which has been in place for almost fifty years. If I do travel to Cuba I risk being fined $7,500 by my government for stepping feet on the native soil of my relations. Cuba is about the size of my own state of Tennessee and at eleven million people it is close in terms of population.
Originally a Spanish colony, Cuba declared its independence in 1868. In 1959 there was a popular revolution that put Fidel Castro into power and Cuba has been a socialist country since that date. The people of Cuba come from a melting pot of cultures and traditions. My own family was typical of many European immigrants who came to this area in the nineteenth century. Looking for opportunities and better living conditions abroad, they immigrated to the new world with hopes and dreams. In the United States, there is a policy that governs the behavior of our country toward all matters hemispheric. It is called the Monroe Doctrine and what it means is that the US is the supreme power, the law of the land, and anyone in this hemisphere who thinks otherwise will learn to behave. This is the essence of the current embargo on Cuba, which began last century during the Kennedy administration.
Cuba has always been subject to the Monroe Doctrine and has always suffered the impact of neo-colonial expressions of power by the US and corporate interests, along with most of the Caribbean and Latin America,. Although the US assisted Cuba in gaining its freedom from Spain in 1902, the reality was that Cuba was trading Spain for America which invested heavily in Cuban production, especially in the raw products of sugar and tobacco. US companies owned most of the Cuban sugar industry and held majority control in most Cuban industries. By 1959, Cuba was known as a playground for the rich, where the mob could operate without interference and women were for sale to the highest bidders. Drugs flowed freely through Cuba and most of the population lived in poverty and ignorance.
The Cuban revolution was a small miracle in Western history. A band of twenty or so revolutionaries taking on an entire army, building resistance and popular support through a guerilla movement in the jungle mountains and eventually taking the entire country and pushing out the corporate and military interests of the most powerful nation on earth. They instituted a series of land reforms, housing reforms, education reforms and health reforms. Today the Cuban people are definitely better educated than they were before the revolution. They have universal health care in Cuba today and the tools of industry are in the hands of the government and not in the hands of foreign investment firms. Although the revolution did eventually raise the standard of living of the entire population,
Cuba is a mixed success and the people have paid a heavy price. I have met many people who have fled from Cuba. My own extended family left Cuba in the 1960's when conditions were clearly on the way downhill. Cubans have been imprisoned for crimes against the revolution such as practicing religious beliefs, criticizing the government or attempting to leave the country. The bitter truth of a communist revolution is that it is a boring dictatorship. The claims of revolutionary politics are fantastical and the denial of individual liberty is too great a price to pay. Clipping the wings of freedom in the name of the people is just an abuse of state power and the record of history shows the results.
t is time to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. The United States has no business imposing its collective will on an entire country. The embargo has created victims of two generations of Cubans and has only served to reinforce the power of the dictatorship and consolidation of a failing government. What is needed is fair and open trade between the United States and Cuba and retention of the positive aspects of the revolution such as universal health care, education and land reform. We can learn a lot from the people of Cuba such as how to live with less and how to give our people more, and the Cuban people can benefit from trade relations with the United States.
The US embargo of Cuba is a relic of the cold war era, but it is in place because of the deeper history of US relations to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Cuban people have been defiant in the face of a fifty year embargo and have struggled to survive but they have persisted. The embargo has been condemned by leaders as diverse as George P. Shultz, Pope John Paul II and the United Nations, which has declared that the embargo is a violation of international law.
As a candidate for federal office, I believe that it is time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba without the threat of civil penalties and fines. and I believe that it is time to end the economic and trade embargo on Cuba. It's the right thing to do, for us and for them.