Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Marine colonel: Drop the Cuba embargo

A Best Defense re-run on the Obama administration's Cuba policy.


A Best Defense re-run.
This item originally ran on Oct. 23, 2009.

By Jeff Goodes

Best Defense guest correspondent

The Obama administration’s decision to extend the U.S. economic trade embargo on Cuba for an additional year is detrimental to our national and regional security and further emboldens our economic, military, and infrastructure rivals. What is most perplexing is the fact that earlier this summer the Obama administration decided to relax some of the regulations regarding personal travel and personal money transfers from Cuban-Americans to their relatives in Cuba, as well as telecommunication exchanges between private U.S. and state-run Cuban companies: all are steps in the right direction for U.S. interests — but are not enough. While these relaxed restrictions are certainly a step forward in normalizing relations, these steps do not outweigh the heavy diplomatic, information, and economic influence of Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, China, Russia, India, and Iran, all of whom support the Cuban government and all of whom seek to be peer competitors with the United States.

In short, the U.S. unilateral embargo will continue to retard regional security and stability, and further serve to erode our influence in the Americas at a time when U.S. credibility is globally scrutinized. The arguably outdated and undeniably ineffective embargo will continue to halt progress at every turn; more specifically, the diplomatic influence and credibility of the United States, the social and political progress of Cuba, and the security and stability progress of the region. The U.S. embargo will continue to impede potential and future cultural and scientific trade investments, shared agricultural advancements, and pertinent meteorological and environmental exchanges regarding the shared Florida Straits ecology.

Furthermore, the U.S. unilateral embargo will continue to encourage Cuba to partner with Russia, China, and Brazil for offshore oil and natural gas exploration within the shared U.S. and Cuban economic exclusion zone. The U.S. embargo will continue to endear many of the poor Caribbean and Central American nations to the Chavez Venezuelan PetroCaribe initiative, and the embargo will ensure that no official U.S.-Cuban dialogue and/or planned cooperative action occurs with regards to such crucial issues as regional and transnational criminal organizations, illegal immigration and extortion issues, and the growing Islamic influence on Latin American from Iranian, Syrian, and Lebanese diasporas.

We must face the facts: the U.S. efforts to isolate and force a regime change in Cuba for nearly half a century have failed. These 50 years have successfully driven Cuba to aggressively seek support elsewhere, as is evident in their forming and fostering diplomatic ties, seeking infrastructure support, establishing military liaisons, and accepting economic support from every government in the Americas — to include Canada — with the exception of the United States. Most of Cuba’s economic and diplomatic partners have “Leftist” governments with close ties to state and non-state Islamic fundamentalists, porous national borders and often rampant organized crime cartels coupled with violent gang warfare fueled by drug trafficking, human trafficking, and extortion. After all, Cuba has the backing of Hugo Chavez’s endorsed ALBA and doctors for oil initiative, Evo Morales’s endorsed MAS, China’s $600M economic and trade stimulus grant, and Brazil’s $300M infrastructure and modernization credit to list a few. To be sure, the United States should be very concerned with the company that Cubans keep.

A less adversarial tone with Cuba will reestablish much needed dialogue in the region and help address shared national border security vulnerabilities, transnational and regional crime consortiums, and environmental and ecological initiatives. The necessity for the Obama administration to lift the U.S. economic embargo is painfully obvious. It would enhance the region’s security, promote economic prosperity, establish shared environmental regulations, and help re-establish our credibility and leadership vis-à-vis some of our most prominent global allies and competitors. Lastly, let’s ask ourselves, “Has our 50 year embargo brought Cuba any closer to democracy, or have we denied the Cubans an opportunity to see the best that our free and democratic society offers?”

via Wikimedia

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1