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By Jaime Suchlicki
There are several common themes in the debat surrounding the recent surge of efforts to weaken U.S. policy on Cuba. We've heard that overturning the embargo and selling our agricultural products would alleviate economic hardships in Cuba, fuel the U.S. economy by tapping into a new market and, in the end, cause the demise of Fidel Castro's totalitarian regime.
These arguments may seem appealing, but they don't consider the harsh realities of Cuba under Castro. Softening our policy now would only serve to strengthen Castro's grip on the island and its people.
Supporters of a weakened embargo suggest the regime would allow tourists and investments from the United States to influence Cuban society. That won't happen. Castro is not willing to trade total power for an improved economy.
Lifting the embargo and travel ban without meaningful democratic and free-market reforms in Cuba would certainly guarantee the perpetuation of the institutions and groups that support the regime. Castro only wants U.S. credits tourism because he desperately needs hard currency to fuel his regime.
U.S. investors would quickly discover that they were operating on Castro's turf. Private property is still outlawed in Cuba, and workers are not permitted to contract with companies. If a foreign company needs local workers, it must go through the regime, which then assigns workers and collects their wages in dollars. The regime then pays its workers in worthless pesos. Translation: Foreign investment bankrolls Castro and leaves the workers destitute.
Every other country in the world is free to trade with Cuba, which clearly has not helped the island's economic plight. Simply doing business with the United States will do little to aid the situation.
If the United States were to provide credits to the Cuban regime to buy American goods, the U.S. taxpayer eventually would foot the bill. Cuba owes billions of dollars to other countries and international organizations, and the regime ignores those debts. Castro's economic system is a miserable failure that stifles productivity. Yet he continues to spend recklessly on the military and his bankrupt welfare system. Given Castro's record, more foreign loans would fall into the regime's economic black hole -- with no benefit to the Cuban people.
Allowing Castro access to hard currency will not only strengthen his hold on the Cuban people, but also allow him to build up his military and continue his support of anti-American terrorist groups in Latin America and elsewhere. When Castro sees U.S. policy as weak and has cash in his pocket, he eagerly supports turmoil abroad Nicaragua, Angola and Colombia are prime examples.
Lifting the embargo now would preclude the United States using this important tool vis--vis a future government in Cuba. If we give away the embargo, we are left with nothing to pressure a future government.
Weakening or overturning U.S. policy on Cuba would negate the basic tenets of our Latin American policies, which emphasize democracy, human rights and stable market economies. It also would send the wrong message to other rogue states:
A foreign leader can seize U.S. property without compensation, allow the placement of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States, shoot down American planes, espouse terrorism and anti-American causes throughout the world, and eventually the United States will ``forgive and forget,'' rewarding him with tourism, investments and economic aid.
Until Cuba respects human rights, releases political prisoners and holds free and internationally supervised elections, the embargo should remain.
To reward Castro now is to ensure that Cuba's 11 million citizens will continue to face the same horrors and hardships they suffer today -- only under a regime bolstered by U.S. policy.
Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardí Moreau professor of history and international studies and the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.