Should we resume trade with Cuba?

North Wind Staff

The image many people have of Cuba is of streets buzzing with vintage American cars and Soviet Ladas, their finishes weathered into pastel colored patina.

These cars are not collectors’ items for the roughly 1 of 50 Cubans privileged enough to own one, but rather a Frankenstein patchwork of jerry-rigged parts fashioned from old milk jugs, duct tape and the sheer determination to keep them running. The Cuban government rarely permits people to bring in new cars, and the United States won’t export them either.re-NWLogoSocialMedia

Next week, President Barack Obama will make history as he becomes the first sitting president in more than 80 years to travel to the communist island nation.

Ever since the United States government severed ties in 1961, very little of anything has been allowed in or out, but the recent thaw indicates Obama’s visit is poised to become a watershed moment in a seven-year period of U.S.-Cuban detente.

Now, as numerous policies regarding travel and humanitarian aid to Cuba have been relaxed, and mail service from the United States has been resumed, numerous American air carriers are vying for coveted routes that will provide daily flights to Havana and other airports.

It’s a great deal for American tourists seeking vacation spots and for family members wanting to reconnect easier, but for average Cubans, their $200 monthly wage will likely mean little change for the poor and unconnected.

What stands in the way of a total reunion with Cuba is the archaic 1961 trade embargo that still stands. It will take an act of Congress to repeal that, and so far the idea has been met with stiff opposition.

The most vocal of critics argue the embargo is designed as a punishment for Cuba’s human rights record, but after 55 years it has arguably made life much harder for the Cuban hoi polloi, who have resorted to some very unique methods of “street engineering” just to get by.

Furthermore, the human rights argument also becomes fallacious when considering how much trade the United States makes with China in spite of their own egregious human rights record.

The latest polls show that more than 60 percent of Americans are in favor of opening up trade with Cuba, and more than 90 percent of Cubans feel the same way. Rather than punishing a people who live in crushing poverty, the United States government should begin the process of reversing the embargo.

On the Cuban side, there will have to be many concessions made before the embargo is lifted, along with conditions that would ensure the free flow and equitable sale of newly imported American goods to average Cubans, but it seems things are moving in the right direction. Let’s hope the changes stick.