Restored Trade & Cultural Exchange Between the US & Cuba As a Path Towards Mutually Assured Benefit

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Opportunity is in the wind, and it's blowing from the south. The International/political context for fostering the movement of the U.S. and Cuba, toward a more fruitful relationship for both, has perhaps never been better in decades. The relationship between the two countries, during this time period, has been difficult and dangerous. Although the dividing political forces still exist, those forces seem to be yielding in places as seen by the reestablishing of diplomatic relations. The future is still uncertain with a new president, but the potential opportunities for both countries has never looked better. Bolder actions with indirect results may lead the way.
The U.S. dominated Cuba's economy for much of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. The U.S. recognized the new Cuban government, under Fidel Castro in 1959, after the Cuban Revolution but withdrew diplomatic recognition when the Cuban government nationalized U.S. assets. This also led the U.S. to banning all trade, travel, and financial transactions with Cuba and has continued to this day. A turn in this relationship, initiated by President Obama, known as "The Cuban Thaw", took hold beginning in July of 2015 with re-established relations (Nations Online, 2017). Powerful political forces on both sides still remain and slow further movement to a more beneficial relationship for both countries.
Opposing Political Forces
The U.S. seeks Cuba to change the structure of its economy and politics. Cuba currently clings to a socialist form of government with control over many of the rights of its citizens. The U.S. wants a loosening of that control, creating a more open society that values human rights. Cuba seeks the U.S. to completely lift its trade and travel embargo, leave Guantanamo Bay, and change its immigration policies which provide special status to Cuban immigrants and encourages the flow of educated trained professionals from leaving. So what can be addressed to aid the reconciliation of these forces?
Opportunities for US-Cuban State of Affairs
A larger proportion of Cubans today are living in or near poverty levels today. Cuba imports most of what it needs and it imports about twice as much as it exports (Voces, 2016). The Soviet Union is no longer able to provide them with additional resources they need and Venezuela is less able to fill that gap for them, as they focus on their economic concerns. Cuba's birthrate has also become one of the lowest of the world's developing nations (Voces, 2016). Their workforce is shrinking and their population is becoming more aged and dependent which has resulted from large-scale emigration. Many of the departed workforce are trained professionals that are a key resource. In spite of that, Cuba has one of the most educated populations of Latin America but also one of the lowest rates of internet access (Voces, 2016). Cuba also needs extensive replacements in their infrastructure including streets, buildings, water, and electric power systems. Within this dismal perspective there are reasons for cautious optimism.
Cuba has moved toward increasing private sector employment, from 17% of the workforce in 2008 to 29% in 2015 (GAO, 2016). The Cuban Government is also tolerating groups that discuss the need for a more open Society. While Cuba predominantly produces just sugar, tobacco, nickel, and hard alcohol, its tourism industry is a major source of hard currency. Tourism is now Cuba's second-largest industry, behind the export of services. Cuba was ranked number three out of 28 Caribbean countries for quality tourism products and experiences as evaluated by past visitors in 2015 (Resonance, 2015). This growth rate could increase with improvements to Cuba's infrastructure.
United States
The U.S. embargo has not advanced U.S. geopolitical interests in over 50 years since the embargo has been in place. Cuba, which is only 90 miles from the U.S. shore is located on the sea lanes between U.S. East Coast and the Panama Canal. Avoiding an economic crisis in Cuba and the associated complications with a country so close to their shores, should be a U.S. concern. Improving Cuba's record on human rights is also a policy goal.
Actions and Potential Outcomes
An immovable front seems to exist between the two countries positions. Cuba is reluctant to move further in opening its society and increasing its economic private sector, but expects the U.S. to drop its embargo and leave Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. on the other side, expects a major movement in human rights and an open economy before dropping the embargo.
The U.S. could take the strategic high ground by phasing out the embargo and supporting the expansion of Cuba's internet capability without significant Cuban promises for a more open society. U.S. investment in infrastructure improvements could also increase U.S. tourist traffic to the island. This indirect approach could stimulate the Cuban economy, unleashing forces within the country that gradually create a more open society. The costs for such action on America's part are mostly political. The embargo is now over 50 years old. Now is the time for a more bold thoughtful indirect approach to improving Cuban relations.
Nations Online (2017). History of Cuba. One World Nations Online. Retrieved at...
Voces (2016). The Future is coming Observations and Reflections on Cuba. The Dialogue. Retrieved at...
GAO (2016). U.S. Policy Changes Increased Engagement with Private Sector, but Agency Information Collection Is Limited. United States Government Accountability Office.
Resonance (2015). Caribbean Tourism Quality Index. Caribbean Hotel and Tourism.
Harry Hopkins is currently a student at West Chester University, located in PA (majoring in accounting). Currently, he has associate degrees in Accounting and General Business from Delaware Technical Community College at the Wilmington campus in DE. He hopes to get into international business in the future.
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