SYRACUSE, New York — For decades, Cuba has been held back by a trade embargo from the United States. However, there is renewed optimism that relations between the two countries can improve. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which will lift the embargo and provide more opportunities for the people of Cuba. This act also presents a new market for U.S. companies.
History of Relations Between the U.S. and Cuba
Following the rise of Fidel Castro, Cuba nationalized corporations. This eventually led the U.S. to retaliate by prohibiting trade with Cuba. During the Cold War, this reaction from the U.S. caused Cuba to turn to the U.S.S.R. This further inflamed tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba faced an especially difficult time, but restrictions on trade and travel remained in place.
President Obama began to ease restrictions and usher in the “Cuban Thaw,” a period of engagement between the two nations, which saw more cooperation and progress in two years than in the previous 50 years. However, once the Trump administration came into office, many economic sanctions were reinstated. Cuba once again turned to countries that are not aligned with the U.S., including China, Russia and Venezuela.
How the Embargo Hurts Cuba
Since the 1960s, the U.S. has imposed restrictions on travel and trade to Cuba. These restrictions severely limit Cuba’s ability to access essential goods and products. Exporting the country’s own goods is also a challenge. During the time of the embargo, Cuba lost more than 90% of its trading partners. While there are generous social programs that aid the impoverished, including government-provided healthcare, there is not much infrastructure or opportunity to advance socioeconomically.
Moreover, younger, educated Cubans are more likely to want to leave the country. Therefore, the remaining population is becoming increasingly impoverished and elderly. During the aftermath of COVID-19, Cuba has endured its worst food shortages in 25 years. In addition, its economy has decreased by more than 10%. Climbing out of poverty is difficult anywhere, but the embargo adds another obstacle for Cuban citizens. It also ultimately restricts economic growth.
How Lifting the Embargo Will Help Cuba
The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act will improve living standards in Cuba, so people can survive and thrive. Almost half of the Cuban workforce is defined as middle class, but the worker’s take-home pay is approximately $20 per month. Additionally, technological infrastructure in Cuba is poor, and there is little access to the internet nationwide. Cuba needs basic goods of which the blockade deprives them, such as incubators to care for sick infants and modern engine parts that help prevent airplane crashes.
How Lifting the Embargo Will Help the U.S.
The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act is receiving broad support from members across party lines. Not only will it help Cuban citizens, but it will also help U.S. industry and create jobs. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) helped introduce this legislation. Sen. Klobuchar said in a news release that removing the embargo will provide opportunities to rebuild the U.S. economy after COVID-19 and offer a large export market.
Cuba depends on importing food in order to feed close to 11 million people. Therefore, it is a natural destination for U.S. farmers to export crops to, including soybeans, wheat, rice and corn. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, exports on those crops could increase by 166% to about $800 million over a five-year period. Furthermore, doing business and expanding U.S. relations with the neighboring island nation 90 miles off of the coast of Florida supports strategic interests. Cuba will continue to rely on China, Russia and other countries if the U.S. casts the nation aside.
Another co-sponsor of the act, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) reported that the trade embargo blocks U.S. farmers, ranchers and manufacturers from selling products, while competitors from other countries benefit at the U.S.’ expense. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act will increase opportunities for U.S. producers and offer equal competition in the market with other countries.
The embargo hurts the people of Cuba, and it deprives U.S. producers of what could be an engaged market. The Borgen Project’s action center to call state representatives and tell them to support the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act is one way to promote change. The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act is another excellent example of how fighting poverty opens doors for domestic business interests, builds diplomatic alliances and strengthens national security.
– Alex Muckenfuss