Is The U.S. Close to Ending the Cuban Embargo?

For the first time in 15 years, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce met with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro last month to analyze investment possibilities and the reforms implemented by the regime. Thomas Donohue says he went to Cuba to “support” the opening of the island.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the open lobbyists that push for the end of all trade restrictions between the United States and the Caribbean island. Cargill, the largest grain trader in the world, also supports an end to the embargo.

These big players, combined with a consensus of big American think tanks — such as the American Enterprise Institute — that the embargo should come to an end because “it did not work,” as well as the support of U.S. President Barack Obama, generate a major expectation that this is likely to happen.

The only impediment now, according to specialists, is Congress.

“One should read the Helms Burton Bill of 1996 as well as the Toricelli Act of 1992. Only an act of Congress can lift the used policies toward the island,” Nelson Valdes, a professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico and an expert on the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, explained during an interview for IVN.

Most Americans already opposed the embargo, and younger Cubans living in the United States now do as well. According to a study from Florida International University, 62 percent of Cuban-Americans between 18-29 oppose continuing the embargo that the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1962.

Fifty-eight percent of Cubans who came to the United States since 1995 share this opinion, according to the survey. It is the seventh that FIU has taken since 1991.

According to Gustavo Grisa, associate of Agência Futuro and an economist with an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management, U.S. companies aim to have a strategic position for the next 20 to 30 years as they anticipate an end to the embargo and institutional change. Grisa states that Cuba offers major economic potential because of its location.

“The great economic potential in Cuba is its logistics and potential as a trade hub and services to the U.S., Central America, and North America, 90 miles away from the coast of the United States,” Grisa said in an interview. “Hypothetically, Cuba could be an Ibero-American economic enclave adjacent to North America in a scenario of gradual economic liberalization, which is what seems to be the desire of its government and elite.”

Nelson Valdes adds that the logistics could be helpful for deflation in the United States.

“Agricultural companies still cannot buy from Cuba, nor invest. Agricultural companies know that they could buy oranges as well as bananas that they could then be sold in winter time rather than go all the way to Ecuador to secure the supplies,” he responded when asked about the possible interests of Cargill and other agricultural giants.

The criticism on the issue, on the other hand, is still big.

Humberto Fontova, one of the most influential Cubans in the United States, believes that lifting the embargo would be a very bad measure for the future of Cuba. He deems that this would strengthen state-run companies and, therefore, the Cuban regime.

Fontova points out that the trade restrictions are circumvented and the U.S./Cuba trade is bigger now than it was in 1959. He believes that the regime survived so far because of significant support from old allies like the USSR — more recently by Venezuela — and trade with other nations like Spain, Brazil, and Canada.

“For three decades, the Soviet Union was forced to pump the equivalent of almost ten Marshall Plans,” Fontova writes in his new book, The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro.

Recently, Cuba inaugurated the new Mariel port, which was constructed with a $682 million loan from Brazil’s National Social and Economic Development Bank (BNDES). The port is expected to replace Havana as Cuba’s most important trade hub and may be a major competitor to the Panama Canal.

The economic potential of the new port may have a major impact on the future of U.S. policy toward the Castro regime and Cuba.

Photo retrieved from State.gov.