Easing Sanctions = More Repression

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Easing Restraints on Castro Dictatorship Has Meant More Repression

Damien Cave of The New York Times has written an article titled "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo" The essence of the anti-sanctions position in the story is made by Carlos Saladrigas:

“Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hard-liners,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which advocates engagement with Cuba. “What we should be doing is helping the reformers.”

The thesis put forth by Mr. Saladrigas is that lifting sanctions would weaken and dissuade hardliners while helping reformers. Over the past four years the Obama Administration has loosened economic sanctions in Cuba. If  Mr. Saladrigas's argument is correct then one should see that reformist elements in the regime are asserting themselves and winning policy discussions. That has not been the case. On the human rights front the situation has deteriorated.

Furthermore looking beyond Cuba to China, Vietnam and Burma one is presented with a cautionary tale on lifting sanctions unconditionally. In China and Vietnam the United States lifted sanctions unconditionally and have de-linked human rights considerations from economic considerations. The result has been a deterioration of human rights standards in both countries. On the other hand in Burma where sanctions were maintained the military junta, after years of trying to manipulate its way out from under them has had to recognize the political opposition and provide a space for them in Burma's parliament. Things are still far from perfect but there is hope that serious and permanent reforms are underway. The ability of Aung San Suu Kyi to travel in and out of her country and run for public office is a positive sign. The ability for an independent press to begin to operate in Burma following decades of systematic censorship and control is another positive sign.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been clear about the importance of sanctions and of confronting those that would engage the dictatorship of Burma at the expense of the human rights of the Burmese people:

Investment that only goes to enrich an already wealthy elite bent on monopolizing both economic and political power cannot contribute toward égalité and justice — the foundation stones for a sound democracy. I would therefore like to call upon those who have an interest in expanding their capacity for promoting intellectual freedom and humanitarian ideals to take a principled stand against companies that are doing business with the Burmese military regime. Please use your liberty to promote ours.

What have we witnessed in Cuba over the past four years? The death under suspicious circumstances of national opposition figures such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo on October 14, 2011 and Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas on July 22, 2012. Increased violence and detentions of nonviolent activists. An American citizen arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for attempting to provide internet access to the local Jewish community in Cuba. The Obama Administration has continued its policy of extending a hand to the Cuban regime and has little to show for it except more repression and the deaths of high profile activists. There is no reason to suppose that further unilateral concessions will lead to a different outcome.

Prominent Cuban American businessmen have spoken out against unconditionally lifting sanctions in Cuba stating "that, absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime." They share the same position as Aung San Suu Kyi which is that it is unprincipled for companies to do business with a dictatorship. Things are improving in Burma on the human rights front while worsening in China and Vietnam. Linking human rights with economic engagement has been a winning formula in Burma and can be so as well in Cuba.