NEW YORK — An open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama:
Dear President Obama:
Like many people around the world, I am heartened by your re-election, which I see as an opportunity to continue and improve on your social policies.
As you know, relations among nations many times have a psychological connection, aside from their obvious historical one. Because of that, relations among or between nations can contribute to the creation either of a climate of antagonism and war or of cooperation and peace. Nowhere is this truer than in the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Mainly because of internal political considerations, both countries have chosen the path of antagonism. While the influence of the Cuban lobby in Florida dictates U.S. policy toward the island country, keeping alive the antagonism with the U.S. agglutinates the Cuban people's support for the Castro brothers.
The commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed by the U.S. on Cuba has been the U.S. response to Cuba's nationalization of U.S. citizens and corporations' properties in that country. The U.S., which now holds $6 billion worth of financial claims against the Cuban Government, states that this is the appropriate response to these claims. This is a position that is not universally accepted.
As you know, Mr. President, the trade embargo against Cuba, the most enduring in modern history, has been strongly criticized not only by those sympathetic to the Cuban regime but also by many leading U.S. officials and legislators.
In 2005, George P. Schultz, secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, called the continuing embargo "insane." The late Sen. Edward Kennedy said in 2007, "I believe the idea of isolating Cuba was a mistake ... It has been ineffective. Whatever the reasons and justifications may have been at the time, now they are invalid."
Reflecting on what is now widespread sentiment, former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart stated in March 2011: "Future students of American history will be scratching their heads about this case for decades to come. Our embargo and refusal to normalize diplomatic relations has nothing to do with communism. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, with China since Nixon, and with Vietnam despite our bitter war there.
"No, Cuba was pure politics. Though it started to be a measure of an administration's resistance to Castro's politics, it very soon became a straight-jacket whereby first-generation Cuban-Americans wielded inordinate political power over both parties and constructed a veto over rational, mature democracy."
Former President Jimmy Carter says anti-Castro leaders in Florida have a major and exaggerated influence on the presidential election in that battleground state. Carter, who has been a severe critic of U.S. policy on Cuba, also said that he thinks most Cuban-Americans now want open borders and an end to the trade embargo.
By an overwhelming majority, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned the embargo as a violation of international law every year since 1992. On Nov. 13, 2012, for the 21st time, the General Assembly again condemned the embargo, 188-3 with 2 abstentions. Only Israel and Palau sided with the U.S.
The embargo against Cuba has proven to be one the most inefficient political measures ever taken by the U.S. against any country. It has only gained the U.S. universal condemnation and has not forced the Castro brothers to change any of their policies. At the same time, the new generations of Cuban-Americans see the embargo as an anachronistic measure that brings them no positive return.
During one of my visits to Cuba on U.N.-sponsored health-related missions, I had the opportunity to talk to a 22-year-old Cuban who opposed the Castro regime. "Americans don't get it," he told me, "they can get much more with Levi jeans than with the embargo or with the military invasion of our country."
This, I found later, is the opinion of many Cubans who, despite the embargo, are very fond of Americans. They consider the embargo a political measure that doesn't respond to the wishes of the American people.
I found their attitude very surprising, because they didn't seem to be equally fond of Russians, even at the time the Soviet Union was substantially helping them.
Mr. President, with your renewed mandate, this is the time to change paradigms, too. Your administration could spearhead a movement to re-establish normal relations with Havana.
The world today, besieged by violence and war, will welcome a change of policy that until now has only hurt the Cuban people, alienated U.S. allies, and drastically curtailed U.S. commercial opportunities with that island nation.
Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is a winner of the Overseas Press Club of America Award for an article on human rights.