May 20, 2002 | Commentary on Foreign Aid and Development
Speaking live and uncensored on Cuban state television, Carter
urged Cuba to join "the community of democracies," explained human
rights as defined by the United Nations Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, and revealed the existence of a petition signed by
more than 11,000 Cubans that calls for a national referendum on
guarantees of human rights and civil liberties.
Yet Mr. Carter also suggested the United States lift its
principled embargo on trade with the regime of dictator Fidel
Castro as a goodwill gesture to restore relations.
He qualified the plea by saying the embargo has not caused
Cuba's economic woes, but he stopped short of identifying the real
culprit-communism. He also stopped short of condemning Cuba as a
sponsor of terrorism that facilitates links between this
hemisphere's subversive groups and international terror
organizations such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
And he naively accepted Castro's assurances that the regime has
not engaged in biological weapons research or transferred such
technology, despite statements by a former Cuban biotechnology
expert that it had sold its expertise to Iran.
Leaving those issues aside, the embargo remains one of the few
instruments the United States has that can promote change on the
island. Critics claim it has produced no results, but then, 43
years of commercial relations between the regime and other nations
around the world hasn't produced much change either. That's because
commerce is possible only with the state, since private enterprise
is illegal in Cuba.
More to the point, now is not the time to lift sanctions.
Castro's Cuba-low on cash-finally seems to be running out of
lenders as well. Soviet subsidies to the island nation dried up in
1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, Castro has
survived by purchasing on credit wherever he could. But last
September, France reportedly halted $175 million in trade when Cuba
failed to pay for commodities purchased in 2000, and other
governments and foreign companies have frozen accounts as
His economy, lacking a market and free enterprise to generate
income, is unable to make good on the arrears. The government's
main export is sugar, but inefficient cultivation and distribution
policies keep it from competing in the world market. Last year,
Cuba's central bank reported a balance of payments deficit of $687
million and an overall foreign debt of $11 billion.
The U.S. embargo limits commerce with Cuba's unelected leaders,
who confiscated property owned by U.S. citizens now worth about $7
billion. Those limits should remain in place until the regime
enacts democratic reforms, agrees to respect human rights and
releases its political prisoners. If the United States eases the
sanctions, such changes definitely won't take place.
If Castro wants money, he should do the right thing: Enact
democratic reforms and agree to respect human rights. Meanwhile,
the United States can encourage an eventual Cuban transformation by
expanding contact with Castro's captives and offering a combination
of carrots and sticks to nudge the regime toward freedom of choice.
To that end, the Bush Administration should:
Former President Carter was right to tell Cubans their country
is isolated without true democracy and human rights. But lifting
the trade embargo will remove the only incentive Castro has to
reform. Instead, the United States should cultivate closer
relations with ordinary Cubans, support those struggling for
freedom and prod the dictatorship to loosen its grip.
Johnson is policy analyst for Latin America at The Heritage
Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire