Sergey Ponomarev/AP
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar

GOP Leader Calls for Change in Cuba Embargo

February 24, 2009 12:02 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar has proposed relaxing the economic and commercial embargo on Cuba.

End of Cuban Embargo in Sight?

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed yesterday that the U.S. reconsider its longstanding embargo of Cuba.

The committee issued a report entitled, "Changing Cuba Policy—In the United States National Interest," accompanied by a letter from Lugar that read, “After 47 years ... the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of ‘bringing democracy to the Cuban people,’” CNN reports.

According to the BBC, Lugar also noted that the embargo, “may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished people.”

Although the report does not necessarily advocate an immediate lifting of the ban, it does suggest ending restrictions imposed on travel to Cuba, officially working with the country to control migration and drug trafficking and allowing Cuba to purchase U.S. agricultural products on credit.

Background: Indications of Improving Relationship with U.S.

Many have been critical of the U.S. embargo on Cuba over the years. Last October, the United Nations voted for the seventeenth year in a row to condemn the embargo. Only three countries voted in favor of upholding it—the United States, Israel and Palau. Cuba claims the embargo has cost the country more than $93 billion from its inception in 1962 up until the end of 2007.

It was originally hoped that the embargo would drive communist leader Fidel Castro, then president, to adopt a democratic system.

However, there have been recent indications that a better relationship may develop between Cuba and the U.S., especially under the new administration. For example, in December, Raul Castro proposed a prisoner swap with the U.S., in a “gesture of goodwill,” toward incoming President-elect Barack Obama.

This summer, Obama suggested easing certain restrictions associated with the Cuban trade embargo. A spokeswoman told AP that Obama felt worried that the embargo had a, “profoundly negative impact on the Cuban people, making them more dependent on the Castro regime, thus isolating them from the transformative message carried by Cuban-Americans."

Although Obama has since said that he would maintain the U.S. trade embargo as leverage to call for change in Cuba’s one-party state, he is also open to talks and maintains that he would ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans who travel back and forth to Cuba and send money to relatives living on the Island.

Related Topic: Raul Castro lifts consumer bans

The Cuban government has relaxed restrictions on its own citizens in the last two years; for example, Raul Castro lifted several consumer bans last spring, allowing Cubans to own cell phone and microwaves.

Some believed that Raul Castro’s efforts to allow Cubans more consumer goods were simply a ruse to suggest, but not actually implement, a more comfortable lifestyle: since the average Cuban earns about $17 per week, modern appliances remain out of reach to most.

“Suddenly, there will be a lot more people talking on the phone,” said one Cuban citizen at the time. “But not much else will change.”

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