Our attempt to export our brand of democracy to Cuba is misguided. A society that has free education, health care, and virtually no homelessness, together with an engaged citizenry, should not be punished.
I recently returned from an educational trip to Cuba with Pastors for Peace, an organization leading visits to Cuba for 29 years. While Cuba is going through historic political and economic transitions, the U.S. continues to impose a devastating trade and travel blockade as it has for nearly 60 years since the Cuban revolution.
The consequences of the failed embargo and blockade policy and congressional acts are seriously detrimental to both countries. The reversal of President Barack Obama’s softening of relations by President Donald Trump will only lead Cuba toward other partnerships with Europe, Russia and China.
We should not let past historical differences guide our future actions. We are not pursuing regime change in North Korea — why do we continue it toward Cuba? Where is the threat?
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In 1982, as a graduate student at MIT, I studied People’s Power and the grass-roots democracy that exists for governments and in workplaces in Cuba. Seeing the maturing of these democratic systems years later was impressive. The commitment to their socialist transition seems stronger than ever. And, with a continued scarcity of resources, the Cuban resiliency and ability to create a more shared economy and egalitarian society is remarkable.
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Cuba is further opening its economy and political systems through its proposed constitutional changes. The consultation process on the constitutional changes is reaching all levels of society. Over a three-month span. more than 7 million Cubans (out of approximately 11 million citizens) gathered at nearly 112,000 meetings at workplaces, schools and community centers across the island to comment on a 224-article draft of a new Cuban constitution. Neighborhood groups meet and give feedback to the proposed constitutional which moves back through all levels of government.
On our trip, we met with a set of interfaith representatives from many religions in Cuba. We met with members of the LGTBQ community. We reviewed changes to the proposed constitution for opening private property, same-sex marriage and guarantees for foreign investment.
I left with the thought that under the threat of climate change, Cuba is much better positioned to respond and take care of its most vulnerable populations than the U.S. or other developed countries both with a preventive climate-adaptation plan it is implementing and the responsiveness of its health-care system.
More import are the potential benefits to both of our countries:
- Cuba imports nearly 60-80 percent of its food and can open a $2 billion agricultural market with the U.S. In a first major overture from Congress in 20 years, the 2018 Farm Bill provides for a new opening for agricultural trade with Cuba.
- Cuba wants clean energy and needs $3.5 billion to develop it.
- Cuba’s preventive- and primary-care systems are a model health-care system in the world — drugs to treat cancer and diabetes fail to reach U.S. markets.
- Cuba is positioned with its higher-education system to become an innovation hub in the important Caribbean region.
- On an agricultural cooperative we visited, its coffee plantation was partnering with Italy, not the U.S.
Lives are being lost as a result of the blockade: A lack of parts for aircraft engines has indirectly led to an airplane crash, and there is a lack of incubators to help care for ill babies. And Cuba has drugs for cancer and diabetes treatment that could save lives in America.
Trade is about jobs and healthy markets in bilateral relations. Unfortunately, our failed policy toward Cuba and the tariffs and trade wars with many of our trading partners have left workers and companies with fewer jobs and raised prices for goods across our economy. Cuba struggles with an average wage of about $30 per month and suffers from a short supply of housing. Telecommunications and the internet that we take for granted are slowly coming on line.
Cuba continues to live with an occupied base in Guantánamo Bay, but it still operates in a defensive, not offensive, posture with the U.S. Of course, past actions of acquiring private property of U.S. nationals should be addressed. Just as the U.S. took property from Japanese Americans during World War II, reparations should be negotiated.
Our attempt to export our brand of democracy to Cuba is misguided. A society that has free education, health care and virtually no homelessness, together with an engaged citizenry, should not be punished. The democratic changes and the historic transitions taking place in Cuba need the U.S. to become a partner, not a continued enemy, of Cuba. This is an important opportunity that we will lose without additional congressional action. The time is now to take greater steps to partner with Cuba and create security and benefits throughout the United States and the Caribbean region.