The embargo against the island nation of Cuba is more than a half-century old and one of the longest-lasting trade bans in modern times.
It started during the Cold War, when the U.S. canceled its sugar imports from Cuba and halted oil exports. Cubans turned to Soviet crude oil, which American refineries refused to process. Cuba nationalized the refineries, and the freeze was on.
The commercial, financial and economic trade ban that resulted has held all these years, in a failed effort to push Cuba toward democracy. Oddly, that doesn’t mean the U.S. does no business with Cuba. It is, in fact, among the top five exporters to the island, but sales are cumbersome. Cuba is forced to prepay or get credit from a third country. For more than 20 years, the U.N. General Assembly has condemned the embargo as a violation of the U.N. Charter. Human rights groups around the world have protested the embargo and urged the U.S. to drop it.
President Obama, in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, called for an end, at long last, to this nation’s economic punishment of a government with which it disagrees. Such disagreements have not proved insurmountable with other nations. Russia and China enjoy most-favored-nation trading status, and the U.S. even found a way to reach agreement with Iran on nuclear development.
Yet a tiny nation of 11 million people 90 miles off U.S. shores remains something of a pariah. We’ve found ways to bend the embargo, but not break it. It’s time to shed this antiquated holdover from a Cold War that ended so long ago for everyone else. Not only do we do damage to economic possibilities in trade and tourism, we also deny ourselves the chance to show Cuba by example that democracy and free enterprise hold more rewards than closed markets, communism and oppression.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer are among those leading a bipartisan effort to lift the embargo. Doing so could mean millions of dollars in sales for Minnesota and, let’s face it, a handy spot to visit in the winter. Canadians, who normalized relations with Cuba decades ago, take full advantage of Cuba’s tropical climes.
The window for ending the embargo may be closing. The Republican field features not one but two Cuban-American candidates: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom oppose any thawing of relations. Congress will shy away from many issues in an election year. This should not be one of them.