At the recent Summit of the Americas, Latin American governments roundly condemned the U.S. embargo on Cuba. — only days after Pope Benedict XVI had added his voice against the embargo.
Speaking at his departure from Havana airport, Benedict said Cuba could build "a society of broad vision, renewed and reconciled," but added that it was more difficult "when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people."
Despite universal criticism, however, the U.S. government has persisted with a policy that has brought it derision not only in Latin America but throughout the world. The lack of benefits of such a policy has been of no concern to several U.S. administrations.
Except for the U.S., Israel and the Marshall Islands — which normally agree on this issue — the whole world condemns U.S. policies on Cuba, perceiving them as having remained unchanged for more than 50 years and as has having brought enormous hardships to the Cuban people. It has enabled the Castro brothers to exert tighter control on the population.
Much can certainly be blamed on the Cuban government, such as repression and imprisonment of political dissenters and failed economic policies. These policies have exacerbated the Cubans' difficult situation, many of whom are living off remittances from relatives overseas.
Despite its shortcomings, the Cuban government has already participated in more than 200 joint ventures with foreign corporations. In Havana, there are offices and representatives from more than 500 companies around the world.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba, which peaked at $710 million in 2008, fell 6 percent in 2011 after a 31 percent decline in 2010, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Although this is a manifestation of the island's financial difficulties, diminished trade with Cuba also deprives the U.S. of the opportunity to place its exports on the island. Younger Cuban Americans don't share the older generation's opinion of the Washington-Havana conflict. If the U.S. administration took steps to end the embargo, it could garner significant support from those Cuban-Americans, once the advantages became clear.
Cubans would not be the only ones to benefit. At a time of scarce and expensive energy resources, Cubapetroleo (CUPET) estimates oil reserves off Cuba's northern coast at 20 billion barrels. Even a smaller amount could alleviate U.S. energy needs. Several oil companies from Spain, Norway, Russia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Canada, Angola, Venezuela and China are lining up to hire a $750 million Chinese-built oil rig to search for oil deposits.
While the U.S. persists with its policy of animosity toward the Cuban government, last July China signed 13 cooperation accords with Cuba and strengthened its economic ties with the island. Those agreements expanded China's traditional investments in Cuba — from energy resources to new areas such as tourism, infrastructure and finance.
Over the past decade, bilateral trade between Cuba and China rose from $440 million in 2001 to more than $1.8 billion in 2010. Cuba is China's most important trade partner in the Caribbean region, and China is Cuba's second-largest partner after Venezuela.
To persist with a policy that hasn't yielded any positive results in 50 years is to follow a sophomoric, destructive course. It is a policy that has caused unnecessary suffering to the Cuban people and hurt American exporters.
Continuing the embargo is a disservice to U.S. long-term interests in the region.
**Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D, a winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on foreign policy issues.