The Boston Globe
By Elizabeth Morrow
April 12, 2009
IN THE midst of economic turmoil at home, President Obama will travel this week to participate in the Summit of the Americas. He will have the opportunity to both strengthen the US economy, and end 50 years of counterproductive foreign policy in Latin America.
The unilateral US embargo of Cuba has not supported democracy there; it has created a useful piece of propaganda used against us. It has not isolated Cuba's government from the rest of the world; it has isolated the United States from Latin America. Though it has undeniably strained the Cuban economy, the strain is disproportionately harder on the Cuban people than the government. Persuasive arguments have been made painting the embargo as alternately a useful diplomatic tool, or a failed Cold War relic. What is clear is that the embargo policy has unquestionably failed us domestically.
Two of the pressing concerns facing the United States are the economy and national/human security. Human security includes environmental security, effective immigration policy, and security in communities: freedom from the presence of organized crime, and safety in homes and schools. The embargo of Cuba directly harms the US economy, and our national and human security.
While the US government refuses to engage in trade with Cuba (though not China, a communist country that unquestionably poses a much greater threat than Cuba and its 11 million inhabitants), firms from Europe, Asia, and Latin America are signing lucrative contracts. Chinese oil companies have signed contracts to drill for oil in Cuban waters; not only are American firms prevented from bidding for these contracts, creating an economic loss, but offshore drilling is extremely risky environmentally. These waters are less than 100 miles from the Florida coast: if US companies were drilling, they would be accountable not only to their shareholders, but also to residents of the Gulf of Florida, who will be affected by any environmental fallout. The same argument can be adapted to construction companies, mining firms, and pharmaceutical outfits operating in Cuba: the self-exclusion of US companies from the Cuban market negatively affects both our economy and our security.
Though economic matters are foremost on many of our minds, we must examine how our policies toward Cuba threaten our national and human security. In direct contrast to our immigration policy with every other nation, a policy referred to as "wet foot, dry foot" determines whether Cubans immigrating illegally are allowed to remain in the United States. This policy is what encourages Cubans to take rafts across the Florida Straits: if they are discovered at sea, they are sent home; if they touch land, even by scrambling onto the beach, they are allowed to stay, and their immigration process is streamlined.
This ridiculous policy distracts the Coast Guard from a more important job preventing smugglers and terrorists from entering the United States by ship and instead engages them in a game of tag with Cubans seeking to immigrate to the United States. It also increases business for human smugglers, who charge huge fees to Cubans trying to make it ashore. It has even led to reported incidents of undocumented people crossing the US border with Mexico on foot, claiming to be Cuban, and therefore protected by the wet foot, dry foot policy. Imagine the ramifications if a terrorist claimed to be an undocumented Cuban and that individual were allowed to simply walk across the border.
The United States cannot afford to maintain its embargo of Cuba, or its reckless immigration policy. We are in an economic crisis, but excluded from a market 90 miles off our coast, while other foreign entities sign lucrative contracts. We endanger the environmental security of the Gulf of Florida by not engaging with Cuba, with whom we share the waters, and instead leave this task to the Chinese. We create a profitable industry for smugglers, and distract the Coast Guard from dealing with the much more dangerous threats posed by drug smuggling and terrorism.
It is time we stop wasting money to enforce restrictions on US travelers and merchants; stop wasting the resources of our Coast Guard; stop encouraging illegal immigration with wet foot, dry foot; start protecting our environment, economy, and our borders; and begin repairing the 50 years of damage done to our relationships in Latin America by ineffective, misguided policies.
Elizabeth Morrow is a graduate student at Tufts University.