Fifteen years ago, I visited Cuba with the permission of both the U.S. government and the Cuban government. In the course of interviewing academic and educational organizations at the University of Havana, I was extremely surprised to discover a group of libertarians there.
I also asked them the following question: If the U.S. government were to unilaterally lift its embargo against Cuba, how would Fidel Castro react?
Without any hesitation, they told me that Castro would immediately come up with internal measures that would prevent Americans from flooding onto the island. They said that the embargo was Castro’s best friend, not only because it provided him with something on which to blame Cuba’s economic woes, it also prevented Americans from freely traveling to Cuba and possibly influencing Cubans in a pro-freedom direction.
When President Obama recently announced a normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, the automatic assumption was that after decades of bashing the embargo, the Castro brothers would welcome the lifting of the embargo. I’m not convinced of that. Like those Cuban libertarians, I think it’s entirely possible that the Castro brothers are on the same page as those statists here in the United States who are objecting to the lifting of the embargo. I think it’s possible that the Castro brothers might be cleverly maneuvering and manipulating U.S. officials to ensure that that the embargo will remain in place.
Consider an article entitled “So How’s That Cuba Deal Going?” by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, which details many obstacles that Cuban officials are placing in the path of a lifting of the embargo.
One demand that the Cubans are making is that the U.S. recognize state-run community groups as nongovernmental agencies. O’Grady suggests that these might include “the notorious ‘committees to defend the revolution,’ which exist to enforce repression by spying on the neighbors.” (Of course, given that governmental spying on citizens (e.g., the NSA) is something that the U.S. government believes in, the Castro brothers might not find that that particular demand is any big deal.)
Another demand is that the U.S. end its program for Cuban doctors who seek asylum as they are working in Third World programs. Other demands include a unilateral lifting of the embargo, a return of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, stopping radio and television transmissions into Cuba, and reparations for 50 years of the embargo.
Does all that sound like people who want the embargo lifted, which can only be done by Congress? Or does it look like people who are making demands that they know will never be granted by Congress? After all, what are the chances that Congress is going to award Cuba embargo reparations?
My hunch is that the Castro bothers might just be on the same page as those American statists who oppose lifting the embargo.
That shouldn’t be too surprising. For one thing, many of the Cuban-Americans who came to the United States did not abandon their statist views on arrival. They remained statists. Their goal has always been to return to Cuba, oust the Castros from power, and install a pro-U.S. dictator to take their place, much like Fulgencio Batista, the crooked, corrupt, brutal pro-U.S. dictator who preceded Castro as ruler of Cuba.
For another thing, most of the people opposing lifting the embargo are conservatives — that is, people who don’t have a principled commitment to the principles of economic liberty, notwithstanding their popular conservative mantra “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”
Keep in mind, after all, that the embargo is not just as attack on the economic well-being of the Cuban people, it is also an attack on the economic liberty of the American people. This is what conservatives just don’t get or don’t care about. The U.S. government doesn’t put Cubans in jail for violating the embargo. It puts American citizens into jail for violating the embargo.
As libertarians understand, people have the natural, God-given right to travel wherever they want and to spend their money any way they want. The embargo is a direct infringement on these fundamental, God-given rights — the type of rights to which Thomas Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence. If an American travels to Cuba and spends money there, he will be jailed and fined by his very own government.
That’s also what the Cuban government does to Cuban citizens who violate Cuba’s economic crimes. It’s just another example of how the U.S. government, thanks to conservatives and, in this case, Cuban-Americans who have imported their statist beliefs into our country, have moved our country down the road to statism — in the name of battling statism.
The libertarian position? The U.S. government shouldn’t negotiate with Cuban officials on anything. No demands. No conditions. Just do the right thing. Lift the embargo unilaterally. It is morally wrong to intentionally inflict economic harm on people for political ends. Moreover, the natural, God-given rights of the American people should not be held hostage to demands and conditions issued by Cuban officials or, for that matter, the statism of American conservatives and Cuban-Americans.