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The Cuban Embargo and the Perversion of American Values


It would be difficult to find a better example of how the adoption of America’s post–World War II national-security state perverted the morals, principles, and values of the American people than the 54-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba. Now that the issue of lifting the embargo has fully erupted into the political sphere, Americans have an opportunity to question not only the legitimacy of the embargo but, more fundamentally, the entire national-security establishment that was grafted onto America’s political structure as part of the Cold War.

The main reason for lifting the embargo is that it is a direct infringement of the rights and freedoms of the American people. A genuinely free society is one in which people are free to travel wherever they want, associate with whomever they want, spend their money any way they want, and enter into mutually beneficial trans-actions with anyone in the world.

We refer to these fundamental rights by such labels as freedom of travel, freedom of association, freedom of trade, and economic liberty. They are the types of fundamental rights to which Thomas Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence.

Such rights are inherent to every person in the world. They preexist government, and they are unalienable. As Jefferson emphasized, no government, including the U.S. government, has the legitimate authority to infringe on such rights.

Yet that is precisely what the U.S. government has done for the past 54 years with its embargo against Cuba. The embargo infringes the fundamental, God-given rights and freedoms of the American people.

That’s not to say, of course, that the embargo hasn’t also constituted a direct attack on the freedom and well-being of the Cuban people. Of course it has. But it isn’t the Cuban people who are punished by the U.S. government for violating the embargo. It is Americans who are punished severely by their own government for exercising the fundamental, God-given rights of freedom of travel, freedom of association, freedom of trade, and economic liberty.

What happens to an American citizen who travels to Cuba and spends money there? Upon his return to the United States, he is taken into custody by federal marshals, indicted by a federal grand jury, criminally prosecuted in U.S. District Court, and fined and sent to a federal penitentiary, possibly for 10 years.

How is that reconcilable with a free society? It’s not. In fact, it is precisely the type of economic crime that communist and socialist regimes prosecute their citizens for.

That’s one of the principal perversions that the grafting of the U.S. national-security state onto our original governmental structure has brought our nation. As part of the Cold War that the U.S. national-security state waged against America’s World War II partner and ally the Soviet Union, Americans were taught to believe that to fight communism, it was necessary for them to surrender their own fundamental rights and freedoms to the federal government and, in fact, to support totalitarian-like measures on the part of their own government.

The national-security state also stultified and warped the consciences of the American people. In the name of “national security,” the American people were inculcated with the importance of behaving like good, little, deferential citizens, never questioning what U.S. national-security officials were doing to protect “national security” and to “keep them safe” from the communists.

The purpose of the Cuban embargo has always been to inflict maximum economic pain and suffering on the Cuban people. No one, including any official within the U.S. government, has ever believed that the embargo would interfere with whatever lifestyle that Fidel Castro or any of his governmental cohorts desired to maintain. Everyone has understood that, notwithstanding public pronouncements to the contrary, the target of the embargo has always been the Cuban citizenry.

The idea was that if the Cuban people were made to suffer massively enough, they would do what was necessary to oust Fidel Castro from power, either through a violent revolution or a military coup, and install a pro-American ruler in his stead. It never mattered how many people would have to suffer from the embargo. No price has ever been too high for U.S. national-security officials to achieve regime change in Cuba.

We witnessed this same mindset from the U.S. national-security state after the Cold War was over. That occurred during the 11 years of brutal sanctions against Iraq, which, like the embargo in Cuba, squeezed the life out of the Iraqi people. As with Cuba, it never mattered how much suffering had to be endured by the Iraqi people. When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright, the official spokesman for the U.S. government to the world, was asked in 1996 whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been worth it, she replied that while the matter was difficult, yes, the sanctions had in fact been worth it. The Iraqi sanctions continued to contribute to the deaths of Iraqi children for another five years.

American conservatives, who have long been the premier defenders of the Cuban embargo, point out that a principal cause of the economic misery of the Cuban people is Castro’s socialist economic system. That’s certainly true. But the fact is that for more than half a century, the Cuban people have been squeezed between two sides of a statist vise. One side of the vise is Castro’s socialist system. The other side is the U.S. embargo.

Moral questions obviously arise, ones that all too many Americans have avoided for more than 50 years in the name of the anti-communist crusade that was the driving force behind the Cold War: Should the United States be intentionally inflicting economic harm on the citizens of a foreign country as a way to effect regime change in that country? How is inflicting such pain and suffering on innocent people consistent with the Judeo-Christian values that supposedly guide the American people?

Betraying democracy

Defenders of the Cuban embargo say that they just want to bring democracy and civil liberties to Cuba. As soon as the Castro regime agrees to elections and protects civil liberties, they say, the embargo can be lifted.

But that’s patently ridiculous given the national-security state’s longtime, deep-seated antipathy toward democracy and civil liberties.

For one, let’s not forget who was in charge of Cuba before Castro ousted him in the Cuban revolution of 1959. Fulgencio Batista, a cruel and brutal unelected dictator who took power in a coup in 1952, suspended the constitution and canceled civil liberties. He then entered into some sweet deals with the Mafia, one of the world’s most violent and crooked criminal organizations. In the name of anti-communism, Batista censored the press and used his secret police force to torture and murder thousands of innocent people.

Guess where Batista received his financial, logistical, and military support. Yes, the U.S. national-security state — the apparatus that suddenly went all pro-democracy and pro–civil liberties when Castro (and the Cuban people) succeeded in ousting the pro-U.S. dictator Batista from power.

We also would be remiss if we failed to notice the nature of the U.S. national-security state’s prison camp on the southeast corner of Cuba. It’s not exactly a paragon of civil liberties. It is characterized by indefinite detention, torture, kangaroo military tribunals, denial of speedy trial, no jury trials, and other severe violations of civil liberties. Indeed, let’s not forget the specific reason the Pentagon and the CIA established their prison camp on Cuba — to avoid the application of the principles and values in America’s Constitution and Bill of Rights to its prisoners.

Don’t forget also that several years before Castro’s coming to power — 1954 — the national-security state, operating through the CIA, ousted the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, a man whose government had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so.

One year before the Guatemala coup, the CIA engineered a secret coup to oust Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who had been duly elected to the position by the Iranian legislature. The CIA and the U.S. military then proceeded to help their reinstalled pro-U.S. dictator, the shah of Iran, to establish a secret tyrannical internal police force and to train its forces in the techniques of torture, censorship, and oppression. It took the Iranian people 25 years of oppressive tyranny before they finally succeeded in ousting the tyrannical unelected dictator that the U.S. national-security state had put into power.

We also shouldn’t forget Chile in 1973, where the U.S. national-security state destroyed a century-plus-old democratic tradition by engineering the ouster of the democratically elected president of the country, Salvador Allende, and the installation of one of the most brutal (and unelected) military dictators in history, a man whose forces rounded up, raped, tortured, or murdered tens of thousands of innocent people, with the full support and even participation of the U.S. national-security state.

Indeed, let’s not forget the U.S. national-security state’s ardent support of the supremely anti-democratic regime in Egypt, a regime that is one of the most tyrannical in the world today.

The aggressor

There is something important to keep in mind about the Cuban embargo from a moral standpoint: Cuba has never aggressed against the United States. Instead, it has always been the U.S. national-security state that has been the aggressor against Cuba. That’s a fundamental fact that all too many Americans have blocked out of their consciousness and consciences.

Cuba never imposed an economic embargo against the United States. It never invaded the United States. It never attempted to assassinate U.S. officials. It never initiated terrorist strikes or acts of sabotage within the United States.

The U.S. national-security state has done all those things to Cuba, all in name of its anti-communist crusade and regime change.

Where in the Constitution does it authorize the U.S. government to impose sanctions and embargoes against the people of foreign countries? Where does it authorize U.S. officials to assassinate foreign leaders because they are communists or socialists? Where does it authorize a sneak attack on a sovereign and independent nation whose ruler refuses to kowtow to the U.S. military establishment and the CIA? Where does it authorize terrorist attacks and acts of sabotage against foreign regimes that are headed by independent-minded rulers? Where does it authorize regime-change operations against foreign nations? Indeed, where in the Constitution does it authorize the establishment of a Cold War-era national-security apparatus, especially one that has warped and perverted the principles and values of the American people?

Those are the moral and constitutional questions Americans should be asking themselves as the debate over the Cuban embargo continues to unfold.

This article was originally published in the March 2015 edition of Future of Freedom.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.