In Part 1, I noted that the Cuban embargo, now in its 51st year, serves no real purpose in terms of limiting Cuban access to American products. Furthermore, the continuing embargo is detrimental to the best economic and political interests of the US and American businesses. In responding to the false Republican claims that Obama is bad for business, the Obama Administration could simply declare an end to the embargo and take away all restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. In response to the ensuing loud uproar, the Administration's response would be very simple: "Ending the embargo is a business decision, made to improve the balance of trade, to open up markets to American companies, to respond to competition from China, and to reduce the deficit. Yes, there are some political issues to address, but the time is long past to work toward normalizing relationships with Cuba."
In Part 1, I noted that the Cuban embargo, now in its 51st year, serves no real purpose in terms of limiting Cuban access to American products. Back in the Soviet era, which ended more than 20 years ago, it was somewhat easier to limit access to products, but globalization makes many products available to anyone anywhere as long as you have the money. Also, wealthy Cubans can obtain such products from other countries, if not directly, then by having visiting friends buy them and bring them in. Wearing a pair of Nike shoes in Havana is a not-so-subtle indicator that you are part of the Cuban 1%.
My key point, though, is that the continuing embargo is detrimental to the best economic and political interests of the US and American businesses. If I were the CEO of a global company, I would want the opportunity to sell my products everywhere. I don't understand why the chief executives of Pepsi, GM, GE, Boeing, HP, Levi Strauss, Apple, Procter and Gamble, Hilton, and other large companies are not pressing the Secretaries of State, Commerce, and Treasury to remove these outdated restrictions.
Just to push on one example, Cubans had a longstanding love affair with American cars, and the streets of their cities are filled with classic American cars, mysteriously held together. During the Soviet era, the Ladas (Russian-built Fiats) and Moskviches uglified the scene. Now the new cars are Korean, Japanese, French, and even Chinese, including the deadly Zhongxing SUV. But I'm willing to bet that there's a good potential market for GM and Ford products there. The Ford Focus, for example, would match up very well against the other cars there.
In any event, the Chinese are now filling a big part of the role formerly played by the Soviet Union, establishing a strong economic base in Cuba, and investing heavily. I rode around the country in the new Yutong buses, which are used by the Viazul bus system and by tour operators. The Chinese have also built the biggest theme park in Cuba, along with a Coney Island-style amusement park. Just as the US was [justifiably] concerned about the Soviet presence just 90 miles away, it's time for the US to think about the strong and growing Chinese presence in Cuba, and for us to compete economically with them. That means ending the embargo and starting to talk about trade issues, even if nothing happens until the Castros are gone.
Yes, the Miami Cubans will complain loudly, since some of them still think that they will be able to move back into their nationalized or abandoned mansions in Havana's Miramar district. But they aren't going to vote for Obama or any other Democrat anyway, so their votes are not important politically. Any sums of money that they might contribute to Republicans are dwarfed by the huge sums from the right wing SuperPACs, so there is no reason to continue appeasing them. (I say this as someone who was in school in Coral Gables, Florida, at the time of the Cuban revolution.)
Yes, people will argue that we shouldn't be doing business with the Castro brothers and their anti-American rhetoric. But we do business with characters and countries who are no better (and perhaps worse). Where would you put Cuba on a scale that includes Saudi Arabia, China, Khadafi's Libya, and Mubarak's Egypt? Following the example of Nixon's ping-pong diplomacy, maybe we could start with a home-and-home baseball series between Havana's Industriales team and an American MLB team. It could easily be arranged when both countries in London for the Olympics.
Of course, there is a political element to this suggestion. The Republicans, their candidates, and their loudest mouthpieces (Faux News, WSJ, Rush, Rove, etc.) have been saying that the Obama Administration doesn't understand business and that he is to blame for the growing deficit. While none of this is true, their hyperbole provides a great opportunity. The Obama Administration could simply declare an end to the embargo and take away all restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. In response to the ensuing loud uproar, the Administration's response would be very simple: ending the embargo is a business decision, made to improve the balance of trade, to open up markets to American companies, to respond to competition from China, and to reduce the deficit. That statement would take away a big part of the Republican counterargument, and the Dems could just keep saying, "It's just good business, not a political issue."
My biggest misgiving about ending the embargo is the risk to Cuba's ability to preserve its identity and culture in the onslaught of American business interests. I don't want to see McDonald's in Habana Vieja, nor to see American entertainment diminish the local culture. It would be a big challenge to control the business interests once they are unleashed, but the embargo has lasted much too long already, and its continuation is no longer in the best interests of the US.