Globe editorial

Cuba, sí! Embargo, no!

April 15, 2009
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AMERICA'S policy of trying to quarantine Cuba is the useless vestige of a vanished era. That policy never achieved its Cold War aims of hastening democratic change in Cuba and isolating the Castro regime, and in the two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall it succeeded only in making the United States look foolish to Latin America and the rest of the world. So when President Obama lifted the ban on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans with family there and loosened restrictions on telecommunications providers, the move came as a belated adjustment to historical change.

Monday's ending of travel and spending prohibitions is justifiable on humanitarian, economic, and political grounds. The new policy can lighten the burden of poverty and restricted information for the population in Cuba. Americans with family in Cuba will no longer be hindered from visiting relatives on the island for as long and as often as they like. US telecommunications firms such as AT&T and Verizon will have a chance to compete for business in Cuba, bringing cellphone and Internet service, and satellite radio and TV.

However, Obama's policy change will be meaningful only if it foreshadows complete abolition of the trade embargo against Cuba and elimination of the ban on travel there for all US citizens. If the political objective of Cuba policy is to enable Cubans to see, hear, say, and write whatever they like, then the sooner the old Cold War barriers between them and the United States are brought down, the better.

Today, Cuba's 42,000 hotel rooms are occupied mostly by Canadians, Europeans, Asians, and visitors from other countries in Latin America. Once travel to Cuba becomes legal for all Americans, there will be an influx of US tourists. There will then be a boom not only in the tourist industry but in airline flights between the two countries.

In such a boom, economic activity would ramify throughout the island. US firms would be able to sell their products to a public that is already drawn to US brands. Eventually, this opening to Cuba is bound to result in grass-roots pressure for less state control of the economy, more access to unfiltered information, and a turn toward political pluralism.

If there was any doubt that the Cuban leadership is ready to accept an opening to America and Americans, it should have been put to rest by Fidel Castro, who wrote in a recent newspaper column that dialogue with the United States "is the only way to achieve friendship and peace between peoples." If the aging Cuban revolutionary is ready for a new relationship with the United States, only political inertia can stand in the way of a long-overdue reconciliation.

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