Monday, October 27, 2008

Cuba and the U.S. Presidential Elections

Cuba Not Hopeful Obama, McCain Will Lift Embargo, Washington Post
For Cubans, U.S. Election Issue is the Embargo, NBC News Worldblog
Cuba-EU Ends Standoff With Cooperation Accord, Associated Press

On October 29, the U.N. will vote on whether to approve Cuba’s resolution calling for the U.S. embargo on Cuba to be lifted. Every year Cuba has asked the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the U.S. embargo, and for the past 16 years, the assembly has approved Cuba's resolution. The embargo costs Cuba an estimated $232 million USD per year in lost foreign investment. Cuba blames the sanctions for more than $93 billion USD in total economic damage since the original imposition of the full embargo in 1962. Cuba is especially vulnerable this year after twin hurricanes Gustav and Ike battered the island in the late summer. The hurricanes killed crops and farm animals and caused an estimated $5 billion USD in damage. Even though the government is distributing the country’s food reserves, approximately 500,000 Cubans are living in government shelters and relying on public handouts to survive.

For Cubans, the issue in the quickly approaching U.S. presidential elections is clearly the half-century trade embargo between the two countries. However, a top official in Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Investment stated it is unlikely the embargo will be lifted in the near future, regardless of whether Barack Obama or John McCain becomes the next U.S. president. Neither candidate has announced a detailed policy toward Cuba. However, Obama has stated he would ease restrictions on family-related travel and on money Cuban-Americans send to their families in Cuba. He also stated he would be willing to meet with Cuban president Raul Castro without preconditions. McCain has called the offer to meet Castro "the wrong signal," but added that he would be willing to ease restrictions if Cuba moves toward democracy. NBC News found that many Cubans are watching the elections closely, and that they are overwhelmingly see Obama as the candidate most wiling to ease restrictions. They relate McCain to President Bush, who has tightened the embargo since 2004.

U.S. companies seem to believe the chances that the U.S. will lift the embargo are slim. From 1999 through 2007, more than 3,500 American business representatives traveled to Cuba without U.S. permission to investigate the possibility of investing in Cuba if U.S. policy changes. Last year, however, only nine U.S. companies visited.

On a more positive note for Cuba, the EU and Cuba ended a standoff on October 23, 2008, that began in 2003 after the Cuban government launched a crackdown and sentenced 75 dissidents to long prison terms. Twenty of the original 75 prisoners have since been released for health reasons. The October 23rd agreement imposes no conditions on Cuba, yet calls for EU members to send Cub 2 million euro ($2.6 million USD) in immediate hurricane recovery aid and up to 30 million euro ($38.8 million USD) more in financing next year.

1) What is your opinion of the U.S. embargo with Cuba? Should restrictions remain the same, be eased, or be completely lifted? Why?
2) Was the EU right in ending its standoff with Cuba without preconditions? Why or why not?

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