*This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông on 2 October 2011. It was reported by Bạch Vân.
HAVANA, Cuba—U.S. President Barack Obama has rejected lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba; however he has refused to close a U.S. military base on the island.
“What we’ve tried to do is send a signal that we are open to a new relationship with Cuba if the Cuban government starts taking the proper steps to open up its own country,” U.S. President Obama said on 28 September 2011 at a roundtable on Hispanic issues. “Provide the space and the respect for human rights that would allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny.”
In 1960, the United States placed a commercial, economic, and financial embargo on Cuba after the island took major steps toward becoming communist. However, the embargo did not become U.S. law until 1992.
Since then, the embargo has been extended to keep American businesses from doing business with Cuba, creating upset among U.S. businesses who believe non-U.S. businesses engaging in business with Cuba will have a head start should the ban ever be lifted.
Every year since 1992 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, as well as other critics, has criticized the United States for the embargo, believing the embargo to be behind increased health and economic issues on the island.
“The embargo is the perfect example used by anti-Americans everywhere to expose the hypocrisy of a superpower that punishes a small island while cozying to dictators elsewhere,” according to writer and columnist Mr. Moisés Naím.
In a state-run media column, former Cuban President Fidel Castro wrote, “Many things will change in Cuba, but they will change by our own effort and in spite of the United States.”
“Maybe before that empire falls,” he continued.
At first glance, as Cuba is an authoritarian country, should the United States keep its embargo on Cuba?
Brief history of Cuba
Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean, located south of Florida, east of Mexico, north of Jamaica and northwest of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Before Spanish colonization, Cuba was home to the Native American Taino, Guanajatabey, and Ciboney people, who are believed to have been farmers, fishers, and hunter-gatherers. Their ancestors are believed to have migrated from North, Central, and South America.
In 1492, Mr. Christopher Columbus claimed the island as the Kingdom of Spain.
As was similar in most of the Western Hemisphere, the Spaniards introduced disease to the Native American people on the island. Not having acquired immunity to such disease, many of them died.
To supplement the work of building a colony, or Kingdom, the Spaniards brought Africans to Cuba as slaves, contributing to the cultural diversity that would season the island with flavor.
Cuba went from being a territory of Spain to being claimed by the United States after the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. However, in 1902 Cuba became formally independent of the United States.
There was one catch though. Under Cuba’s new constitution, the United States would be allowed to intervene in Cuba’s affairs and monitor the island’s finances and foreign relations.
The Platt Amendment, still recognized today, allowed the United States to lease the Guantanamo Bay naval base from Cuba.
For nearly 60 years, there was turmoil within Cuba, as some citizens wanted independence without interference from the United States and others enjoyed benefits of the connection with the United States.
There were coups, exiles, and corruption as a result, while the gap between the rich and poor became wider.
In 1953, Mr. Castro began leading an armed resistance called the Cuban Revolution, resulting in a new revolutionary government in 1959.
Private property was taken and the country became nationalized. The state controlled all media.
Teachers and professors who did not strongly believe in the revolution were taken out of their jobs, jailed, and/or joined an estimated 15,000 to 17,000 people executed.
Dissenters were imprisoned, while homosexuals, people practicing religion, and others were sent to “re-education” labor camps. At least hundreds of thousands of Cubans left the country in efforts to escape, some of them by boat.
There are over one million Americans of Cuban descent living in the United States.
Mr. Castro became the leader of the Communist Party, dodging multiple assassination attempts and ruling the island until 2008 when he announced his resignation. His brother, Mr. Raul, was elected President.
Under the Cuban government, Mr. Raul is opposed to the Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) naval base, claiming the lease goes against international law. However, the U.S. government believes otherwise.
The lease agreement was made permanent in 1902, unless both governments agree to terminate it or if the United States abandons it.
Despite U.S. President Obama’s vow to close the base, Gitmo remains open.
Since 2002, Gitmo has been home to a military prison used for hundreds of civilians who allegedly participated in armed conflict, captured by U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prisoners are believed to be severely tortured and mistreated at Gitmo, sometimes even murdered.
One Gitmo prisoner, Mr. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, has been accused of orchestrating a deadly bombing attack on a U.S. naval ship in 2000.
Mr. Nashiri faces the death penalty, although he claims he confessed to the bombing after being repeatedly tortured while in U.S. custody.
In 2009, President Obama used executive orders, directing the CIA to shut down Gitmo’s military prison within a year.
However, he has extended the deadline and there are reports that President Obama could issue another executive order keeping some prisoners detained indefinitely.
Thought to consider
Should the United States keep Gitmo open on an island it accuses of human rights abuses, especially as the United States is being accused of the same abuses?