Luckily for the United States and the people of Cuba, Fidel Castro is mortal. Soon the dictator will enter his eighth decade of life. When he dies you can expect a rush of Cuban exiles presently in Miami to storm Havana to liberate their homeland. You can also expect Fidels brother and deputy, Raúl, to attempt to carry on his brothers revolution. But however the struggle resolves itself, it is increasingly clear that optimists who predict the complete liberalization of Cuba may be off the mark.
Cubans still have a sense of nationalism that is fueled by an increasingly successful rhetoric which vilifies American imperialism and capitalism. The United States could go a long way in undercutting this rhetoric and quickening Cubas liberalization by repealing its antiquated and ineffective embargo.
The embargo is a relic of the Cold War and while it arguably had a place during that timeCuba received huge significant financial and military support from the USSRit clearly has failed in achieving any sort of regime change in Cuba.
On top of that, the embargo has only harmed the Cuban people. They were the ones who suffered the brunt of the 35 percent drop in GDP when the USSRs financial support disappeared at the end of the Cold War. While Cubas economy has showed some spurts of moderate growth since 1995, it could take off with the added boost of the richest country in the world visiting its beaches, buying its agriculture (most notably sugar), and, of course, smoking its cigars. In fact, prior to the embargo, the United States accounted for nearly 70 percent of Cubas imports and exports. If the embargo were lifted, the world could see a drastic improvement in the average Cubans quality of life, something that surely ought to be encouraged.
Politically there are only advantages to ending the embargo. It would put Castro in a tight spot. He would have to let American money spike GDP growth or he could use his control of the island to block American money. Either scenario is a political win for the United States, which would no longer be the oppressive giant, but the economy bringing remarkable benefits to the Cuban people.
But while ending the embargo would increase trade, benefit Cubans, and increase a positive perception of America amongst Cubans, keeping it has allowed Castro to further vilify the United States. The embargo has enabled Castro to paint America as the party depriving the Cuban people. This has done nothing but further concentrate his power. Also, given the rhetorics increasing success by Latin American leaders like Hugo Chavez and the new Bolivian President Evo Morales, it could end up being the key Castro loyalists use to maintain the status quo following Fidels death.
Changes to the status quo are precisely what the doctor ordered. The constant string of political debacles the Bush administration has created will not make the upcoming transition any easier. Not only has it threatened to veto any legislation lifting the travel ban on Cuba, but last year it appointed a transition coordinator for the post-Castro Cuba. These are nothing but headlines for Castros propaganda machine (and shameful moves to win Florida and its crucial Cuban exiles in the presidential election). For once lets make Castros job hard. Lets force him to be the bad guy (or make the United States the good guy), and in doing so, remove the key that has kept Castro in power, which could keep his disgraceful government from ruling in perpetuity.