Baseball and politics, like all good things, are even more interesting together. The recently concluded World Baseball Classic slid into politics when the United States made a fuss about allowing the Cuban national team to participate in the games. With the underdog Cubans claiming the runner-up spot in last week’s championship, a spotlight has now been placed on what may well be America’s silliest and most contradictory foreign policy: our continuing trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.
Since Fidel Castro and his communist regime came to power, and especially since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. has restricted commerce with Cuba. Today, it is illegal for a U.S. citizen to travel to Cuba without a special permit, and most monetary transactions fall under an embargo.
Thus, when Major League Baseball, the organizer of the WBC, invited Cuba to participate in the spirit of international good will, the Treasury Department refused, since if the Cubans won, they would receive prize money. When the Cubans agreed to relinquish all rights to the prize money, the U.S. capitulated. The United States made good on the promise to withhold prize money, even with Castro now (in what is undeniably a political maneuver) promising the money to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
This example of U.S. stubbornness in the face of a chance to improve the Cuban-American relationship stands alongside numerous others: families separated by the travel ban, aid workers and missionaries barred from assisting the economically ravaged Cuban people and numerous blocked or slowed opportunities for productive trade between the two countries.
The logic behind the embargo is that any engagement with Cuba supports the Cuban regime; by withholding this support we weaken the regime. In fact, the only people being hurt are Cubans, who suffer from food shortages and a per capita GDP of $3,000.
See how well this policy has worked for the last 43 years: Castro remains popular due to his brave stance against “American imperialism” and he is free to visit human rights abuses upon his helpless citizens, such as constant surveillance of is citizenry and the arrest of political dissidents. And with brazen hypocrisy, the U.S. signs trade agreements with China, arguably both a worse violator of human rights and larger security threat. Meanwhile, China is developing a strong relationship with the Cubans, setting up a client state in our own backyard as trade between the two countries grows dramatically.
The right policy is to get Americans, American money and food to Cuba. The fruits of an economically and politically free society will become the seeds of Castro’s collapse. Cuba could very well become a friendly country, instead of a supporter of the blatantly anti-U.S. Venezuela and the ominously growing world power of China.
Though many Americans favor, at the very least, more trade with Cuba, this policy has not come to pass. Hard-line Cuban exiles control a large voting bloc in the crucial swing-state of Florida, causing presidents of both parties to pander their way toward policy. Hopefully, as the Cuban exile bloc begins to age out of power, or a President with the integrity to stand up for smart policy is elected, we will see renewed relations with Cuba. For the Cuban embargo, it should be 43 years of strikes and you’re out.