[February 19, 2015] The economic embargo on Cuba by the United States is the longest economic embargo of modern times. Yet throughout its existence, the embargo has been at the center of an emotional controversy and on-going debates. Whether the embargo has been effective is questionable and may begin to ease as the U.S. President removes some limitations.
As students of senior leadership it is interesting to see how the lifting of restrictions by the U.S. President plays out in public. First imposed in 1960, restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba got stronger in the last 20 years … until 2009. With the Republic of Cuba being close geographically to the U.S. mainland and with so many Cuban-Americans, the status of the embargo has generated a vigorous debate on its effectiveness.
Important to the debate are the merits of the embargo and whether it has fulfilled its intent. The U.S. imposed the embargo for several reasons: to punish the Cuban regime for nationalizing U.S. companies without compensation, exporting Communism around the world, supporting and funding terrorism, and for human rights violations. It certainly did punish Cuba but forcing the government to remove its president Castro and Communism did not work.
Many believe that the lifting of embargo restrictions would open Cuba to capitalism and provide a path to improving the regime’s bad behavior. This is a case where the U.S. president has shown some leadership by beginning the effort to open Cuba to capitalism. Will it work? Will Cuba go the way of China and Vietnam that integrated a form of capitalism without giving up Communism? Or, will Cuba become a country much like we in Brazil or Chile? Regardless, such is a very narrow path for Cuba.
What is surprising for the U.S. is that the president did much of this without consulting the U.S. Congress. Remember that an important part of leadership is keeping all stakeholders informed. Not doing so generates mistrust and anger. The U.S. President has a great opportunity to show good leadership on this occasion; let’s hope that he engages everyone openly.
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