WASHINGTON, April 14, 2013 — It is not unusual to see a story dominate the attention of the public when it combines politics and celebrities, and that is precisely what happened this week after photos of hip hop couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé surfaced in Cuba celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary.
With the long and complicated history that Cuba has with its neighbors, outrage immediately began pouring in. Conservatives didn’t hesitate to play politics with the incident. Florida Senator Marco Rubio claimed that the couple’s vacation was used for “propaganda purposes.” Rubio wasn’t the only Florida representative to issue a statement of condemnation. U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart issued a letter to the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control to demand more “information regarding the type of license that Beyoncé and Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel.” The Treasury Department later confirmed that the couple’s trip was legal.
Ironically, largely absent in the national outrage and coverage of the trip is discussion of the 51 year embargo and U.S. policy towards Cuba. Any possibility of a productive debate on the U.S. embargo was further lost after the release of Jay-Z’s “open letter” to his critics. The hip hop mogul’s song quickly went viral, and was broached by a reporter during a White House press briefing with Jay Carney. Carney’s remarks about the song, “I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury,” further distracted from a productive debate on the embargo.
America’s embargo against the Cuban government has been in effect with the objective of ousting the Castros from power. After more than 50 years, the embargo can be deemed ineffective at weakening Cuba’s autocratic regime. Future of Freedom Foundation head Jacob Hornberger noted that the embargo did succeed in strengthening the government of Cuba while simultaneously hurting its citizenry: “In the beginning, U.S. officials said the same thing they always say when they’re imposing sanctions on foreign regimes — that they have no intent to target the citizenry but only the dictator. But after decades of experience with sanctions, everyone knows that the dictator gets along fine notwithstanding the sanctions. It’s the citizenry who pay the price. In fact, as both Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro learned, the U.S. sanctions against their countries actually helped them to centralize their power.”
Despite the embargo, behind the scenes Cuba and the U.S. are working together on different matters. Cuba’s government has been cooperative with officials in extraditing kidnappers, murderers, and child molesters back to the states. They also work together to intercept suspicious boats. Even on controversial issues like the U.S. use of Guantanamo Bay, the two militaries hold occasional joint exercises to prepare for the possibility of emergencies.
Before launching a bid for the White House, Obama believed that the embargo should be lifted, citing its ineffectiveness in ousting the Castro regime. However, once he began his campaign for president, Obama quickly adopted the consensus from Washington’s hawks that the embargo should remain intact.
Another former U.S. Senator who now serves as Obama’s Secretary of Defense had also called for the lifting of the embargo. In 2008 Chuck Hagel correctly noted the hypocrisy of trading with other communist nations while continuing the embargo: “It’s always been nonsensical to me about this argument, ‘Well, it’s a communist country, it’s a communist regime.’ What do people think Vietnam is? Or the People’s Republic of China? Both those countries are WTO members. We trade with them. We have relations. Great powers engage … Great powers are not afraid. Great powers trade.” He went on to label Fidel Castro a “toothless old dinosaur.”
The media’s coverage has distracted from a potentially productive debate on the futility of U.S. policy towards Cuba. Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s vacation is not the first incident where a musician’s visit to the island has sparked controversy. Supporters of the embargo are correct when they cite the suppression of human rights and the brutality that Castro has inflicted upon his own people. However, the lifting of the embargo should not be seen as appeasement of a dictatorial regime, but as an attempt to provide greater economic freedom to both American and Cuban citizens to travel and spend their money where they desire.
Some in Florida are beginning to recognize the uselessness of the embargo. Recently, Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor returned from a fact finding mission in Cuba to urge the Obama Administration to begin relaxing some of the restrictions that have been imposed. Many other notable figures have previously come together to call for America to reverse its restrictions on Cuba. The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis ended decades ago, and the lessons from those international conflicts is that diplomacy should always be the first option in solving issues of foreign policy rather than sanctions or military action.
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