More than 50 years after the U.S. government’s imposition of its brutal economic embargo against the Cuban people, yesterday’s announcement by President Obama calling for a lifting of the embargo represents a major breakthrough for libertarians and others who are committed to the principles of individual liberty, free markets, private property, liberty of contract, freedom of travel, and freedom of association.
In fact, the shift in Obama’s position is a testament to the power of ideas on liberty and the importance of perseverance. For decades—and especially since the end of the Cold War — libertarians and some progressives and conservatives have been calling for a lifting of the embargo. Our efforts have always appeared to some as tilting at windmills. It will never happen, detractors said.
After all, the national-security branch of the government — i.e., the Pentagon and the CIA — have been steadfastly opposed to the lifting of the embargo. Still chafing over the humiliation dealt the CIA at the Bay of Pigs, the failure of the CIA’s many assassination attempts against Castro, and the promises made by President Kennedy to not invade Cuba as part of the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the national-security establishment has never lost hope that the embargo would bring regime change to Cuba.
In fact, it’s remarkable that Obama is even taking such a radical change in direction without the apparent consent of the national-security establishment. Maybe he feels that this is the time to strike — while the CIA is reeling over its torture scandal. Of course, the CIA must feel some sort of gratitude given that Obama’s historic action has taken the CIA’s torture scandal off the front pages of the mainstream press.
As we have pointed out here at FFF for our entire 25-year history, there was never any real moral basis for the embargo.
For one thing, the embargo has always been a severe infringement on the fundamental rights and liberties of the American people. That’s what conservatives, who have long supported the embargo, could never get or, if they did get it, didn’t care about. All that mattered to them was to get rid of a communist regime, no matter what the cost, a regime that never attacked the United States, assassinated any American, or initiated terrorist attacks on American soil.
Under libertarian principles of liberty, people have the right to do whatever they want with their own money. They also have the right to travel wherever they want, including Cuba, and to associate with anyone they want, including Cubans. They have a right to engage in economic enterprise anywhere they want, including Cuba, and with whomever they want, including Cubans.
Fundamental rights, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, are rights that preexist government. They are natural or God-given. No government — not even the U.S. government —can legitimately infringe upon them.
Yet, that is what the Cuban embargo did — in the name of fighting communism. The U.S. government chose to embrace communist or socialist methods — i.e., governmental infringement on the economic liberties of the American people — in the hope of bringing regime change to Cuba. Don’t forget: Under the embargo, if an American spends money in Cuba without the official permission of the U.S. government, he goes to jail here, not there.
Second, the embargo was a cruel and brutal measure that used the Cuban people as pawns in the U.S. government’s hope of ousting Fidel Castro, and later his brother, from power and installing another pro-U.S. dictator in their stead, such as Fulgencio Batista, the corrupt and brutal pro-U.S. Cuban dictator who preceded Fidel Castro.
Throughout the embargo, U.S. officials have professed a love for the Cuban people, assuring us that they just want to bring freedom and democracy to the Cuban people.
Balderdash! They couldn’t have cared less for the Cuban people. They used the embargo as one side of a vise — the other side being Castro’s socialist system — that was intended to squeeze the lifeblood out of the Cuban people — to impoverish them or even starve them to death in the hopes that Castro would voluntarily abdicate, the Cuban military would oust him in a coup, or the Cuban people would rise up and violently overthrow the Castro regime, losing tens of thousands of people in the process.
But it never happened. The embargo just kept going on and on, inflicting misery and suffering, while the Castro brothers kept going on and on as well.
What the U.S. national-security establishment has never understood is that while the Cuban people aren’t enamored with Castro’s socialist system, they love, revere, and respect him for standing up to the U.S. government and refusing to become a lackey of the U.S. national-security establishment. That’s why, in fact, they didn’t rally to the CIA’s forces that invaded at the Bay of Pigs, Cubans would rather live under Cuban socialism than under U.S. imperialism.
Third, there is also the big element of hypocrisy here. The Cold War, which was the original justification for the embargo, ended almost 25 years ago. The U.S. government has established formal relations with Russia and China and, for that matter, Vietnam, the country run by the communist regime that killed some 58,000 American men in the Vietnam War. Indeed, the Pentagon is even trying to establish one of its many overseas bases in Vietnam.
The Cuban embargo has always been personal. The national-security establishment didn’t like Castro because he refused to kowtow to the U.S. government. That’s why they went after him with illegal invasions, wars of aggression, assassination, and U.S.-state-sponsored acts of terrorism within Cuba.
Conservatives has always maintained that it was all about socialism, as if that gave the U.S. government the authority to interfere in the affairs of Cuba. But let’s recognize the obvious: Fidel Castro, American conservatives, and U.S. officials, including those in the Pentagon and CIA, have always had something in common with respect to socialism: their joint devotion to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, welfare, income taxation, economic regulations, fiat money, drug war, and other important elements of socialism.
Undoubtedly, Obama’s call to lift the embargo, which must be done by Congress, will bring out the old Cold War dead-enders. It will be interesting, even amusing, to see them raising the same old bankrupt arguments in favor of this statist program. It should be an enjoyable and edifying debate.
While this is a historic shift toward principles of liberty, that’s not to say, unfortunately, that Obama or the mainstream press have suddenly become libertarians. Indeed, on the same day that Obama was making his announcement, mainstream statists were exulting over the misery that U.S. sanctions are inflicting on the Russian people with the fall of the ruble. Employing the same Cold War mindset that has undergirded the Cuban embargo, U.S. statists are hoping that by inflicting maximum economic harm on the Russian people, they can force Russian President Putin to bow down and accede to the demands of U.S. officials. It’s not going to happen, any more than 50 years of the Cuban embargo caused Fidel Castro to become a puppet of the U.S. national-security state.
There is at least one humorous aspect to Obama’s announcement. Yesterday, the Washington Post wrote that the Cuban embargo was the last pillar in the Cold War. Really? What about the U.S.-controlled NATO, the Cold War organization that has succeeded in initiating the crisis between the United States and Russia in Ukraine? What about U.S. troops in Germany and Korea? Indeed, what about the giant military establishment or what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”? What about the CIA, the Cold War agency that former President Truman said 30 days after the John Kennedy assassination had become a sinister part of the U.S. government?
Obama’s announcement is a small step toward liberty but it is a step nonetheless. Let’s toss this horrific, socialistic infringement on the liberty and well-being of the American people into the dustbin of history. And then let’s build on that achievement!
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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