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JFK Explained Why Ending the Cuban Embargo is Long Overdue

December 23, 2014

After President Obama's decision to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, the response from the usual suspects on the right has been (pun intended) fast and furious. At the forefront is Florida GOP Senator and 2016 presidential wannabe Marco Rubio. Rubio, who previously fabricated a story of his family's heroic exile from the Castro regime, called Obama's move "a victory for oppression." As he put it Sunday,

"My interest is singular. Freedom and democracy in Cuba."

Sadly for Senator Rubio, John F. Kennedy could not have disagreed more. No shrinking violet when it came to Cuba, JFK made clear that it was the Soviet threat to the United States and the western hemisphere--and not the Castro dictatorship per se-- that required the embargo. And when the danger from the USSR was lifted, so too could the embargo.
One year after the Cuban Missile Crisis and just four days before his assassination in Dallas, President Kennedy made those very points to the Inter-American Press Association meeting in Miami on November 18, 1963:

It is important to restate what now divides Cuba from my country and from the other countries of this hemisphere. It is the fact that a small band of conspirators has stripped the Cuban people of their freedom and handed over the independence and sovereignty of the Cuban nation to forces beyond the hemisphere. They have made Cuba a victim of foreign imperialism, an instrument of the policy of others, a weapon in an effort dictated by external powers to subvert the other American Republics. This, and this alone, divides us. As long as this is true, nothing is possible. Without it, everything is possible. Once this barrier is removed, we will be ready and anxious to work with the Cuban people in pursuit of those progressive goals which a few short years ago stirred their hopes and the sympathy of many people throughout the hemisphere. [Emphasis mine.]

To be sure, the Castro regime didn't abandon its Soviet ally, but the reverse. The Cold War is over and so, too, is the Soviet Union. The Monroe Doctrine that no Old World foreign power gain a foothold in the New World western hemisphere has been upheld.
That the United States and its people support the freedom of the Cuban people has not changed. But the anachronistic U.S. strategy of economic and political isolation hasn't just failed to advance that objective, but has worked against other important American interests throughout Latin America. Accommodating rising Brazilian clout and countering the rapid expansion of Chinese trade and foreign aid in the region are the top challenges to American leadership. And by holding on to the albatross of its Cold War policies towards Cuba, the United States stands alone, separated from its friends in North America, its allies in Europe, and potential partners in Central and South America.
To put it another way, American interests in Cuba are not singular. And as JFK explained 51 years ago, it's long past time for the Cuban embargo to come to an end.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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