Just as America fears Iran becoming a nuclear power, the U.S. once feared Cuba would posses nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States. To keep itself safe, the U.S. placed intense economic sanctions on Cuba. Instead of improving the country, these sanctions forced Cuba into isolated authoritarian rule.
Cuba remains one of the few communist countries in the world, and it does not show signs of changing its political structure any time soon. To this day, the U.S. has sanctions on Cuba, even though the country has begun accepting more liberal economic policies recently. The government passed a new law to allow the sales and purchase of private property. However, these policies will not lead Cuba to become a democratic ally, as the country still has significant restrictions on the freedom of movement and prohibition of political opponents. If Cuba is to ever become a democracy, policymakers must focus on pressuring Cuban President Raul Castro to implement human rights policies alongside his economic reforms. Privatizing property and allowing small businesses to open will never solve the root of Cuba’s oppression – restricting freedom of movement and prohibiting political opponents.
Within the past year, Castro has passed two new laws that allow Cubans to make transactions of their own free will without government interference. To create jobs and wealth, the government permitted people to open small businesses in March. Businesses could set their own prices and hire and fire employees at their choosing. But Cubans had no money to start businesses and buy supplies. So the government granted citizens and permanent residents even greater rights. They could buy and sell private property, bequeath property to relatives without restriction, and avoid forfeiting their homes if they abandon the country. Despite implementing two major reforms to liberalize the economy, these policies will not lead to civil and political freedoms.
Castro still violates Cubans’ freedom of movement. He continues to enforce Decree 217 that prohibits “persons in other provinces from moving into Havana.” This decree prevents Cubans from accessing the wealth they need to live free lives. Havana is where a majority of business transactions occur and therefore, holds the countries profits. Without access to Havana, Cubans cannot obtain the wealth they need to get what they want. This leaves Cubans powerless to determine their lives. In order for Cubans to live free lives, Castro must stop his methods of social oppression and allow for a multitude of voices to be heard.
This could be difficult, though. The Cuban government prohibits all political opponents. The government harasses those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans and repeatedly beats and tortures dissidents during detentions. According to the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the number of persons detained temporarily for political reasons rose from 821 between January 2010 and June 2010 to 1,727 between July 2010 and December 2010. The Cuban government only continues to exasperate this trend by imprisoning more political prisoners.
With this pattern of human rights abuse, economic reform alone stands no chance at democratizing Cuba. Instead, policymakers need to focus on pressuring Castro to implement civil and political freedoms. If Cuba solved the roots of much of its problems – restrictions on movement and oppression of political opponents – Cubans could live freer lives. The economic reforms that Castro implements would then have a significant impact on the country. These economic freedoms could bring about the democracy that Americans have wanted for so long in Cuba.
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