Posted at 12:10 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Cuba trade embargo turns 50: Still no rum or cigars, though some freedom in travel

On this day in 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy imposed a full trade embargo on Cuba. The White House statement that day was optimistic about what the embargo could accomplish:
Cuban leader Fidel Castro delivering a speech in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy calling on a reporter in 1963. (AP)

“The loss of this income will reduce the capacity of the Castro regime ... to engage in acts of aggression, subversion, or other activities endangering the security of the United States and other nations of the hemisphere.”

Fifty years later, Washington’s restrictions on Cuba remain, making it the world’s longest running and some say least successful trade embargo ever, widely known in Cuba as “el Bloqueo.”

In 2010, Abu Dhabi-based publication The National wrote a deeply critical piece on the sanctions, arguing that they have“not only failed to achieve their goals but they actually undermined the aims. ... Cubans, it has to be said, do not go hungry because of the U.S. embargo.”

Rather, the editorial argues that the embargo gives the Castro brothers something to blame for the country’s economic instability, keeping them in power and achieving the opposite goal envisioned by Kennedy.

A 2009 report suggested how much the U.S. was also missing out on by continuing the sanctions. Relaxing the embargo, the report found, could create 6,000 new jobs in the U.S. and benefit exports by about $365 million a year.

It could also bring back the beloved Cuban cigar.

In a 1991 documentary on cigars, Pierre Salinger, the press secretary to Kennedy, recounts how the president ordered him to find 1,000 Cuban cigars in the early 1960s. Only when Salinger returned to the White House with his bounty did Kennedy sign the embargo:

Though the black market for Cuban cigars in the U.S. is as strong as ever, Americans are still legally prohibited from buying any product made in the country. A recent Cuba travel piece in the Detroit Free Press laments:

We cannot bring back rum, cigars, handicrafts, jewelry, revolution-chic items or virtually anything else. ... So my only souvenirs so far are three postcards and the "HAV" paper luggage tag the airline attached to my checked bag.

But the sheer fact that a reported travel piece came back at all shows there has been some weakening in the embargo.

In April, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued more than 100 people-to-people licenses for U.S. groups to visit Cuba, provided that they had planned “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba.”

Post reporter Andrea Sachs visited Havana in January. Sachs writes that while there was much “people-to-people” interaction, she was not often able to leave the parameters of the guided tour. By the end of the trip, Sachs describes feeling like a “puppy trapped in a vehicle.”

But some see the weakening travel embargo as a step toward the eventual end of the trade embargo.

The Obama administration has already loosening the embargo in smaller ways, including issuing licenses that allow telecommunications companies to provide cell phone and television services to Cuba.

How long will it be until Americans can bring home more than just a postcard?

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By  |  12:10 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Tags:  World, Cuba, embargo

 
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