Tuesday, January 17, 2017

PF Feb 2017 - Lift the Cuban Embargo - Introduction

Resolved: The United States should lift its embargo against Cuba.


Even though I have not formally defined embargo I think most debaters understand this topic will deal with the U.S. policy of banning exports and imports with Cuba.  At one time, the U.S. had favorable relations with the Cuban government of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. Batista welcomed U.S. companies to invest in Cuba which had a thriving tourist business with casinos, entertainment facilities and lovely beaches. But more importantly, U.S. (and multinational) companies had established several large oil refineries on the island. Moreover, Cuba was a leading exporter of sugar to the U.S. However, Batista would be more properly labeled as an unpopular military dictator, propped by the U.S. government, known for imprisoning or executing political rivals and dissidents, and allegedly enriching himself with corruption, alliances with organized crime and narcotics. The U.S. government, especially under President Dwight Eisenhower, protected the interests of U.S. corporations which were dominating a large portion of the lucrative Cuban economy, financing most of the mining operations on the island as well as a sizable portion of the sugar industry and various other economic sectors. These factors; strong U.S influence and colonialism, a corrupt and careless Batista regime and the imprisonment and murder of thousands political prisoners, fueled a popular, clandestine uprising which sought to overturn the Batista dictatorship. One such rebel group led by Fidel Castro, approached the U.S. for support which at the time was embroiled in a cold war and arms race with the Soviet Union. Castro, a well-educated, lawyer, turned-revolutionary, held a Marxist-Leninist ideology and so his request for aid was rebuffed by the U.S. With the assistance of his brother Raul and Che Guevara and enlistment of thousands of economically disadvantaged farmers, and laborers his guerrilla war became popularly known as "The 26th of July Movement".  Realizing the Batista regime was doomed, the U.S. backed a military coup led by Eulogio Cantillo and eventually toppled the Batista regime. When Cantillo attempted to set up another U.S.-puppet government, Castro swept in and pushed out the short-lived Cantillo-appointed regime. Castro formed a new government, employing his Marxist ideology. The Soviets, perhaps seeing an opportunity to extend their political and military reach, quickly agreed to various economic exchanges and began shipping crude oil to Cuba in exchange various goods. When the U.S. held refineries refused to process the Soviet crude oil, Castro seized the refineries and refused to compensate the Corporate owners. The seizure plus the closure of the casinos, and other acts quickly spurred the U.S. government to retaliate and in October of 1960, imposed an economic embargo which banned the import of Cuban goods and most exports to Cuba. Cuba, in turn, began to rely more heavily on its Soviet ally for goods and arms.

The initiation of the embargo was followed by other incidents of historic importance for U.S.-Cuban relations, including the so-called Bay of Pigs incident and the events collectively known as the Cuban Missile Crisis which pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. I don't intend to discuss those events in this analysis, as important as they may be as background for this topic. I encourage you, as a Public Forum debater to research these events to broaden your background knowledge. We are intending to debate the embargo, so I will limit additional background to that specific aspect of U.S.-Cuban relations, especially in light of the current situation in the world, particularly the collapse of the Soviet Union and the death of Fidel Castro.

First, let's examine the terminology of the resolution.


The United States
There is no need to define this group of words. The United States in this context refers to the government of the United States. comprised of the legislative, executive and judicial branches acting in accordance with the normal means permitted by the laws of the United States. Much of the government power behind the imposition of economic sanctions or embargoes lies within the executive branch through the Department of State and Treasury Departments functioning under executive order. Often, as is the case for Cuba, sanctions may be strengthened through Congressional legislation.

According to Merriam Webster, 'should' is used "to express obligation, propriety, or expediency". The word 'should' may considered a suggestion of sorts although in some contexts the suggestion may be considered as carrying a sense of duty.

I think most of us can understand that verb 'to lift' as the act of raising or picking up. If we view an embargo as a type of burden (a weight), then in this context 'lift' refers to the raising (with intent to remove) the burden of the sanctions upon Cuba.

This is the possessive pronoun for the United States. I include it to point out this embargo belongs to the U.S. and for the most part the U.S. alone. All other nations in the world are not legally obligated to adhere to its provisions and most do not, trading freely with Cuba.  However, none of these countries have the strength of the U.S economy.

Though we can loosely equate an embargo with economic sanctions, they are not quite the same. An embargo is usually limited to mean a ban on shipments departing or arriving at ports (and, yes, airplanes arrive and depart from ports). Economic sanctions can be far more intrusive by shutting down all forms of economic activity including bank transactions.

West's legal dictionary provides the following definition:
"A proclamation or order of government, usually issued in time of war or threatened hostilities, prohibiting the departure of ships or goods from some or all ports until further order. Government order prohibiting commercial trade with individuals or businesses of other specified nations. Legal prohibition on commerce."

It should be noted, the embargo against Cuba is not absolute. Humanitarian goods, such as medicine and food, are not banned. We will refine this definition as needed as we look at the Pro and Con positions.

Merriam Webster defines 'against' as "in opposition or hostility to" and it is appropriate. An embargo is a type of weapon designed to deprive and enemy or hostile actor of the goods and materials it needs to continue its course of action.

This is name of the island nation situated approximately 90 miles south of Florida. It is currently ruled by the government of Raul Castro (brother of Fidel Castro).

Resolution Analysis

Having now looked at the resolution wording in isolation we can begin to interpret the broader meaning and context a littler more closely. The U.S. is currently engaged in an economic embargo against Cuba and has been for the last 57 years (as of February 2017). The world, politically speaking, was a very different place in 1960. Most U.S. politicians and citizens stood in strong opposition to Communist ideology and viewed the nuclear power of the Soviet Union as an existential threat to the American way of life. We were locked in an ever-growing arms race with the Soviet Union, functioning under a theory of mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.); the idea that if either the U.S. or Soviets launched a nuclear attack, the resulting counter-attack would completely destroy both nations and probably most of the world. Our mistrust of all things 'communist' extended to anyone espousing communist ideology or supporting communist governments, and Castro, a Marxist thinker and revolutionary, already turned away by the U.S. found the support he needed in Moscow. When the Soviets attempted to ship "defensive" nuclear missiles to Cuba, a U.S. naval blockade pushed the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation.

The effects of the embargo have been devastating to the Cuban economy, despite the support it received from Moscow. Most Cubans live on very little money, often reside in inadequate housing, and have very little access to goods and supplies which can be used to improve their overall standard of living. In addition, as shall be examined more fully in the Pro position, the embargo has potentially had a some impact on the U.S. economy as well. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Cuba's primary source of commerce disappeared. Immediately afterward, the U.S. passed the Cuban Democracy Act and Helms-Burton Act which set strict conditions on the lifting of the embargo and attempted to extend sanctions to foreign governments which traded with Cuba.

Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists. Fidel Castro, died in November, 2016 and the control of the government of Cuba has been assumed by Raul Castro, who made some overtones of reconciliation toward the United States. But many Cuban refugees live in the United States, many of whom fled from the repressive Castro regime and have been very actively opposed to the Cuban dictatorship. To date, there have not been any free and open elections even if one could argue the government of Cuba has made some very tiny shifts toward liberalizing. Historically, the U.S. has tolerated dictatorships in the Western Hemisphere when it has served U.S. interests to do so, but there has been little desire to support Communist dictatorships which have taken hold in the West.

The resolution claims specifically and without further qualification, the embargo against Cuba should be lifted. Thus the ban on imports and exports will no longer be in force. This position is opposed, one may assume, by the general declaration the embargo should be continued. Does this mean, continued wholly, or partially or in some modified form? I tend to believe the opposition ground can be found in the idea we are not debating "The Embargo" as if is some monolithic entity which deprived of its parts would no longer be a U.S. embargo. We have defined embargo as a prohibition against shipments, but even in the status quo, we are not banning all shipments. The U.S. embargo has been shaped to some degree by expediency.  As I see it, a very substantial part of this debate will deal with Pro idea, that economic engagement helps spread democracy while the Con will be claiming continued sanctions in some form or other, will provide incentive for democratic reforms. We shall see what the evidence uncovers.

For more on this topic or other articles related to PF debate, click the Public Forum tab at the top of this page.


"embargo." West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group 17 Jan. 2017 http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/embargo


  1. Will the pro and con articles be coming out soon? By the way, I find these are very helpful, thanks for all the great content!

  2. Are the pro/con articles coming soon? Those are very helpful in understanding the topic.


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