Eye-Opening Cuba Exchange Allows Student to Re-Evaluate US Embargo on Cuba
*Editor’s Note* Evan Schaefer was one of the 20 Indiana University business students who came to Cuba last month through Cuba Educational Travel to exchange with Cuban entrepreneurs, artists and creatives. The class worked one-on-one with Cuban businesses to produce reports analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. The exchanges in Cuba allowed Evan to analyze US policy in Cuba, and he came away feeling strongly enough to write a letter to his State Senators. The letter is below.
I am a business student at IU’s Kelley School of Business and am writing you about the Cuban embargo and travel ban. I just returned from a school trip to Cuba, where we met with local businesses and learned about the Cuban economy.
Before this trip, I strongly supported both the travel ban and the embargo. I pictured Cuba as our media tends to describe it, an economically destitute regime with crumbling infrastructure and a failing economy intent on continuing the broken model of socialism. I pictured a ruthless, authoritarian regime intent on silencing dissent and controlling its citizens. I pictured a people out of touch with reality, their only source of information being what their government tells them, and thumb drives smuggled from abroad. I pictured starving, emaciated children, crippling poverty, and squalid living conditions. I pictured an evil nation akin to Iran or North Korea, a nation that deserved to be punished because it would be an affront to liberty and justice to accept Cuba into the international community.
This, however, is not the Cuba that I experienced. I experienced a country doing the best with what little it has with a highly educated, well informed, and often underemployed work force. It was my privilege to meet and work with several entrepreneurs on the island, trying to grow their fledgling businesses and eke out a living in Cuba’s growing private sector.
One of the businesses I worked closely with was Dador, a custom clothing design and manufacturing firm. Their clothing is in great demand, but they cannot buy the materials required to produce it due to the US embargo. Most of the other businesses I worked with had similar issues; they had great products but were unable to purchase the materials required to produce them.
Through these meetings I came to see that the people that bear the burden of this embargo and travel ban are not the government policy makers but rather small business owners and entrepreneurs. The irony is that these entrepreneurs are our best hope for a better Cuba. Penalizing them serves no purpose other than to strengthen socialism’s grip on the island.
Make no mistake, Cuba is far from perfect. The restrictions that the Cuban government places on freedom of information, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion violate the Cuban people’s human rights. However, we will not affect policy change through this embargo. All we will do is drive the Cuban government into the waiting arms of the Chinese and the Russians, who care nothing about creating a more open Cuba but are more than happy to do business there without US competition. We also penalize US firms who would like to do business in Cuba but are losing profits to foreign firms not encumbered by the restrictions placed on US companies.
The key to accomplishing our foreign policy goals in Cuba, namely creating a more open and democratic society, is to allow US investment. More US investment means more opportunities for average Cubans to rise out of poverty and change their island for the better. As an American and a conservative, I believe that everyone has a God given right to take a risk, pursue their dreams, and create better opportunities for themselves. No government, neither ours nor the Cuban’s, should stand in the way of that.