Since the U.S. first enacted sanctions against Cuba in 1962, the island nation has been dependent on allies for support—from the U.S.S.R. to modern-day Venezuela. This outside aid has reduced the ability to press for meaningful reforms through sanctions on the Castro regime. Despite the recent emergence of a legal real estate market in Cuba, it is clear that the country is far from prepared to lift the heavy-handed policies that repress the Cuban people.
Problems on the island still persist. In addition to the unjust imprisonment of Alan Gross, perhaps the most famous manifestation of the ongoing oppression is the mistreatment of the peaceful activists known as the Ladies in White. The group protests the oppression of the Castro regime by marching through the streets, dressed in white, calling for the freedom of political prisoners. However, instead of being met with sympathetic ears, the activists face beatings and imprisonment for their public stand.
Worse, the plight of these protesters is rarely reported due to the high rates of imprisonment for journalists in Cuba. “At one point in 2009, there were just 7 more imprisoned journalists in China than in Cuba. Of course, China has a population of 1.4 billion, while Cuba’s population is 11.5 million,” reports Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of Cuba Democracy Advocates.
Changes aren’t likely to be just around the corner, either. If Cuban projections prove correct, the country may soon be financially independent. Although Cuba has long produced small amounts of oil—around 53,000 barrels a day—it is hoping to improve that number with the help of the Scarabeo 9, an oil rig built in China that will likely begin work next year. How much oil Cuba will find is still unknown, however. Cuban experts have estimated the existence of 20 billion barrels oil off the shore of Florida, where they plan to drill, while U.S. estimates are closer to 4.6 billion barrels. No matter how much oil is actually present, the plan, although generally considered safe, does contain some risks for the Floridian coastline should anything go wrong.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL) outlined the plan’s inherent dangers:
Any cooperation with the Cuban regime’s oil drilling ploy will be seen as the U.S. giving a green light to a scheme which will help the regime become the oil tycoons of the Caribbean, and potentially cause devastating pollution of our shores and waters in Florida.
Even if the drilling goes off without a hitch, financial independence of the oppressive Castro regime is in itself alarming. The ongoing events in Cuba suggest that without international pressures on its economy, the Castro regime would be free to escalate its habit of human rights violations. This spells trouble for the future of U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba and, more importantly, for the Cuban people.
Jen Gieselman is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm