A Permanent Hurricane

La fuerza de Irma, impactando el Malecón habanero. Irma’s force, hitting Havana’s seawall. Ismael Francisco.

Hurricane Irma has devastated Cuba. In 2000, after a similar hurricane hit the island, the U.S. Congress passed an exception in the embargo to allow American farmers to export U.S. agricultural products to Cuba.

It was clear that a Cold War approach could not solve a 21st Century natural disaster. Economic sanctions and external restrictions have only helped to harden the burden on common Cubans who lose the roof off the homes, or their homes entirely, to hurricanes.

Any narrative blaming the Cuban government or military is going to ring hollow because that same government and its armed forces evacuated, fed, and kept safe hundreds of thousands of people during this and previous disasters. Right now, they are working to restore communities and damaged infrastructure. Punishing the institutions on which ordinary Cubans rely on during this difficult moment is like a permanent hurricane. One could call it Hurricane Embargo.

Let’s be real: in present America there is no political momentum for a lifting of the embargo. Neither was there in 2000. But back then, Congress helped the Cuban people by passing a law which also benefited American farmers. This was a quid pro quo; a $247 million quid pro quo, just in 2016.

In days like this, U.S. policy toward Cuba has a powerful effect. Congress will ultimately decide if it’s a negative or a positive one.