I agree with Becker that we should end the embargo. It was first imposed in 1960, two years after Castro took power, and strengthened after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and thereafter modified from time to time—and recently somewhat relaxed, so that today in fact we have several billions of dollars in trade with Cuba each year.
Communist Cuba in Castro’s heyday, before the collapse of the Soviet Union followed by the rapid collapse of communism in all countries except North Korea—and Cuba—was, even apart from the missile crisis, an active although not dangerous enemy of the United States, supporting and fomenting communist subversion against a variety of nations some of them allies of the United States. But the embargo was never much more than an annoyance to Cuba, because the embargo was not joined by other nations. And it is not as if the United States were the only source of a raw material or manufactured good essential to the Cuban economy. Or that the United States were the sole destination for goods produced by Cuba that Cuba had to export in order to obtain foreign currency. Cuba’s principal exports were and are sugar and tobacco. When the United States as part of the embargo stopped importing these products from Cuba, it increased its imports of them from elsewhere, which meant that other nations that produced those goods diverted some of their output to the United States. The countries they had been buying sugar and tobacco from these other exporting countries had either to pay a higher price to them so that they would not divert output to the United States—or buy from Cuba. So the embargo closed one destination for Cuban exports, the United States, but opened up others.
Apparently the embargo had some small negative effects on the Cuban economy, but one imagines that its major effect was actually to bolster Castro by giving him an excuse for the awful performance of the Cuban economy—the U.S. embargo. The true cause of that awful performance was communism; for we know from the economic performance of the other communist countries, before communism collapsed almost everywhere, that communist economies, by suppressing the operation of free markets in goods and services, are grossly inefficient. Castro hurt Cuba with his policies, but actually helped the United States by impelling the emigration of many of Cuba’s ablest, most energetic citizens to the United States.
But to all this the embargo was and continues to be almost completely irrelevant. Its persistence is probably owed largely to the political influence of Cuban-Americans, who will do anything to hurt Castro’s regime and whoe live (and vote) mainly in Florida, where they form a significant electoral bloc. The nation’s fourth largest state by population, Florida is the most important swing state in the American electoral system.