Last month’s meeting in Havana of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which incorportates every country of the hemisphere except the United States and Canada, was a celebration of the single point of consensus among the Community’s member states: their opposition to US policies that seek to isolate and punish Cuba, which they view as unfair, unjust, anachronistic, and unproductive.

This universal opprobrium of Washington’s economic embargo and myriad other restrictions on Cuba is reason enough to suspect US policies are wrong-headed and contrary to American interests.  They have produced a situation in which no Latin American country—not even the region’s most robust democracies or Washington’s closest allies—is willing to criticize Cuba’s repression, its human rights violations, or the economic penury in which keeps most of its population.  Across the region, Cuba is treated as a normal, friendly country, precisely because the US treats it as an outcast.  

US policy toward Cuba has other noxious effects as well. It fuels and justifies the deep-seated antagonism of some Latin American governments toward Washington and fosters distrust among many others.  It is a constant reminder of the US Cold War attitudes and behavior in Latin America—when the US’s perceived security concerns trumped all other interests, including democracy, human rights, and economic progress, and when the US frequently intervened in the region, sometimes to support the ousting of elected leaders with military force.  

And the fact is that the policy has accomplished nothing of value. Cuba has not changed, at least not much. After more the fifty years in power, the Cuban government has stood fast against US coercion—to the admiration of most Latin Americans. Even today, under enormous and intensifying financial pressures, US hostility provides the Cuban leadership with a credible excuse, even vindication, for its entrenched political control, severe limitations on dissent of any kind, and a broken economy.

But if US policy has been a half-century long failure, the Cuban people have also been badly served by the governments of Fidel and Raul Castro. Most of the population now live in or near poverty, with the elderly in particularly desperate straits—aside from those supported from abroad. Young people appear mostly to want to leave the island and live elsewhere. There is little room for their dreams and ambitions in Cuba.  There was a time the Cuban government could point to substantial social achievements, in health, nutrition, and education. Although Cuba still boasts the lowest infant mortality rate of any Latin American country and its students score the highest on competitive international tests, its social gains are eroding.

The Atlantic Council survey makes clear that, a majority of Americans are unhappy with US policy and want to restore a normal relationship with Cuba. Although there are no reliable surveys to consult about Cuban views, the best guess is that most Cubans would like to live in a normal country.  Neither the US embargo nor the Cuban government is doing much to get them there.

Peter Hakim is the President Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue