Spadoni, Paolo. Failed Sanctions: Why the U.S. Embargo against Cuba Could Never Work.

Author:Hirsch, Mike
Position:Book review

Spadoni, Paolo. Failed Sanctions: Why the U.S. Embargo against Cuba Could Never Work. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010. xxv + 230 pages. Cloth, $34.95.

This reviewer has been studying Cuba and the Cuban Revolution since the fall of 1979. Failed Sanctions is one of the most informative books I have read about Cuba to date. It explores why U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba have failed and how the U.S. government and its citizens have, in fact, actually "played an important role in the [survival of] the Cuban economy" (p. xxiv).

Political scientist Paolo Spadoni begins his book with a review of the efficacy of U.S. post-WWII economic sanctions. Sanctions are applied "... to lower the aggregate economic welfare of a target state by reducing international trade in order to coerce the target government to change its political behavior" (p. 3). The success rate of sanctions, when unilaterally applied by the United States, has decreased from a high of 62% between 1945 and 1969 to a low of 18% between 1990 and 2000. This decline matches that of the global significance of the U.S. economy and the rise in the importance of transnational corporations (TNCs) and other international players (p. 5).

Spadoni traces the history of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba beginning in 1960, after the Castro government began to nationalize American properties (p. 26), through the passage of the Helms-Burton Law in 1996, which aimed at punishing TNCs and foreign corporations doing business in Cuba (p. 98). He also traces the way in which U.S. policy toward Cuba is driven by pressure from the Cuban exile community within the United States (e.g., under Carter, pp. 30-32), and in response to actions of the Cuban government (e.g., the shooting down of planes flown into Cuban air space by Cuban exiles, p. 131).

But the thesis of the text, and the point brought into bright focus by the author, is that U.S. economic sanctions have failed, will continue to fail, and really had little chance of success from the start. First, the sanctions were undercut by the significant subsidy provided to Cuba by the Soviet Union and its allies. Second, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, at a time when sanctions should have had their greatest effect, the Castro government opened the Cuban economy to private international investment, which totaled over $2 billion between 1993 and 2001 (p. 68). And third, and perhaps most important and ironic of all, is the way in...

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