Frank: United States’ embargo hinders potential wealth, relations with Cuba

The United States’ embargo on Cuba is ridiculous and unnecessary. It may have made sense to put it in place at the height of the Cold War, but now it does nothing but hurt Cuban citizens and limit the freedoms of American citizens.

President Barack Obama may have taken some steps toward rectifying the situation, but he needs to go further. Cuban President Raúl Castro has made significant improvements to Cuba’s economy since he assumed the presidency from his brother Fidel in 2008.

Many sectors have been privatized to allow about 300,000 people to own their own businesses. Additionally, over 600,000 jobs have been eliminated from the federal payroll.

This is nowhere near enough change and Castro is still in no way a good person. But there have been some improvements; Obama opening up relations with the island nation is another step in the right direction.

An interesting step made in the private sector is the emergence of Netflix to Cuba. Fiscally speaking, there is no real boost to the company’s bottom line—only 5 percent of the country has uncensored access to the internet and the service fee of $8 per month is about half of the average monthly salary. If it were only about money, Netflix would expand to countries like Australia or South Africa.

Instead, this move represents the beginning of American investment in Cuba. Netflix is one of the first major companies to do business on the formerly embargoed island in nearly half a century. For Netflix, this means that they’re the flag bearers for an entire movement that could soon materialize. American cruise ships and travel companies could potentially bring a source of wealth to Cuba’s economy that it hasn’t seen in years.

Still, there is room to grow. Cuba has the potential to be a wealthy nation, yet its government denies it that opportunity. Many Cubans see that there is considerably more wealth to be found in the U.S. During the Caribbean Series––a baseball tournament for Caribbean nations––two Cuban players defected to the U.S. after leaving their hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The players, 30-year-old Daniel Moreira and 19-year-old Vladimir Gutierrez, are not top Major League Baseball prospects hell-bent on landing a contract. MLB rules even state that they cannot be eligible for free agency until they establish residency in a third country. This is because of a U.S. law that prohibits doing business in Cuba. Although this may change due to the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, it will still be an uphill battle for the players.

More importantly for Cuba, the U.S. needs to allow free travel to the country. Although celebrities like Jay Z and Beyoncé have been permitted to travel to the island under the “people-to-people” program, travel for leisure purposes is prohibited. I was presented with the opportunity to travel by boat to Santiago de Cuba from Jamaica last year. While I couldn’t afford it at the time, I still regret not going to see this forbidden land.

The travel ban does nothing but limit the freedoms of American people and companies and hurt the economy of an already poor country. Lifting the ban is the next logical step in the process to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations.

Netflix has gotten in on the ground floor and hopefully, more companies will put pressure on the U.S. government by following suit. Obama was right when he said, “Fifty years have shown that isolation hasn’t worked.” Now it’s time for him to show that he really means what he says.