Paul Jacob

A week or so ago, the Obama administration sent up a smoke signal. The administration appears willing to re-establish closer communications with the Cuban government. Across the hemisphere, there is increasing talk about letting Cuba into the Organization of American States.

Good? Bad? Indifferent? No matter. Whatever Barack or Raoul say has already been trumped by a joker in front of a camera, making faces.

A viral video is making the rounds in Latin America. You can find it on YouTube. It’s an interview with a man on the street, and another Cuban man walks up and steals the show. He points to his open mouth. In island slang he says he’s hungry, and that “what Cuba needs is food.”

Too many people blame America for Cubans’ hunger. In Latin America, the video is popular for that very reason. Further, the video is timely, since our government is now considering removing its embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962.

Feeling sorry for the Cubans is easy, of course. Even the man, hamming it up in the video, inspires sympathy. He is almost certainly right. Cuba needs food.

But we should all ask ourselves why Cuba needs food.

Would removing the embargo help?

Maybe.

But dropping the embargo should be done — or not — for reasons that have nothing to do with the “Cuba needs food” meme.

Think about it. Cuba can trade with the rest of the world. On a cash basis, Cuba can even trade with the United States. The U.S. has managed to become one of Cuba’s major trading partners, despite the embargo (or, at least because of its “loopholes”).

Cuba has plenty of opportunities to produce and purchase food. The trouble is: Cubans don’t.

The distinction is important. The main problem, as in most cases of major malfunctions on this planet, is with government.

Consider: The resorts in Cuba are well stocked with food. Canadians and Europeans and Arabs and others visiting the island don’t complain about a lack of food.

But the common folk do.

Why?


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.