Steve Chapman

In 1960, a gallon of gas cost 31 cents, Princeton University undergraduates were all male, the Braves played in Milwaukee, and Fidel Castro's Cuba was under a U.S. trade embargo. Today, gas costs more than $2 a gallon, Princeton has a female president as well as female students, the Braves make their home in Atlanta, and Fidel Castro's Cuba is … under a U.S. trade embargo.

Cuba, once a bustling tropic isle, is now a museum housing ancient relics -- the two most prominent being a dictatorship that insists communism has a future and an American policy that pretends economic isolation can cause that government's demise. Barack Obama was supposed to bring the forces of change to Washington. But his newly announced Cuba policy is mostly more of the same.

Charles Dickens' novel "Bleak House" concerns a court case that is notable only for its matchless longevity. "Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it," wrote the author. "The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. … (B)ut Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless."

That is our Cuba policy. For nearly half a century, we have been trying to bring down Castro's regime by prohibiting Americans from trading with Cubans. For nearly half a century, the regime has survived in spite of -- or is it because of? -- the boycott. And there is nothing to say the economic blockade won't go on for another half-century.

At this point, it has no great impact, because we're the only ones observing it. Cuba can buy from, sell to and welcome just about anyone in the world except Americans. To suggest that U.S. sanctions are capable of isolating the island nation brings to mind the headline that once appeared in a British newspaper: "Fog Over Channel. Continent cut off."

Even Francisco Hernandez, head of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, which supports this economic punishment, conceded to The New York Times that the policy is merely "symbolic" and "not something that is that important anymore."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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