Spadoni, Paolo. Failed Sanctions: Why the U.S. Embargo against Cuba Could Never Work.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Hirsch, Mike
Pub Date: 03/22/2012
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Failed Sanctions: Why the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba Could Never Work (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Spadoni, Paolo
Accession Number: 294895902
Full Text: 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 which the United States itself has undercut its own sanctions policy.

Cuban Americans have long been able to travel to Cuba and spend dollars on the island. Tourism makes up approximately 10% of the Cuban economy and 80% of "Cuban visitors are Cuban Americans" (p. 133). Remittances by Cuban exiles (mostly Cuban Americans) are now the "most important source of hard currency for the population of the island" (p. 144), which total over $1 billion annually. In addition, an agreement between the United States and Cuban governments requires the telecommunications companies of each country to pay the other "$0.60 for every minute of traffic originating in their territories" (p. 157). The fact that most of these transnational calls between the two countries originate in the United States means that U.S. telecommunication companies now pay Cuba more than $150 million per year net (p. 159). Finally, since 2000, the United States has also found Cuba to be a good market for food and medical products (p. 167), sales of which have helped maintain the well-being of the Cuban population.

While revenues from the United States have helped sustain the Cuban economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its concomitant aid, the Cuban government has continued to diversify its economy and international economic ties. Most important among these has been its deepening ties with Venezuela and the administration of Hugo Chavez. In 2005 the export of professional services (primarily medical) accounted for "39 percent of Cuba's total hard currency revenues" (p. 172). Such arrangements make it ever less likely that retightening sanctions against Cuba would result in a major disruption of the Cuban economy and the end of the Castro regime.

Failed Sanctions is well-written and data rich. Spadoni provides a detailed review of America's policies toward Cuba and their goals. He does a good job reconstructing the history of the relationship between the two countries since Castro's rise to power. This reviewer would recommend Failed Sanctions for undergraduate and graduate classes studying the Cuban Revolution. It would also be a welcome supplementary text for courses on the Cold War, international politics, and public policy, and would be an important addition to the library of any student of Cuba and the Cuban Revolution.

Mike Hirsch, Ph.D.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Huston-Tillotson University

Austin, Texas
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