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Cuban Embargo Still Needed

The United States government is in a period of transition, with calls for change that were heard in the November presidential election expected to be fulfilled in a number of areas. There will be other areas of continuity, however, and in the Americas a prominent one will be the unwavering support for the aspirations of the Cuban people for a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

Leaders of 14 Caribbean nations meeting recently on the global financial crisis took the occasion to repeat calls for the U.S. to lift its embargo against the communist-led island. They urged President-elect Barack Obama to abandon the decades-old restrictions on trade there, saying it imposes undue hardship on the Cuban people.

But the sanctions against the Cuban government are and always have been about helping citizens there, to encourage the Castro regime to grant greater personal and political freedoms. If the Caribbean leaders needed any more proof of the regime’s heavy-handedness, soon after their conference police began rounding up political activists planning to attend events marking International Human Rights Day on December 10, in effect violating human rights so people couldn’t celebrate them.

U.S. policy sanctions the Cuban government, not its people. Trade is allowed in agricultural products through licensed entities, and indeed the U.S. is the largest foreign supplier of such goods there. Humanitarian aid also is provided, most recently following Hurricane Ike, which devastated parts of the island in September.

Mr. Obama has said he is open to easing restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to relatives there. But as far as the embargo itself, he has pledged to maintain it to press for long-overdue reforms.

It is the Cuban government, not the U.S., which is at a crossroads. The new leaders of the old regime can choose to bring Cuba back into the community of democracies or continue discredited policies.