Earlier this week the New York Times editorial board called for the end of the fifty-three-year-old embargo on Cuba. There is, of course, nothing unfamiliar or new about the arguments forwarded by the Times for the end of the embargo. The Board noted that Castro used the embargo as an excuse for his own regime’s shortcomings, that the embargo was ineffective in ending the Castro regime, and that it has caused needless suffering among ordinary Cubans.
Of course the chance that Congress will take any action to end the Cuban embargo is about the same as the chance that Castro will shave his beard and join the cast of Dancing with the Stars, and the opinion of the Times editorial board is unlikely to change these odds. The Times acknowledges that Congressional action would be necessary but suggests that the White House could still take some actions.
But there is much more the White House could do on its own. For instance, it could lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island.
Section 204 of the Helms-Burton act purports to put restrictions on the President’s ability to end the embargo on Cuba. But that does not prevent amelioration or change of the scope of the embargo as long as the White House does not abrogate specific legislative restrictions such as the prohibition on investments in telecommunications, the prohibition on investments in confiscated property, or limits on vessels that have visited Cuban ports. Even so, it is far from clear that this or any subsequent White House is or will be willing to take the political hit involved in any major modifications of the embargo.