Some have hoped that Raúl Castro would begin a process of political reform in Cuba. In fact, more than one hundred political prisoners locked up under Fidel remain behind bars, and Raúl’s government has used sham trials to lock away scores more. These include more than 40 dissidents imprisoned for “dangerousness,” a charge that allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. Yet when outsiders hear of Cuba’s political prisoners, many think first of what the US embargo has done to Cuba, not what Cuba has done to its own people. The effect is to seal Cuba’s prisoners off from international sympathy and reinforce their prolonged solitude.
Trump is right: the Cuban military does exploit and abuse its people. The problem is that Cuba is governed by a military regime, which has a hand in virtually every aspect of the country’s economy, from hotels to farms to rental car companies. Cuba’s private sector, while entrepreneurial and growing, is minuscule by comparison. So not engaging with the Cuban military means barely doing business at all. But as the last fifty years have demonstrated, a US embargo will not starve the Cuban military into submission.