The longest embargo in modern history is that which the United States has imposed on Cuba. The embargo has directly affected trade, domestic economic activity and foreign aid. In recent years, the demonization of Cuba in domestic American politics, paired with the powerful lobby of Cuban Americans who fled Castro's revolution, have introduced a new element to the American boycott of Cuba. Despite a tenuous history, it would prove more beneficial to the United States to normalize relations with Cuba because the embargo has failed to achieve its goals. Following the 1959 revolution, the United States slapped a trade embargo on Cuba in 1961, even before Castro had declared himself a Communist and called in the Soviet Union as an ally. At that time, the embargo had little to no effect because of the Soviet assistance and distribution policies.

During the next three decades Cuba's international trade was with the former Soviet, health and other social indices dramatically improved. The economy grew at an annual rate of two percent from 1965 to 1975. The embargo was modified in 1975 to permit trade with United States subsidiary firms in other countries. From 1975 to 1989 the economy grew at an annual rate of four percent. The Cuban economy was extraordinarily weakened by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Community for Economic Cooperation trade group in 1989. The passage of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1995 made the United States embargo more stringent.

The bill originated in 1995, and was passed by both houses of the United States Congress. It came at a time when United States opinion was beginning to diverge sharply from international opinion on what to do about Cuba. Shortly thereafter, in November 1995, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the United States to repeal its own economic embargo of Cuban goods. President Bill Clinton was initially highly reluctant to ratify the bill because he knew it would bring him into conflict with Washington's European partners.

But then events forced his hand. On February 24, 1996, Cuba M. I. G. fighters shot down two light aircraft that had approached Cuba from American airspace. The Cuban government claimed that the planes, which belonged to the Cuban exile movement Brothers to the Rescue, had violated Cuban airspace and had been repeatedly warned.

Cuban Americans hotly disputed this. Because United States citizens died in the incident, there was a tremendous political scandal inside the United States, and Clinton immediately intensified the United States trade embargo of Cuba, signing the Helms Burton Bill on March 12, which subsequently became known as the Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act. The first European reaction was a challenge this bill as anti-free market at the newly established World Trade Organization in Switzerland. Endless negotiations have headed off conflict between the United States and its trading partners. In theory, United States citizens will soon be able to sue any company that profits from property confiscated by the Cuban government after the revolution - the bill is thought to affect more than one hundred international corporations directly.

It has caused some friction among Washington's allies. In July 1997, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was embarrassed when he was caught on mike attacking Clinton for passing the Helms-Burton bill. Clinton has defended the bill as pragmatism: "We had a law that I strongly supported, the Cuban Democracy Act. I strongly supported it. I thought it was absolutely the right policy.

It strengthened the economic embargo but also gave us a chance to open up relations to Cuba and to take care of humanitarian problems, to facilitate travel, to do all kinds of things, and we were implementing that law." There is little doubt that Cuba remains an humanitarian anomaly amongst the United States, Europe, and other countries. To many outsiders, Cuba certainly has its fair share of problems and human rights abuses, as the thousands upon thousands of young Cubans who have risked their lives to flee the country have testified so eloquently. But American policy is often perceived to stem not from any objective view of Cuba and its problems, but from the deep domestic political wrangling inside the United States: the strong Cuban American community, the historical residue of bitter feuding with Castro over the Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis in the early 1960's, and a latent strain of McCarthyism whose natural tendency was to seek out and destroy anything linked to the word Communism, regardless of other considerations. In 1961, The United States attempted the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs, in which Cuban exiles were sent in to overthrow Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator. This increased the friction between Castro's leftist regime and the United States President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, which led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations.

However, anti-revolutionary Cuban exiles had been receiving military training from the Central Intelligence Agency for the possible invasion of Cuba. John F. Kennedy approved Eisenhower's plan to invade Cuba. Following the overthrow of Fulgenico Batista, relations between the United States began to deteriorate. Castro's government confiscated private property (much of it owned by North American interests), sent agents to initiate revolutions in several Latin-American countries, and established diplomatic and economic ties with leading socialist powers. The denounced Castro accused the United States of attempting to undermine his government.

In retaliation, the United States cut off sugar purchases from Cuba, and placed an embargo on all exports to Cuba except food and medicine. As Eisenhower's final act of his administration, he broke diplomatic ties with Cuba. The United States C. I. A. had been planing an invasion of Cuba since May 1960, the invasion had been debated within the newly inaugurated administration of President John F.

Kennedy before it was finally approved and carried out. On April 15, 1961, three United States-made airplanes piloted by Cubans bombed Cuban air bases. Two days later the Cubans trained by the United States and using United States equipment landed at several sites. The principal landing took place at the Bay of Pigs on the south-central coast.

This invasion force was no match for Castro's troops, and on April 19 the last stronghold was captured along with 1, 100 men. From December 1962 to July 1965 the survivors were returned to the United States in exchange for $53, 000, 000 worth of food and medicine. The Bay of Pigs led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war. "Nuclear catastrophe was hanging by a thread... and we weren't counting days or hours, but minutes," said Soviet General and Army Chief of Operations, Anatoly Gribkov. Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons if the island were invaded and the United States armed forces were at their highest state of readiness in history.

Had it not been for the diplomatic genius of President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, war would not have been averted. Major confrontation that brought the United States and the Soviet Union close to war over the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. Having promised in May 1960 to defend Cuba with Soviet arms, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev assumed that the United States would take no steps to prevent the installation of Soviet medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Missiles such as these could hit much of the eastern United States within a few minutes if it were to be launched from Cuba. In August twenty-nine new military construction and the presence of Soviet technicians had been reported by United States U-2 spy planes flying over the island, and the presence of a ballistic missile on a launching site was reported on October fourteenth.

After much deliberation Kennedy decided to place a naval "quarantine, " or blockade on Cuba to prevent further Soviet shipments of missiles. Kennedy announced his decision on October twenty-second and warned United States forces would seize "offensive weapons and associated mat " e riel" that Soviet vessels might attempt to deliver to Cuba. The Soviet ships altered their course to avoid the quarantined zone. Hovering on the brink of nuclear war, messages were exchanged between Kennedy and Khrushchev. On October twenty-eight, Khrushchev informed Kennedy that work on the missile sites would be halted and that the missiles already there would be returned to the Soviet Union. In return, Kennedy committed the United States never to invade Cuba, he also secretly promised to withdraw the nuclear-armed missiles that the United States had stationed in Turkey in previous years.

In the following weeks both superpowers began fulfilling their promises, and the crisis was over by late November. Cuba's communist leader, Fidel Castro, was infuriated by the Soviets' retreat in the face of United States power but was powerless to act. Since then, all United States subsidiary trade, food and medicines included, have been prohibited. United States ports do not allow ships from other countries to dock for at least six months after visiting Cuba, even if the cargoes are humanitarian goods.

Other countries are being pressured to cease trade and humanitarian aid to Cuba. Since World War II, embargo legislation usually included exemptions for humanitarian goods, but in 1992, Cuban embargo legislation was introduced to prevent food sales and require "on-site verification" for the donation of medical supplies. Strangely, the legislation did not state that Cuba could not purchase medicines from the United States or other foreign subsidiaries, although such license requests have been repeatedly turned down. According to the Inter American Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States, these regulations violate the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man, the Charter of the Organization of American States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations embargoes against Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, and the former Yugoslavia, and United States embargoes against China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Iran, and Nicaragua, contained provisions for access to basic humanitarian goods. Originally the United States embargo against Cuba contained provisions for access to medicines and medical supplies, yet revisions to the embargo regulations in 1995 and 1996 have not changed the 1992 statutes.

Since the 1960 s, health sector investments in Cuba have been made via a strong public sector also dedicated to equitable food distribution, public education, and income equalization. Enviable health and medical care indicators were produced by this system despite the United States embargo. Yet in the past four years, the combined effect of severe economic decline and a far more stringent embargo have severely tested the capacity and flexibility of that system. Equitable distribution of scarce goods and priority programs for vulnerable populations help explain the apparent contradiction between a massive decline in available resources, a deteriorating public health infrastructure, and rising incidence rates for infectious diseases and low birth weight on the one hand, and continued low rates of infant mortality on the other. The medical system is still able to provide near universal coverage and to ensure the continuance of low mortality among those under sixty-five years of age even in the face of rising health threats. Yet despite the highly efficient use of health goods, these goods can no longer be stretched to meet the needs of the entire population.

Preferential access to essential goods for women and children is exemplary but has resulted in the creation of new vulnerable groups among adult men and the elderly. By reducing access to medicines and medical supplies from other countries and preventing their purchase from United States firms the embargo contributes to this rise in morbidity and mortality. Indeed, human rights are a concern in Cuba. A 1996 Amnesty International report claimed "Freedom of association, assembly and expression in Cuba are severely limited." Members of Conc ilio Cubano, a coalition of human rights, political opposition, and other groups, have been harassed and detained. According to Amnesty International, there are hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba, frequent reports of beatings of prisoners and unfair trials. As Pat Buchanan said, ''I would isolate and ostracize Fidel Castro as long as he is in power.

But I would try to aid the Cuban people who are our friends, whose freedom Castro denies, and whose lives could be improved by access to United States food, medicine, and civilian goods.' ' On the other hand, through its socialist policies, Cuba has achieved the lowest infant mortality and highest literacy rates of any Latin American country -- close to United States levels. The claim that United States policy, as dictated by human rights and democratic interests, is hypocritical. Compare China, where there are many thousands of political prisoners, brutal prison labor camps, and thousands of executions every year, often for petty offenses. Yet the United States continues to trade freely with China, claiming that this "constructive engagement" benefits the Chinese people and is most likely to lead to openness. And what of Saudi Arabia, far from a democracy but a major ally of the United States? And what of the human rights violations carried out in Turkey and Indonesia to whom the United States continues to sell arms and instruments of torture? And what of the 1954 overthrow of the democratic government of Guatemala by the C. I.

A. , which led to three decades of genocide of the Mayan people by United States-supported dictatorships? One thing Cuba has never had is the death squads that slaughtered so many thousands in Latin America under United States-supported dictators. Where was the concern for human rights and democracy then? Where were the embargoes then? America was angered by the expropriation of United States-owned property in Cuba after the revolution. But it is in the nature of a nationalist revolution that lands once stolen by a colonial power are returned to the native peoples. And how can Americans protest after their treatment of the American Indians? Should the Apaches, Iroquois and Seminoles be allowed to sue Uncle Sam for the return of their lands, not to mention the slaughter of their populations? The embargo is not only hypocritical, it may entrench Castro's rule. In the words of the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, "There has been solidarity in Cuba for Castro because of the pressure from abroad that has gone on for more than 30 years without succeeding." Cuba is not a threat to the United States.

If Cubans are to enjoy freedom, the United States should lift its embargo. Alternatively, to be fair, the United States should impose sanctions on the many other authoritarian states that abuse their citizens' rights more severely than Cuba, and recompense the Native Americans for lands stolen and lives taken. But let's face it, these things will never happen. They " re not in the "National Interest." Since the 1960 s, the United States has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba, prohibiting medicines, food and the sale of all goods originating in the United States. The embargo has caused serious commercial and industrial development in Cuba, but has caused enormous suffering the the Cuban people, especially the children, elderly, and the ill. Neither the government of Cuba nor the people pose a threat to the national security interests of the United States, nor to the health and safety of the people of the United States, however the embargo violates the United States Constitution for the United States citizens.

The restrictions on travel and trade violate the inalienable rights of the citizens of the United States to freely visit Cuba, conduct business in Cuba, and to participate fully in cultural, academic and scientific activities with their Cuban neighbors. Currently, the United States policy is in violation of important provisions of the Charter Organization of American States, the United Nations Charter as well as a number of other international agreements to which the United States is a signatory. The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted against the United States embargo for seven consecutive years, with the most recent vote being 157-2.