Melissa Harris Perry
updated 4/14/2013 3:16:14 PM ET 2013-04-14T19:16:14

It's costing Americans nearly $1.2 million per year, and the U.S. does business with other nations with human-rights violations. So why is the Cuba embargo still in place?

It’s only about 100 miles from the U.S., but if you’re not Jay-Z and Beyonce, you’re probably not going to visit Cuba soon. The Communist regime remains in place after 50 years under “the choke-hold of economic sanctions,” and travel restrictions, and the embargo costs the U.S. $1.2 billion every year–but nearly half of Americans support leaving it in place. America does business with other nations with long track records of human rights violations and corruption; what about Cuba makes it so controversial, and will the sanctions ever end?

On Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the panel took a long look at the forces that keep the embargo in place, how Cubans themselves have adapted to life under these restrictions, and how the prison at Guantanamo Bay damages American credibility during arguments about Cuba’s political prisoners.

While the embargo may be a “vestige of the Cold War,” as professor Lisandro Perez said, nearly half of American still support it. Host Melissa Harris-Perry was joined by Perez, Michigan State professor Lisa Cook, super-PAC director Mauricio Claver-Carone, scholar Soffiyah Elijah of the Correctional Association of New York, and City University of New York professor Sujatha Fernandes for an occasionally contentious debate that ranged from homegrown Cuban hip-hop to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Watch the discussion here and tune in next weekend at 10 a.m. ET.

Video: Why a trip to Cuba is still so controversial

  1. Closed captioning of: Why a trip to Cuba is still so controversial

    >>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry. two republicans in congress came up with a novel approach to the question of what anniversary gift to get for the couple who already has everything. last week jay-z and beyonce celebrated their fifth year as mr. and mrs. with a four- day trip to havana. they found something waiting for them that they can't count among -- a florida representatives, i willian a ross rate then and -- sent a letter to the department. to express concern and to request information regarding the highly publicized trip by u.s. musician, beyonce noels carter and sean carter to cuba . as you know, u.s. law expressly pro tickets the licensing or tourist activities in cuba . as it turns out, the representatives concern was misplaced because b and j's trip was licensed under a 2011 obama administration policy that loosened restrictions on travel to cuba . the policy allows licenses, "under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes people to people programs." the license permitting the carter's trip was issued to the nonprofit group academic arrangements abroad. for most americans, cuba remains off limits. the only country that the united states restricts citizens from visiting. president obama 's travel allowance is the latest update to the u.s.'s 50-year-old policy of economic and diplomatic isolation against cuba . the u.s. embargo was put into place in 1962 by president kennedy after $1.8 billion worth of u.s. property was confiscated by the cuban government under fidel castro . it has been the inheritance of every u.s. president ever since. each administration hoping that the economic choke-hold of sanctions would force the communist island nation to submit to democracy and free market capitalism and end the castro regime. but five decades later, cuba remains a communist nation with a castro in charge. it was old age, not illness ultimately -- not u.s. policy that forced fidel castro to abdicate it to his brother raul. even some of those critics question the effectiveness of u.s. policy and the u.s. chamber of commerce has urged president obama to drop the embargo citing $1.2 billion burden it poses on the u.s. economy . the cuban government uses the embargo as a perennial scapegoat blaming it for shortages on food and medicine. after half a century of passing the buck on failed policy, is it finally time that the buck stops right here with the carters? joining me now, la san droe perez, a cuban american and professor and chair of the department of latin american studies at john j college. fernandez, associate professor of sociology at queens college and the graduate center at cuny and the author of cuba , represent. lisa cook who has been here for days now. i love her, she hangs out with us. she's a professor at michigan state university and from washington, d.c., the director of the u.s. cuba democracy pact. ma ris yoe, i want to start with you. let me just ask, is it time to lift the sanctions?

    >> no, absolutely not. to the contrary. what you see right now in cube is essentially a socially and economic bankrupt regime led by a handful of octo jenn-airians. you have political dissidents throughout the world, whether the daughter of murdered pro- democracy leader who will be returning to cuba , the hefd the ladies in white, the largest pro- democracy movement in cuba which are women which at this time as we're speaking are marching through different cities on the island. these are the wives, daughters, sisters relatives of other prisoners who dressed in white asking for freedom and democracy for all ternatialternative. to hand over billions and billions of dollars of tourist and trade dollars to a monopoly, remember the cuban government that castro regime holds a monopoly over every industry in that country. it is a totalitarian economy. it would be a huge betrayal to the courageous pro- democracy activists fighting as we speak right now on the streets of cuba .

    >> so he's framed this for us almost like the spring of the middle east , of the arab spring that there is a pro- democracy effort and it's our responsibility as a country to maintain the sanctions and the embargo to support that effort.

    >> you know, melissa, what's interesting is that most of those dissidents and the internal opposition have called in fact for ending the embargo. the isolation of cuba actually hinders their work because they're shut off from the rest of the world . so it'sth case that i think the embargo among the many reasons why it should be lifted is because a lot of people argue that in fact it would help those people. sanchez, who has toured the united states , a well-known blogger in cuba and abroad, someone who called for the end of the embargo. it's a vestige of the cold war

    >> it seems like we've heard is an economic and political argument , right? certainly it is a moral and ethical one. but on the politics and the economics, the question of whether or not the embargo itself does the work of moving the island towards democracy .

    >> i don't think -- in fact, i think that it does a reverse. under the bush administration especially the aim of the embargo and bush administration , policies towards cuba was regime change . really all it did was make cubans feel bitter to the united states , saying why are they doing this to us? depriving us of resources and food and medicine are two areas where it's particularly difficult for cubans because of the embargo, both of these are very scarce. it's a humanitarian issue.

    >> let me ask you that. if i think about other totalitarian regimes , like china for example and i know it's a bit silly, but because the jay-z, beyonce moment is part of what's put this back on the table for americans, jay-z has this lyric in which he's suggesting, well, why are you mad about me being in a communist -- on a communist island when the microphone i'm rapping from is communist. it opens up this question. how is cuba different than china? why should we behave differently towards that nation?

    >> i wobbling to wager with you and anybody else that cuba will become a democracy before china does. we've seen that sanctions have a certain effect. china today is the most lucrative dictatorship in human history in part thanks because all we care about is business and forget about the thousands of people tortured and imprisoned in china. when is the last time we had a show for crusading chinese democracy . we don't care about them other than how much money is being made. in cuba , you have a new generation of leadership. it's laughable to any cuban to think that the castro regime is going to continue or any vestige of it. if i may mention something that lis andromentioned, they support sanctions. she's on the record as saying so is she does not believe that sanctions should be lifted n conditionally. the majority of the pro dempsey movement, whether the leader of the ladies in white and others have said that we need to maintain those conditions in u.s. law . let's remember what the conditions are. the unconditional release of all political prisoners , the recognition of fundamental human rights as recognized in any country of the world or should be, and three, the legalization of independent labor unions and independent political parties and the independent media . we're not asking for the world here. also the difference with china is that here we are in the western hemisphere . 34 out of 35 countries in in hemisphere have signed on to the interamerican democratic charter and accept representative democracy . even the chavez government does so in venezuela. this is an anomaly of what should be a fully democratic hemisphere. in our interest here, the last thing we want to return to in in western hemisphere are dictatorships of the left or the right.

    >> let me get your response to some of that, sophia. that's a pretty comprehensive claim he's making.

    >> it fails to recognize the sovereignty of the cubans and the cuban nation to make their own decisions about how they want to run their country. the united states doesn't have the right to tell any other country how it should operate. cubans in cuba should have the right to determine who they want to run their government and houp they want their democracy or whatever we want to claim should operate. i don't think any of us has the right to throw stones at what's going on in cuba because we have enough problems in the united states . we talk about political dissidents and human rights violators. the united states soldiers in guantanamo.

    >> hold that. i promise we're coming to guantanamo bay . we're not having this conversation without getting there. when we come back, i want to ask you lisa, whether or not exporting between the u.s. and cuba is good for cuba . they might want to keep us away. when we come


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