Cuba is under a US-sanction from 1958.

Why hasn't this sanction been able to do much damage to Cuba's communist regime?

What about Venezuela?

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    What makes you think the US embargo hasn't damaged Cuba? The place is crumbling... (And I hear Venezuela isn't doing much better now that oil revenue no longer is filling the coffers.) Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 13:21
  • 1
    never or ever..? Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 13:21
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    By "worked", do you mean caused the removal of the government or something else?
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 13:22
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    If the vast majority of the people were poor because the oligarchs pocketed everything in a corrupt capitalist system, then being in an impoverished embargoed communist system, as a replacement, might not be enough of a difference to cause popular outrage. Plus, in small nations, there is an element of pride and "David vs Goliath" defiance if the USA is seen as the main adversary, I'd think. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 15:19
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    Actually when the embargo was established in 1960 (in 1958 it was only on arms), Castro's regime wasn't communist yet. It was nationalist and strongly anti-US, but it was still willing to trade with the US, notably export sugar and import refined oil. Castro embraced the Marxism-Leninism ideology only in december 1961 <history.com/this-day-in-history/…> when it badly needed Soviet help... mostly because of the US-embargo itself. So we can conclude than the embargo DID have a strong impact on the nature of the Cuban regime.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 16:06

9 Answers 9


Generally speaking external sanctions do not substantially affect a ruling elite directly. They can have a secondary effect e.g. oil sanctions reducing bribe opportunities, but these weren't a large factor with Cuba.

For sanctions to cause the effective removal of a ruling group, a number of factors need to come together:

  1. enough of the population must be sufficiently disadvantaged
  2. enough of the population must lay the blame on their rulers
  3. enough of the population must feel aggrieved enough rise up
  4. the uprising must succeed

In Cuba, there had been a number of unsuccessful attempts at uprisings, the Bay of Pigs probably being the most famous. But it's not evident that the majority of the population considered the Castro regime at fault for the US sanctions (the blame was, not surprisingly, attributed to the US). There was widespread dissatisfaction with the Castro regime but the same can be said with, say, the Bush or Thatcher regimes: enough for tension but not outright civil war.

It's also worth remembering that, until the fall of the Soviet Union, Castro had significant international support. It wasn't until the fall that Cuba became substantially isolated and that did, in fact, lead to a slow thawing of relations with the West.

  • 1
    I never understood why embargoes have been tried in the modern era. This may have worked in the days of fuedalism but recent history shows that the opposite is more effective. That is flooding the market with exports has more of an effect in changing the ruling elite's mind. For example China and Hong Kong Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 15:28
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    @Frank Cedeno It's signalling. Basically a diplomatic step up from a serious ticking off. What does tend to work are the sanctions that do affect the ruling elite e.g. freezing Swiss bank accounts, withholding visas, that sort of thing.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 16:38
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    I understand the theory, I'm arguing that embargoes do not force change in the modern era. Yes annoying to the elite, political manuevering, but real change? Cuba is still anti-american. Contrast that with China, where there is no love but alot of cooperation. Look at the reaction in Cuba with just a few commercial flights added. One of the few policies I give Obama credit for was opening relations. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 17:36
  • @Frank Cedeno oh I completely agree. You win a lot more friends in diplomacy by giving than by taking away. The US used to be the master at this but seems to do less with its global police hat. China has very much take the lead.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 19:52
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    Not Giving, allowing American companies to make a profit by selling items. Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 11:47

US has already caused a lot of harm towards Cuban by imposing the indirect sanction rules that forbid any ship that docks in Cuba seaport from docking in any US port for at least 6 months. That destroyed a lot of Cuba trade, and this even strengthens Castro propaganda that USA going to enslave Cuban, again. (Though Obama administration has lifted the embargo lately)

There is little incentive for Cuba public to revolt: there is more than enough terrible examples of central and south America counterpart. For example, Central America Banana Republic like Honduras, Guatemala prove the "free world" is rather disastrous. Neo-liberalism economy in Chile shows that the Chilean "free economy" but dictatorship regime murder a lot of dissidents.

Ironically, contradict to US propaganda machinery, Cuban dissident rarely smackdown(or even murdered) compared to Central and South American counterparts.

And there is one more irony: the prisoner in USA detention camp in Cuba Guantánamo Bay provide free health care to counter Castro socialism free health care. So perhaps someday, the cheapest way for United state citizen to get free health care is going to jail.


Additionally to Alex's answer, the embargo is far less likely to work if it's ineffective in preventing other major powers from engaging with the country. Most notably,

  • This is also one of the main arguments offered against the USA unilaterally walking away from the Iran deal, which was a multilateral agreement. Second part of the answer is especially important - we want to address accurate claims. +1 Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 15:22

Understand that when we talk about embargoes, we need to understand that it typically doesn't mean a full-bore embargo (i.e. a military blockade preventing any trade whatsoever). So Cuba was excluded from US markets but they could still get some supplies from other countries. And if we really wanted to turn the thumbscrews to Venezuela we could embargo their oil. We don't do that because the effects would be devastating to the people of Venezuela

The Trump administration introduced sanctions Friday to prohibit Venezuela's national leaders from accessing U.S. credit or selling bonds to Americans, but specifically and purposefully don't hit the country's oil industry.

So the embargo against Venezuela is more for show and to tighten screws to express our displeasure. Which is basically what the Cuba embargo does/did. They hurt, but it's the political equivalent of a bloody nose. Real regime change requires boots on the ground, which the US is reluctant to do for obvious reasons

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    ... the effects would be devastating to the people of Venezuela --- hypocrisy. eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/…
    – user4514
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 20:00

Only the United States have an embargo on Cuban goods. Cuba deals freely with the other Latin American countries, Canada and the European Union among others. Tourists can enter Cuba freely from these countries, which brings in a lot of cash. The hotels belong mostly to Spanish companies.


Country restructures its economic for resist embargo: become more self sufficient, create stuff local, consume resource more efficient, use less resource, find new trade partners, indirect trade around embargo, etc.

Also often hard force people follow embargo. Hard know where ship will go/come if not follow it (too many ships). Embargo countries not stamp passports or no have paperwork for help defeat embargo, fake documents, mark products from different country (when have government support many things become possible). Many people hate embargo and think it immoral/hypocrisy (outside and inside embargo country) and help find/create ways around it.


In the case of Cuba, the embargo has partially worked. To know about the damage of the US embargo (or blockade) and other actions you can read the Demand of the Cuban people to the government of the USA for human damages.

You also can read the resolution that Cuba presents every year in the UN and wins by a majority in favor of the remotion of the embargo. That resolution contains data about the damage in the last period.

These are the refs 1, 2 and 3.

  • But they're demanding it from the government of the USA. If the point was for citizens of Cuba to make demands of the government of Cuba, it was a failure. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 14:02
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    What do you think is the goal of the embargo? If part of the goal is to cause human suffering, then yes, the embargo has partially worked. If the goal is to return all of the real-estate and other resources that Castro nationalized to the families that once controlled them, or if the goal is to align the Cuban government with so-called "U.S. interests," then it hasn't worked at all. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:29
  • @user253751 The point was to make demands to the government of USA, the offender of the damages. The Cuban government is the victim. In my first reference you can read the damages caused directly and in the commerce and transactions with third parties only in one year. The amount was about 4000 millions in the 2019 document, a lot for a little country. Of course these demands are mainly moral, the USA simply have ignore it for years, but Cuba make its point winning every year almost by unanimity. The embargo causes a lot of damage to Cuba, together with his inefficient economy.
    – RobertoGGX
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 23:47
  • @RobertoGGX So the government of the USA is hurting people in order to make the people hate the government of the USA? That makes no sense. None. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 18:48
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    @user253751 Exactly what you said. The embargo is nonsense. The government of USA thinks they're helping the people of Cuba, but obviously if you are damaging me you are not precisely my friend. In part the problem is that the advisors of US government are the old Cuban owners whose properties were repossessed, but now the major part of Cubans in USA are against the damage to his own families in Cuba. Trump apparently thinks the Cuban voters will support him, but only the old guys will do it. Obama made the right move trying to remove the embargo improving relations mainly thanks to tourism.
    – RobertoGGX
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 19:53

Given the economic situation in both countries, and the Cuban move away from centrally planned, stateowned companies, I would argue that sanctions are working albeit very slowly.

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    I cannot agree in comparing Cuba and Venezuela economic situation. Cuba has free healthcare (and a good one), free education and no one is near starvation (yes, they cannot get a ice cream but at leaste there are not beggars).
    – jean
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 11:19

The USA has historically regarded Latin America as part of its sphere of influence, it's back-yard; this harks back to the Munroe doctrine formulated in the 18th C that recognised its position as regional hegemon.

Latin America, like many countries outside of the West was historically associated with Socialism; in this, it is similar to the countries in the European mainland which after much agonising chose the Social Democracy as a political paradigm to underpin their societies. It's also notable, that unlike the United Kingdom and the USA there were strong communist movements in both regions - and so a respectable position; whereas in the UK, it was seen as eccentric, and in the USA, reprehensible and maybe even treacherous. At no time, were British people told they were Anti-British for holding on to such views, nor did they set up a political inquisition to investigate charges of being Anti-British. This is quite unlike the experience of the USA where sympathising with communist or socialist aims were seen as Anti-American - a revealing turn of phrase.

The embargoes on Cuba & Venezuela was part and parcel of the USA policy of containment; that is to contain the communist menace, and also it's less militant cousain, socialism; in many ways the USA policy succeeded: the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the turn of Communist China towards Capitalism; the meddling in the domestic affairs of Latin American nations, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela most famously amongst them succeeded in pushing back the Socialist menace there too.

The Cuban revolution had been a great inspiration to Latin America; it showed that political situations were not carved in granite and could be changed; Eduardo Galeano observed that given the success of the Cuban revolution the USA would not allow another socialist experiment to succeed in Latin America; And so it proved, neo-liberalism was imposed as an economic orthodoxy on Latin Anerica. Socialism as well as Communism was to be contained, and then crushed.

The turn of Latin America towards Socialism again was in large part due to the failure of these economic doctrines, the growth on inequality, and the highly polarised societies that resulted; they succeeded in taking the political initiative as the centre and focus of USA foreign policy - after the collapse of the Soviet Union - was taken up with the Middle East.

It's worth noting that the economic embargo on Cuba goes back some time; the Platt amendment to the Cuban-American treaty of 1903 restricted Cuban economic and political freedom, and this lasted until Castros revolution; the embargo that the USA placed on Cuba merely reinforced their historical antipathy to Cuban independence and was in line with their politics of containment; this forced Cuba into the Soviet camp during the Cold War and probably ensured their survival; certainly, they went through a difficult time after it's collapse and many predicted the final collapse of Cubas revolution. This has not happened, and is unlikely to happen now, it's too central to Cuban identity. The Council of Foreign Affairs noted in a recent report that the days of USA authority as regional hegemon were over with the nations of Latin America reaching out to newly burgeoning economies like India and China.

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