The Hypocrisy in the call for Democracy in Cuba

Cuban Adventures founder John Ahrens puts forth his own personal opinion on the debate around the call for democracy in Cuba and the counterproductive impact of US government policies on this issue.

Having witnessed firsthand the struggles of the Cuban people over the last 2 decades, I can only feel empathy and support for the recent, and ongoing, demonstrations by Cubans both within Cuba, and those now living in other countries, for more freedom. The hardships that Cubans have been subjected to by their own government are manifestly unjust. To continually point this out and apply pressure for change I feel is both appropriate and necessary.


A wall painting in Havana urging liberty for Cuba
Freedom for Cuba is a universal desire. The question is how to achieve it. Photo: Getty

Regrettably, the policies adopted by the US Government on this issue are not only counterproductive but also add to the suffering of the Cuban people.

From outside of Cuba, apart from calling for change, in practical terms, how can we help people in Cuba in their desire for more freedom and democracy?

In the case of the US government, one idea would be to act more democratically itself. My intention here is not to gratuitously bash the US, but to respectfully suggest some practical solutions, alternative to those that haven’t worked for the last 60 years. Here are 6 areas where the US could itself be more democratic, and thereby more effectively pressure Cuba to do so as well.

1. Biden should honor his election promise

In his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden vowed to reverse Trump’s hard-line policies toward Cuba and reinstate the Obama administration's softer approach by easing sanctions, travel restrictions, and caps on remittances. The reinstatement of Obama era Cuba policies can be done by presidential decree. It doesn’t require a change in legislation. Having subsequently won the election, the reneging of these promises by Biden is, in essence, anti-democratic.

Additionally, the most recent intensification of sanctions against Cuba were made in January 2021, after Trump had lost the election but before he had left office. This includes the relisting of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism", a mechanism that puts severe financial restrictions on a country. It can be reasonably argued that those changes were undemocratic, as they were made when Trump did not have the majority of support of the electorate at that time.

2. Become a “Full Democracy”

According to the Democracy Index, the US is classified as a “flawed democracy”. Its ranking (25th out of 167 countries) and 7.92 rating points, is well behind countries like Canada (9.24), Sweden (9.26), and the number 1 ranked Norway (9.81). By improving its own democratic system, the US can enhance its moral authority, and be able to place more pressure on Cuba to improve its own system.

No doubt this would also result in other benefits both within the US and in other countries that the US has influence over.

The US score for Political Culture is the most concerning of the factors that contribute to its democracy rating. It is considered to have an “underdeveloped political culture” and ranks equal 41st for this factor along with countries like Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and Haiti, and below Italy, Greece, and Uganda.

3. Comply with the UN assembly vote

Every year since 1992, the United Nations has voted on a resolution calling on the US to end its economic embargo on Cuba. Every year the vote has resoundingly condemned the long-standing US policy. This year’s vote was 184 to 2, very similar to each of the previous 29 years. More respect for democracy and international cooperation would see the US take heed of this vote.

the most recent voting result of the resolution at the UN assembly   Calling to end the US embargo on Cuba
The result of the most recent vote on the UN resolution calling to end the US embargo on Cuba. Photo: Eskinder Debebe

The counter argument is that the US is an independent sovereign country and has the right to implement its own policies that it deems fit. However the embargo is a policy that is aimed at forcing changes within another sovereign country. An obvious hypocrisy in itself.

4. Inconsistent calls for democracy internationally

The US has much more normal and mutually beneficial relations with a whole host of other countries that have poor human rights records and a lack of democracy. The most flagrant might be that with the theocratic Saudi Arabia, which is classed as an absolute monarchy, has a well-known history of human rights violations, and ranks 156th on the Democracy Index, below that of Cuba (140th). The US level of support of the regime of this country goes as far as selling billions of dollars of arms to the Saudis every year.

The inconsistency with which the US demands democracy in different countries weakens its position in doing so with Cuba.

Trump poses with leaders from Saudi Arabia
The US has open trade relations with countries that are less democratic than Cuba. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty

5. US policies restrict freedoms of Americans

The current set of US policies restrict freedoms of US businesses to trade with Cuba, and the freedom of US residents from traveling there as tourists. It’s ironic that by demanding freedom in Cuba, the US government has decided to limit the freedoms of its own citizens. With the Helms Burton legislation, it also prohibits non-US companies from doing business with both Cuba and the US at the same time, extending the limitations on freedom beyond its own borders.

6. Most Americans support lifting the embargo

A 2016 poll found that 62 percent of Americans were in favor of ending the embargo. A more democratic approach would be to respect such public opinion.

A man waves a Cuban flag in a protest in the July 11 protest in Havana
A man with a Cuban flag in the July 11 protest in Havana. Photo: Adalberto Roque—AFP/Getty

If the US eliminates these restrictions on its own citizens and those it imposes on foreign businesses, this would contribute to more fairness and freedom both within the US and internationally. It would also remove the only excuse the Cuban government has for the failures of its own economy.

Your opinion is welcome

These are merely my own thoughts on what practical measures could be made from outside of Cuba to improve the situation in Cuba. I’m interested in hearing other opinions as long as they are civil. Please feel free to add them in comments below.

How you can help

There is a list of charities that are sending medical and food supplies to Cuba in our latest newsletter.

About the Author

John has been working with tourism in Cuba since 2002 partnering with both private Cuban businesses and the Cuban government to provide the services. He partly attributes the success of the travel company he founded in 2005, to the creativity required to continually find solutions that are unique to Cuba.

John Ahrens


Antony Gullick
Antony Gullick
August 13, 2021
Well articulated Johnny. The problem is Florida and what complicates that further is there are huge numbers of Venezuelans there now. The normal rule of thumb is win Florida, win the election. Biden knows that through voter suppression they are unlikely to win Georgia and a couple of other nor ally republican states. Remember Obama didn’t do anything until the very end of his second term - Florida
Alan Crocker
Alan Crocker
August 12, 2021
Very insightful, practical and implementable suggestions John Very useful to educate those who are open to knowing
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