Moving Beyond Isolation and Sanctions to Dialogue and Engagement: From Cuba to Eritrea

The United States does not have independent cause to support isolation of Eritrea. If ending of sanctions against Cuba is the ‘right thing to do’, the same is true of ending sanctions against Eritrea. Time to pursue a policy of engagement.
The United States does not have independent cause to support isolation of Eritrea. If ending of sanctions against Cuba is the ‘right thing to do’, the same is true of ending sanctions against Eritrea. Time to pursue a policy of engagement.

By Dr. Samuel Mahaffy,

PRESIDENT Obama correctly acknowledged today, in regard to U.S. sanctions against Cuba, that “isolation has not worked” and that it is time for a “new approach.”  He added:  “Our policies toward Cuba have gotten us nowhere.”

I commend President Obama for his courage in correcting course on an ill-conceived and ineffective policy.  I have great hope that the improvements of relationships between the United States and Cuba, will not only benefit the people of both nations, but also serve the interests of peace.

We need to go a step further.  It is time to question the effectiveness of sanctions and isolation as an attempted strategy to leverage changes in behavior in governments with which we may disagree.  Even in the case of governments that are not supporting the democratic rights and the interests of their own people, it is questionable whether trade and diplomatic isolation is an effective strategy.

We must look beyond the case of Cuba to our stance toward other nations with whom we have differences. Listening to President Obama’s speech, I reflect that nearly every statement made in regard to the ineffectiveness of sanctions against Cuba apply equally and accurately to sanctions against the Country of Eritrea in East Africa. The United States has been ‘going alone’ in sanctions against Cuba in the face of the rest of the world engaging with Cuba.

Similarly, the United States has held a central role in promoting the isolation of the Country of Eritrea.  It is transparent that this is motivated by the U.S. strategic alliance with Ethiopia which has a history of conflict with Eritrea.  The present Ethiopian regime is proving to be both very repressive of its own people and a willing surrogate implementer of U.S.-directed military interventions in the Horn of Africa.

The United States does not have independent cause to support the isolation of Eritrea.   If ending of sanctions against Cuba is the ‘right thing to do’, the same is true of ending sanctions against Eritrea.

It is significant that nearly every statement President Obama made in regard to U.S.-Cuban relations is applicable to U.S.-Eritrean relations. I take each of several statements President Obama made in regard to relations with Cuba and substitute the word Eritrea for Cuba.  In regard to Eritrea, it is surely the case that “isolation (of Eritrea) has not worked.  It is time for a new approach.”  Eritrean people have made an enormous contribution to life in the United States, just as the Cuban people here have.

As is the case with our failed policy of isolating Cuba, it is completely true that our policies of isolating Eritrea have gotten us nowhere.

As President Obama extended to the Cuban people a hand of friendship, I suggest that it is time for the U.S and the world to extend a hand of friendship to Eritrea and the Eritrean people.  It is time to place the “interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.”  Increased commerce is good for both the American and the Eritrean people.

In normalizing relationships with Cuba, the United States catches up with the rest of the world in recognizing the ineffectiveness of sanctions and the value of normalized relationships.  It is time for the United States to equally catch up with members of the global community who are establishing diplomatic relationships with Eritrea that are respectful of the values and priorities of the Eritrean people.

Cuba has not co-opted its own values and governance as it moves into a new era of normalized relationships.  Neither should Eritrea.  The right of Eritrea to self-determination must never be sold to the highest bidder.

In regard to Cuba, President Obama states: “We are making these changes today, because it is the right thing to do.”  It is equally the right thing to do for the U.S. to join the global community in ending failed policies of seeking to isolate Eritrea.  President Obama states that “our policies toward Cuba have gotten us nowhere.”  Neither have our policies or our stance toward Eritrea.

In the interests of peace and justice, it is time for the U.S. and the world to support the ending of sanctions against Eritrea.  Isolation, as an approach to international relations and conflict resolution, simply does not work.  That is the case with Cuba.  It is equally the case with Eritrea. Rather than isolation, the world is better served by respectful dialogue and engagement.

The ‘honest admission of mistakes’ that President Obama brought forward in regard to our relationship with Cuba must be extended to our relationships with other countries with whom we may have significant disagreements.  Let’s begin with a re-evaluation of our stance toward Eritrea.