Document Type


Article Version

Publisher's PDF

Publication Date

Winter 2014


Many analysts have criticized the U.S. embargo against Cuba as an anachronistic holdover from the Cold War. Yet its problems go well beyond that. In many regards, the U.S. embargo against Cuba represents a caricature of the various American misapplications of economic sanctions: if the goal is to end the Castro regime this policy has not only failed, but has spent half a century doing so. If the intent is to support Cubans in their aspirations for a different political system the sanctions have failed in that regard as well, since even the most vocal dissidents in Cuba criticize the embargo. In the face of the “smart sanctions” movement to develop economic tools that target the leadership rather than the people, the embargo against Cuba represents the opposite pole: it impacts the Cuban population indiscriminately, affecting everything from family travel, to the publication of scientific articles by Cuban scholars, to the cost of buying chicken for Cuban households.

This article will briefly describe the history and the main components of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and the impact of the unilateral measures on Cuba's economy. It will look at some of the ways in which the U.S. embargo is "extraterritorial"--impacting Cuba's trade with third [*64] countries--as well as ways in which the United States' unilateral embargo functions in effect as a global measure. It will then examine the overwhelming response of the international community, and in particular, the United Nations General Assembly, in condemning the embargo as a violation of international law. This response represents a diplomatic challenge to the United States that is unparalleled in the last fifty years of global governance.


Copyright Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University)

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Publication Title

Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Published Citation

Gordon, J. "The U.S. Embargo Against Cuba and the Diplomatic Challenges to Extraterritoriality,” Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. Vol. 36, no. 1, (Winter 2012) pp. 63-79

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