From Cuba to Eritrea: Extending the Conversation on Failed Sanctions

It is time, Mr. President, for charting a new course on Eritrea because it is the right thing to do
Obama made changes to restore ties with Cuba after 50 years because, he said, it is the right thing to do. It is time, Mr. President, for charting a new course on Eritrea because that too is the right thing to do.

By Dr. Samuel Mahaffy,

FROM the U.S. White House today, President Obama correctly acknowledged in regard to sanctions against Cuba that “isolation has not worked” and that it is time for a “new approach.” Listening to his speech, I reflect that nearly every statement made in regard to the ineffectiveness of sanctions against Cuba apply equally and accurately to sanctions against Eritrea.

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.