While the diplomats play hardball with Castro, determined to do nothing to help him cling to power, marketers should let statecraft work its ways. Eventually, though, they can argue that trade with the U.S. can undermine Castro, too, as it shows Cubans what a free enterprise economy can offer.
Businesspeople are not blind to the double standard of human rights politics, of course. In China last week, a high-powered U.S. trade promotion team had billion-dollar mega-deals in mind and didn't ruffle their sales pitch with too much talk about human rights. It's Castro's reality, and the misfortune of his people, that Cuba is broke and money talks. China's dictators get trade missions; Castro gets the embargo.
As our story last week indicated, many marketers are making plans to enter Cuba when and if the U.S. boycott ends. But they should understand what awaits them after more than three decades of Castro's rule. There won't be 11 million affluent consumers waiting for American goods. In fact, most of the money will probably flow the other way initially, in the form of tourism, rebuilding of foreign-owned businesses and help from the Cuban-American community.
Whatever the Cuban market's lure, it alone should not determine U.S. policy. As is evident with China, we can't expect every one of our trading partners to have a full-blown democracy up and running. But wherever possible, we can and should use our economic clout to ease despotic rule.