I’ve travelled across both Iran and Cuba. And I can say that despite sanctions Iran has progressed into a modern society with a rich cultural history. Whereas Cuba is still stuck in the 1960s and is a crumbling mess.
It’s my firm view from visiting both Iran and Cuba that US sanctions aren’t to blame for the current state of Cuba. It’s my view that the communist government is solely to blame for the crumbling mess that Cuba has become.
Let’s compare these two US sanctioned countries, Iran and Cuba, starting with Iran.
A comparison of the effects of US sanctions on Iran and Cuba
Have US Sanctions Halted Progress in Iran?
US sanctions have not prevented Iran from progressing into a modern, technologically proficient society.
Iran boasts a modern healthcare sector and mobile apps for everything from transport to food delivery and laundry services. Yet it is also home to one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilisations. With historical and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC.
As an Australian I found it fascinating to learn that Iran had preserved graffiti that is older than my own country.
Yet moreover I learnt during my trip to Iran that it was the successive Persian empires that we have to thank for inventing everything from postal services and money, through to the oldest-known declaration of human rights (Cyrus Cylinder).
Respecting and protecting the religions, customs and practices of the lands he conquered, Cyrus The Great is referred to as a ‘messiah‘ in the Hebrew bible. Cyrus sought the return to Israel of the Israelites. And he is responsible for the jewish return to Zion.
Cyrus is the only non jewish person referred to as a messiah in the Hebrew bible. And he was Persian (founder of the Achaemenid Empire).
Have US Sanctions Slowed The Military Progress Of Iran?
Iran boasts a formidable professional military. US sanctions have had very limited effects on the military development of Iran. Iran is not a nation like Iraq or Afghanistan (or Cuba) that the US and its coalition partners could roll straight through.
The development of high tech scientific sectors in Iran have had both civilian and military uses.
Technological developments in Iran have benefitted the general population in respect to civilian infrastructure (high tech internet and communications along with the development of entire cities and suburbs), health care (nuclear medicine and pharmaceuticals) and nano-technologies (building materials and fibres).
Yet these same technologies have given Iran access to high tech communications, nuclear and biological weapons capabilities, missile technologies, high tech drones and ballistic and anti-ballistic materials.
Iran is now so well developed technologically that they transfer military technologies to other sanctioned nations. Including military drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Have US Sanctions Affected Education In Iran?
Iran boats what I would consider one of the smartest general populations that I’ve encountered. Extremely high levels of education are very common in Iran.
You can take a ‘Snapp’ (Iranian Uber) and it’s not uncommon for your driver to have a PhD in philosophy, medicine, law or even mathematics and physics. High levels of postgraduate studies are common amongst Persians.
In Tehran in particular you will find that a large portion of the society is highly educated, well travelled and upwardly mobile. Education and learning are accorded a high priority in Persian (Iranian) society.
Medical training in Iran is particularly rigorous. And Iranian doctors and medical specialists are among the best in the world. I would not hesitate to be treated by an Iranian medical professional. And in fact my own doctor in Australia is Persian and was trained in Iran.
Have US Sanctions Halted Progress In Cuba?
The Cuban Government and its functionaries would like you to believe that the US Sanctions are to blame for the lack of progress in Cuba. Everything that goes wrong in Cuba is blamed by the Cuban Government on the United States.
But it wasn’t the US that prohibited the use of the internet in Cuba. Or failed to fund the development of internet infrastructure or waited until 2019 to legalise private Wifi. Those failures fall squarely on the Cuban Government.
It’s not the United States fault that Cuba has had three different transport apps in as many years. Due to their developers fleeing to other countries. That failure falls squarely on the Cuban Government.
Cuba’s healthcare system is state run. The United States isn’t to blame for crumbling hospitals or poorly trained medical staff. Or medical staff who steal medications and sell them on the black market.
The US also isn’t to blame for the lack of development and modernisation in medical technology in Cuba. Or the complete lack of domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities. These failures belong entirely to the Cuban Government.
Most of what you see or hear about the healthcare sector in Cuba is purely propaganda.
It isn’t the United States that has prohibited Cubans from studying abroad. Or failed to fund foreign study for Cuban students. The lack of fresh ideas and state of the art training that comes from students studying around the globe with the worlds foremost experts, is a failure of the Cuban Government.
The lack of adequate housing, basic infrastructure (power, water, sewage, roads) and adequate domestic agricultural production is not the fault of the United States. These are all failures of the Cuban Government.
Have US Sanctions Slowed The Military Progress Of Cuba?
Unlike the Iranian military, the Cuban military is so poorly equiped they couldn’t defend against the common cold, let alone an invasion of their country.
The Cuban military in a conflict with the United States or any of its coalition partners would have the staying power of a fart in a hurricane. And the weak status of the Cuban military is not the result of US Sanctions.
The lack of high tech scientific industries in Cuba and world leading experts is the fault of the Cuban Government. And the lack of these industries and experts means that Cuba has no domestic industries capable of producing dual use technologies.
The lack of high technology industries makes for a poorer society. And a much weaker military that lacks all of the military and strategic capabilities that these technologies generate.
Have US Sanctions Affected Eduction In Cuba?
US sanctions have not affected education in Cuba. The lack of infrastructure, technology and foreign training are the fault of the Cuban Government. And the failures of the Cuban Government make for a less educated and less intelligent society.
Where I would have no hesitation using an Iranian trained doctor and indeed I do, I would not agree to be treated by a Cuban trained doctor. Medical training in Cuba is decades behind the rest of the world.
Most of what you see and hear about the medical sector in Cuba, or indeed any other sector of the workforce, is purely propaganda.
For example, the gentleman who was continually fixing our toilet during my last stay in Cuba was a trained barrister. He has a more profitable career cleaning sewage from blocked pipes.
Another example is the youngsters who will often act as your service staff in restaurants around Havana. They often have degrees in education and a desire to see the next generation of young Cubans adequately educated. But they earn far more serving food to tourists or acting as semi pro prostitutes.
Far from being a highly educated and self-sufficient society, Cuba is a pauper state reliant on donations from abroad and tourism. Cuba is the real life Westworld.
Are US Sanctions Effective? Cuba Vs Iran
It’s important to acknowledge here that I don’t believe that international sanctions regimes are effective.
In the case of Iran the country has completely sidestepped the US sanctions and their affect has been limited. In the case of Cuba, the Cuban Government has for 60 years used the US embargo to attract international support. And still to this day the Cuban Government uses the US embargo to justify their own domestic failures.
After being in attendance and hearing the former foreign minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif speak on a number of occasions, I believe he’s correct. And I am firmly of the view that US sanctions and ‘zero sum games’ in international relations do not work.
I’ve also had the opportunity to hear US senators speak at closed door events. And I have met former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he attended the Australian National University (ANU).
As for the US senators I would use an Australian colloquialism. And I would state on record that for the most part, all of them struck me as being ‘about as sharp as a sack full of door knobs’. Though Clapper was highly intelligent and well versed on International affairs.
Comparing US Sanctions: Cuba Vs Iran
Now, those who would argue in support of the US sanctions being the primary cause of the disheveled state of Cuba will likely raise two key objections against me.
Critics will say that it is the ‘location’ of Cuba and the ‘duration’ of the sanctions that have resulted in the different outcomes when we compare Cuba and Iran.
The Cuban embargo started in 1961 and the Iran sanctions came into effect in 1979 but have been periodically relaxed and tightened. Iran is also just across the Caspian Sea from Russia and far away from America.
Yet I would point out that the many policy failures of the Cuban Government have nothing to do with the geographical location of Cuba or the duration of the US embargo. For example, waiting until 2019 to legalise private wifi has nothing to do with geographical location or the duration of the US embargo.
I would further add that a sustained reliance on Russia as a major economic partner is a failure on the part of the Cuban Government. And a continued opposition to free trade and open markets hinders progress in Cuba.
Cuba is increasing its trade and relationship with China. Yet it appears to me to be stumbling into debt diplomacy as the pauper nation in the Cuba-China relationship.
It also appears to me that the kleptomaniacs who run Cuba are likely to be knowingly selling Cuba to China through debt. And doing so for personal gain.
Corruption is rife in Cuban economics and again, that’s not the result of Cuba’s location or the embargoes duration.
It is the location of Cuba that makes it attractive to China. It’s ostensibly an unsinkable aircraft carrier just off the US mainland. Cuba’s a country from which China gains greater strategic value for the money it spends. China’s playing the same game with Cuba, that the Soviet Union played during the Cold War.
If Sanctions Stopped Tomorrow Which Nation Would Progress?
If sanctions were removed tomorrow from both Iran and Cuba, Iran would progress further and Cuba would stagnate. Iranians would become wealthier and Cubans would become poorer.
The difference in futures I see for Iran and Cuba come down to the general population and the values to which they adhere. Persians value education and learning. Cubans value scams and anything they can get for free.
In an open and internationally competitive global market Cuba would fall further behind the rest of the world and likely implode. Whereas Iran would prosper.
For 60 years Cubans have been told that they’re the smartest, most educated little communist high achievers. And for most Cubans in Cuba, they’ve never seen the outside world and have never been tested in an internationally competitive environment.
Cubans are most often, to use another Aussie colloquialism, ‘not the sharpest tools in the shed’. Without their free housing, free chicken and rice, and their government salaries no matter how bad at their jobs they are, the average Cuban would be worse off.
Without US sanctions and the ’embargo’ the Cuban Government would likely implode. Because they’d have nobody else to blame for their constant failures.
In a country that can import enough horrible Belgian beer to flood the country but can’t organise adequate supplies of medication, the government will crumble without someone else to blame.
Cuba is a country that can build and furnish many huge high-rise hotels in a year but can’t build adequate social housing in decades.
I would not be surprised in the slightest if a removal of US sanctions caused the Cuban Government to collapse.
But there would be one potential bright spark amongst the chaos. Failure often breeds success. Letting Cuba fail on its own, might actually give Cuba new life.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.
My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba here.