Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The nature of the conflict between the United States and Cuba has clearly been changing since the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Deprived of foreign communist subsidies, Cuba has been forced to begin economic reform. Yet, the United States has retained its embargo against Cuba. Does the long-standing embargo violate international law? In an attempt to answer that question, this Note examines the status of a norm prohibiting the unilateral use of economic coercion and whether there has been any post-Cold War movement toward such a norm.

Over the past thirty years, despite several notable United Nations resolutions, developing nations failed to establish a clear norm prohibiting economic coercion. Cuba has attempted to parlay international anger into world condemnation of alleged U.S. economic coercion in the wake of U.S. passage of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, which impacts third party states while clamping down on Cuba. Indeed, from 1992 to 1994 the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed several resolutions critical of the United States. However, analysis of the text of the resolutions and the positions of individual voting members reveals that there has been little or no movement toward a norm prohibiting the use of economic coercion.

Still, there has been increasing pressure on U.S. policymakers to ease the embargo. Quite simply, as Castro has begun economic reform, U.S. businesses are growing tired of watching their international competitors snap up potentially lucrative opportunities in Cuba. The lesson appears to be that, in the post-Cold War era, underdeveloped nations stand to benefit much more from free trade than from the futile pursuit of international legal norms concerning economic coercion.