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Embargoes have long been an attractive foreign policy approach for the United States against entrenched adversaries. Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba are just some of the countries that the U.S. embargo is bad for. Economic sanctions provide the US with a way to put pressure on the enemy without incurring the cost of boots on the ground. But these measures have other costs that disproportionately hit ordinary people trying to make a living in countries under attack.

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Embargoes can backfire because they make opponents more provocative and aggressive in opposing U.S. interests. The far-reaching sanctions on the entire regime have had little effect other than exacerbating existing disputes between countries. Well-defined, targeted sanctions are more likely to be successful because they have limited targets and therefore less threat of compromise.

Embargoes can also be a problem for U.S. companies excluded from sanctioned markets. Writing about the Cuban embargo, marketing consultant Alf Nucifora noted, “The rest of the world is benefiting from the wrath of the United States. Of the 700 foreign companies doing business with Cuba, 51 in Canada alone. Of the 140 countries in which they do business, Spain, Canada, Italy and France have the largest share.”

Despite the embargo, the United States remained Cuba’s seventh-largest trading partner in 2010. Still, the Caribbean island nation prefers to trade with countries that don’t require cash up front. Cubans love American products; the market is there, but sanctions are preventing eager American companies from connecting with Cuban consumers.