There’s a great quote by the comedian W.C. Fields that goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.” In the weeks leading up to the Florida primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum heaped praise on the Cuban embargo and criticized President Barack Obama for loosening some of its restrictions. In my opinion, they are being damn fools.

When the embargo was implemented in 1960, the idea was that it would catalyze Fidel Castro’s overthrow by weakening Cuba’s economy and thereby stimulating populist discontent. Although the Cuban embargo has spanned more than half a century, it has categorically failed to achieve its stated goal of fomenting a democratic revolution. While the policy has certainly succeeded in exacerbating Cuba’s economic hardships, it has done nothing to weaken the Castro regime or incite a populist revolution.

If anything, the policy has strengthened Castro’s regime by increasing the Cuban people’s dependence on the regime’s welfare state and by providing Cuba’s government with a convenient scapegoat for the failure of its centrally planned economy to generate material wealth. To quote Brink Lindsey, a former senior fellow at the Cato Institute, “Sanctions against pariah countries like Cuba or Burma may make us feel good, but they don’t work. The repressive regimes remain in power while their innocent victims are made to suffer even more by our embargoes.”

Not only has the embargo been condemned by humanitarian institutions, which rightly argue that it further reduces the ability of Cubans to gain access to material necessities such as medical supplies, but it has also been condemned by the European Union, Canada and the Organization of American States as a violation of international law and sovereignty. In addition to straining some of our most important trade and diplomatic relationships, the embargo has also spurred the passage of retributory laws aimed at undermining its enforceability.

Beyond straining critical trade and diplomatic partnerships and spurring legal reprisals, the Cuban embargo has hurt our economic interests by precluding American companies from capitalizing on the many trade and investment opportunities Cuba has to offer. For instance, a 2007 United States International Trade Commission study estimated that, in the absence of sanctions against Cuba, the U.S. could increase agricultural exports by an estimated $241 million to $327 million annually. Many economists suspect this figure is actually a vast underestimate, because it implicitly assumes that Cuban gross domestic product is exogenous and therefore relatively static.

Additionally,open trade has historically had democratizing effects on countries ruled by repressive regimes. The Arab Spring is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Consider the critical roles that Internet technology and social media outlets played in fomenting and facilitating the uprisings that have taken place in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Bahrain and Jordan, to name a few. Restricting the free flow of information is, I believe, the primary mechanism by which totalitarian regimes are able to remain in power and continue oppressing their people. Case in point: North Korea.

I suspect that if Cubans had access to Facebook and Twitter, they would be far more likely to stand up against their government and its many egregious human rights violations. Furthermore, lifting the embargo will likely ameliorate poverty in Cuba and, quite feasibly, contribute to the development of an economically independent and well-educated middle class that is both able and inclined to demand political reform. I am a firm believer in the adage “the freer the market, the freer the people.” Economic freedom begets political freedom; without the former, the latter is near-impossible to achieve.

My final criticism of the Cuban embargo is really a criticism of why, I suspect, so many American politicians are being “damn fools” with regard to their position on the policy. I doubt any politician today seriously believes that continuing the embargo is likely to, after 52 long years, loosen the Castro regime’s iron grip on power by inciting some sort of broad-based democratic uprising. Rather, I suspect that the embargo is being utilized as a tool to attract political support from Cuban-American expatriate communities, which just so happen to be concentrated in the highly contested, electoral vote-rich swing state of Florida.

I view our policy of imposing economic sanctions on Cuba less as a product of genuine moral opposition and more as “a Cold War anachronism kept alive by Florida politics,” to quote a 2009 New York Times editorial. This argument is buttressed by the fact that our policy of imposing economic sanctions on Cuba in the name of fighting political repression is blatantly inconsistent with our trading policies toward other politically repressive regimes. For example, in a Census Bureau list of America’s top trading partners, China, a country whose government is infamous for its egregious human rights abuses, is listed second only to Canada. To quote Stephen Colbert, Cuba is “a totalitarian, repressive, communist state that — unlike China — can’t lend us money.”

The Cuban embargo hasn’t worked. It has deprived the Cuban people of access to much-needed medical supplies and other basic necessities. It has strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power by providing the government with an easy scapegoat for its political repression and fiscal mismanagement. It has hurt America’s domestic economy and strained our diplomatic relationships. It is far less likely than a policy of free trade to cultivate a populist reform movement. For years, our elected leaders in Washington have been buying votes with one hand and selling debt with the other, all the while shrouding their political opportunism in a transparent veil of feigned moral outrage. It is time for them to stop.