What is the U.S. blockade/embargo of Cuba?

Although there are many, increasingly sophisticated economic war measures imposed by the U.S. government on Cuba today, the rationale and purpose was set out shortly after the 1959 victory of the Cuban revolution. The memorandum written by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester DeWitt Mallory on April 6, 1960, and declassified 30 years later, states:

“The majority of Cubans support Castro […] An effective political opposition does not exist […]; the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [to the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship […] all possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba […] denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
( http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1958-60v06/d499 )

In his 2013 book, “The Economic War Against Cuba” Salim Lamrani writes: “Since 1960, the United States has imposed unilateral economic sanctions upon Cuba, sanctions that affect all sectors of the society as well as all categories of its population. Since February 3, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy made the decision to isolate the island completely, these sanctions have been total. This network of sanctions is unique in terms of its length, its thoroughness, and its sophistication. It is also retroactive and applies to events that happened before the legislation was adopted, and extraterritorial: it extends to other nations and is therefore in conflict with the norms of international law. According to the U.S. government, “The embargo on Cuba is the most comprehensive set of American sanctions ever imposed upon a country.”
( www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-951R )

“Established at the height of the Cold War in hope of overthrowing the new revolutionary government directed by Fidel Castro, the sanctions are still in effect more than a half-century later, regularly reinforced by successive administrations, Democratic as well as Republican, with the notable exception of the government of Jimmy Carter between 1977 and 1981 and, to a lesser degree, that of Barack Obama. They are based on several legislative actions: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963, the Torricelli Act of 1992, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, the Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, and the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba of 2004 and 2006.”

Cuba has pointed out that the U.S. blockade is an act of genocide as understood in the Convention for the Prevention and punishment of the Crime of Genocide and an act of economic war.

After the collapse of Cuba’s major trading partners in the early 1990’s new laws were implemented to increase the hardships of the Cuban people. The Torricelli Act forbade U.S. subsidiaries in third countries to trade with Cuba. Ninety percent consisted of food and medicine. Any ship docking in a Cuban port would be denied entry in the U.S. ports for six months. It also outlined the economic and political model that Washington demanded Cuba adopt and appropriated funding for an internal opposition aimed at regime change. At the same time as the blockade was reinforced, renewed terrorist attacks sought to discourage tourism that could improve the Cuban economy. It was this situation that caused the Cuban 5 to infiltrate the anti-Cuba terrorists in Miami.

Particularly noteworthy is the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Although initially without much support, provocative overflights by Florida-based exile groups caused the Cuban military to shootdown two civilian planes that had flown into Cuban airspace. It was rammed through Congress. Helms tightens the extraterritoriality mandating that foreign investors investing in Cuba could then be prevented from operating on U.S. territory. It further defined the nature of a “future democratic” government in Cuba – one “in which the President of the United States will judge whether it meets the requirements.”

The following chart from the Government Accounting Office ( www.gao.gov/assets/100/96374.pdf ) page 8

How the blockade hurts U.S. residents

But the U.S. blockade of Cuba also curtails the rights of U.S. residents to freely travel and associate with the Cuban people as is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. For this reason organizations like Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade, African Awareness and others take part in openly declared, unlicensed travel challenges to assert their rights.

Among many pharmaceutical innovations, Cuba has developed an effective treatment for diabetic foot sores that can prevent the trauma of amputations and Cuba’s literacy programs and health care systems are proven successful all over the world – but are denied to residents in the United States.

The Justice Department relentlessly pursues offenders who fail to respect the restrictive regulations imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), an agency established by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, allocating for this purpose considerable resources for prosecuting individuals and legal entities that maintain economic, commercial, or financial relations with Cuba. This is to the detriment of national security and the protection of U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks, as revealed by a government report that deplores the obsessive focus on a nation that poses no threat to the United States.

In fact, a significant majority of the U.S. population would like to see the economic sanctions lifted and relations with Cuba normalized. But their wishes come up against the intransigence of a minority of Cuban-born U.S. legislators, as well as the heirs to the old regime of Fulgencio Batista, who have so far skillfully managed to block all legislative initiatives aimed at relaxing the state of siege imposed on the Cuban population.

And its high cost to the Cuban people

With Cuba’s domestic achievements in reaching the UN Millennium goals, promotion of gender equality, the democratic participation of citizens in government decisions, reversal of environmental degradation and global contributions in medical disaster relief, education, promoting unity and new ways of development empowering the segments of society who have been excluded from self-determination, it is easy to overlook the high cost of the blockade on Cuba.

“The economic sanctions have a considerable impact upon the daily life of Cubans, notably in the field of health. Indeed, the United States, whose multinationals hold a virtual monopoly in this sector, also prohibits the export to Cuba of drugs produced in the United States, in violation of numerous international conventions.”

In 2013 Cuba reported the economic damage accumulated over half a century amounts to $1.16 trillion.

“They affect all sectors of Cuban society and all categories of the population, especially the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, and women. Over 70 percent of all Cubans have lived in a climate of permanent economic hostility.” One example given at the UN in 2013 is the classification of the William Soler Pediatric Cardiology Center as a “Denied Hospital,” by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. The conditions imposed to authorize sale of devices or medications to the hospital require countless details to insure the Cardiology Center has no links with the production of chemical or biological weapons, with missile technology or nuclear weapons.

The world says no to the U.S. blockade of Cuba and its extraterritorial global reach

“In 2011, during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, 185 out of 192 countries condemned, for the twentieth consecutive year, the economic siege imposed on the Caribbean island. The international community has called on the United States, so far without success, to end its policy of ostracism, which is the main obstacle to Cuba’s national development as well as contrary to the UN Charter and international law.”

Since 1992 Cuba has put the U.S. blockade before the United Nations General Assembly. Each year the number of countries voting to tell the U.S. to end the blockade has increased and the number of abstentions decreased. Only two countries continue to support the U.S. blockade – the United States and Israel.

The extraterritorial reach of the U.S. blockade of Cuba includes overseas subsidiaries of U.S. based corporations. However consider this. Cuba exports sugar, nickel and bauxite. In order for France to export sweets to the U.S., it must document that not a grain of Cuban sugar was used in the production; manufactured hard goods must document that no Cuban nickel or bauxite were used in it.

As U.S. multinationals buy out hotel chains, banks and businesses in other countries, making them comply with the blockade. But even if the business is not bought out by a U.S. firm, pressure to break economic relations with Cuba are exerted on businesses around the world. Lamrani cites the case of a Spanish airline with a contract with the Cuban government to transport patients with eye diseases as part of “Operation Milagro,” that free of charge restored vision to hundreds of thousands of people suffering blindness. One of its planes needed repairs by the manufacturer, Boeing. As a condition to fix the plane, Boeing required that relations between the Spanish company and Cuba be severed as directed by the U.S. government.

The changing justifications for the blockade

The diplomatic rhetoric used to justify U.S. hostility toward Cuba has changed over time. Initially, nationalization and compensation constituted the bone of contention. Subsequently, it was Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union that became the main obstacle to normalizing relations between the two countries. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, it was Cuban intervention in Africa, specifically in Angola and Namibia, actions undertaken to help national liberation movements gain independence and to fight against apartheid in South Africa, that aroused the ire of Washington. Finally, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington has flaunted the argument of democracy and human rights in order to maintain its economic stranglehold over the Cuban nation.

In fact, to grasp Washington’s real purpose in its relations with Cuba, it is necessary to go back to the nineteenth century and heed the warnings of Jose Marti, apostle and national hero, who warned the peoples of Latin America against a “convulsed and brutal North,” a North that aspired to annex the Caribbean island and dominate the continent. Shortly after his 2013 appointment as Secretary of State, John Kerry resurrected the Monroe Doctrine terminology, referring to Latin America and the “backyard” of the United States.

Long in the crosshairs of American expansionism, the island of Cuba, because of its geostrategic position and its natural resources, has always whetted the appetite of the United States. Washington’s intervention in the second Cuban War of Independence of 1898 turned Cuba into a protectorate, dependent upon U.S. stewardship. This was a state of affairs that lasted until the advent of the Cuban Revolution on January 1,1959, at which point the United States lost all control over the destiny of the Caribbean nation. From Dwight D. Eisenhower to Obama, no U.S. government has accepted the possibility of a sovereign and independent Cuba, a state of affairs that explains the imposition of economic sanctions in 1960, sanctions that have continued over the two decades that have followed the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the end of the “Cold War.”

The state of economic siege of which the Cuban people are victims reminds us that the United States—-by applying wartime measures in times of peace against a nation that has never been a threat to its national security—apparently has still not abandoned its old colonial aspiration of integrating Cuba into the U.S. Washington refuses to acknowledge the reality of a Latin American nation finally emancipated from heavy-handed U.S. guardianship and, in all likelihood, does not accept that national sovereignty in Cuba is the sole and exclusive heritage of the Cuban people. The economic sanctions also demonstrate that the struggle for Cuban self-determination, begun in 1868 by Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, father of the country, is a daily battle that is far from won. Marti, both a visionary and a man of his own time, had predicted it: “Freedom costs dearly, and it is necessary either to resign yourself to live without it or decide to pay the price.” The preservation of Cuban independence and identity comes, it appears, with a price.

Thanks to Salim Lamrani for providing much of the writing and explanation in this section – taken in whole or in part from his 2013 book, “The Economic War Against Cuba.”

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