The world stands with Cuba against the US blockade

On 26 October, for the 19th consecutive year, Cuba delivered a resolution to the UN General Assembly on ‘The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba’. Murray Andrews reports on the impact of the blockade and the UN vote.

The US blockade began in July 1960 with the forced reduction of Cuban sugar exports to the US, for which a set ‘quota’ had been established. The Soviet Union stepped in to purchase the surplus sugar and Cuba began nationalising US properties on the island. As the Cuban Revolution radicalised, the US stepped up its attacks using terrorism, sabotage, invasion, political isolation and the economic and trade blockade. By 1963 the US government had frozen Cuban assets in the US.

The blockade aims to undermine the revolution by strangling the Cuban economy. Under the Torricelli (1992) and Helms-Burton (1996) laws, passed by Congress, the US widened the remit of the blockade to cover third parties: countries and companies that operate in the US and that trade with Cuba. Calculated at today’s prices, the US blockade has cost Cuba a total of over $236 billion. In addition to impeding Cuban trade, the blockade obstructs Cuba’s access to foreign funding and prohibits its use of the US dollar in international transactions.

The blockade has a severe impact on many sectors of the Cuban economy. In the public health sector, for example, Cuba encounters difficulties in purchasing medical equipment and products, having to pay more and wait longer for their importation. The costs incurred in the last couple of years alone demonstrate how Cuba is forced to pay for the US blockade.

Between May 2009 and April 2010 Cuba lost $15.2 million because, unable to purchase items available in the US, it paid extra to import them from far-off countries. Cuba cannot purchase the medicine Erwinia L-asparaginasa, sold commercially as Elspar, as the company which produces it refuses to trade with Cuba because of the blockade.

The human impact is severe: denying Cuban children who suffer from lymphoblastic leukaemia the medicines they need. Likewise, Cuba is unable to purchase high-tech medical equipment like gamma radiation chambers produced by Toshiba which, while not a US company, refuses to trade with Cuba because of the blockade. Despite these obstacles, Cuba has built a world-leading health care system and has thousands of Cuban medical professionals assisting poor people around the world.

In 2008-09, 6,000 hectares of rice could not be planted because delays caused by the blockade meant that pesticides and fertilisers did not arrive on time. Consequently, the shortfall of 12,400 tonnes of rice for consumption cost Cuba an extra $7.5 million to import. Between April 2008 and March 2009, the fishing industry lost $5.4 million dollars in extra tariffs, transport and other costs. From May 2008 to April 2009, Cuba spent $40 million on importing products for education. 8.7% of this was due to transport costs from Asia which would have been reduced to 3.9% if they had been imported from the US.

Internet access is limited because the US administration refuses to give Cuba access to underwater broadband cables. Cuba is forced to access slow, expensive and unreliable satellite connections to the internet. Websites such as Sourceforge, Windows Live and Cisco Systems cannot be used in Cuba.

This creates problems for universities and other research centres as software updates are unavailable and internet access is limited. To resolve this problem, Venezuela is laying a fibre-optic submarine cable for Cuba. Costs have escalated and the launch date has been postponed to 2011, again because of the blockade. Venezuelan engineer Carlos Orfila explained, ‘because of certain national and economic borders through which the United States attempts to impose its conditions, the length of the cable had to be extended by about 100 kilometres’.

The US blockade has intensified during ten successive US governments and continues under President Barack Obama, despite cosmetic reforms to roll back President Bush’s 2004 measures restricting Cuban exiles from visiting their families on the island. In April 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alleged that ‘the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalisation with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years’. On 2 September 2010, Obama signed a presidential memorandum to continue the blockade of Cuba for another year.

During deliberations on the Cuban Resolution at the UN in October, US ambassador Ronald D Godard stated that: ‘It is the view of the United States that a new era in US-Cuban relations cannot be fully realised until the Cuban people enjoy the internationally recognised political and economic freedoms that this body has done so much to defend in other countries around the world.’ A powerful response to the US representative came from the Nicaraguan delegation, which recognised the ‘political and economic freedoms’ defended by US imperialism when the US Reagan administration engaged in the ‘dirty war’ against the Sandinista government. Other countries which have felt the jackboot of US imperialism and which spoke in support of Cuba’s Resolution included Bolivia, Angola, Laos, Vietnam and the DPRK.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tore apart the US case for the blockade, powerfully rebutting the slanders of US imperialism. He stated: ‘the pretexts for the blockade have changed over time. First, for allegedly belonging to the Chinese-Soviet axis; then the supposed export of revolution to Latin America; then the presence of Cuban troops in Africa to help defeat the apartheid system, preserve Angolan independence and achieve it in Namibia. Later, the manipulation of human rights ...We are willing to discuss human rights violations. We could start with the concentration camp in Guantanamo’. Rodriguez highlighted US funding of counter-revolutionary and mercenary groups attacking Cuba. In the recent period alone, USAID has funnelled $15.6 million to mercenaries on the island, while illegal radio and TV propaganda broadcasts to the island continue, and terrorists Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, among others, walk freely in Miami.

The results of the vote demonstrate the international condemnation of the US blockade. All 192 UN member states voted, 187 in favour, three abstentions and two against: the US and Israel, which Fidel Castro labelled ‘its inseparable ally in genocidal actions’. Despite the robust condemnation, the US blockade will continue because the US has a UN veto.

We should be clear: the US strategy is not an ‘embargo’, a legal barrier to impede trade; it is a ‘blockade’, an act of war against an entire country. It is a genocidal act as defined by Article II, Section C of Geneva Convention of 1948 on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: ‘Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’. The hypocrisy of the imperialists, with their sloganeering about ‘human rights’ or ‘democracy’ in socialist Cuba, has been shown up yet again in the UN. The world knows that the US has been engaged in genocide against Cuba for more than 50 years.

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011


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