- Created: Thursday, 19 December 2013 16:17
- Written by Helen Yaffe and Victoria Smith
On 26 November 2013, the Cuban Interests Section (a substitute for an embassy) in the United States announced that it would immediately halt its consular services – the issuing of visas, passports services and the authentification of documents, except in exceptional or humanitarian cases. Its press release explains that in summer 2013, the New York-based M&T Bank had informed the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and Cuba’s permanent mission at the United Nations in New York that it was withdrawing banking services from foreign missions, and therefore ordering the Cubans to close their accounts. It states: ‘Due to the restrictions still in force, derived from the US policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, and despite the numerous efforts made with the [US] Department of State and several banks, it has been impossible for the Cuban Interests Section to find a US bank with branches in the US to operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions.’
The announcement is likely to cause a stir, given the number of US citizens and Cuban-Americans needing travel documents for impending trips to Cuba. Around 350,000 Cuban-Americans visit Cuba annually and the increase in special licences for US citizens engaged in educational, cultural, and other exchanges saw 100,000 US citizens visit Cuba in 2012. The Cuban statement points out that the US government is violating its commitments under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations of 1961 and 1963, ‘which stipulate that the receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the diplomatic missions and consular offices.’ The US government is also violating the 1977 agreement between Cuba and the US, signed under US President Carter, which established the interests sections in both countries.
The US blockade has cost Cuba $1.14 trillion. It is a policy of collective punishment to promote regime change by creating scarcity and suffering to turn the Cuban people against its revolutionary government. Not even medical equipment is exempt. Because of the blockade, the Frank País Orthopaedic Hospital is unable to replace equipment necessary for the diagnosis of malignant tumours, bone and joint infections, and Cuba cannot import the drugs necessary to help children born with HIV to survive. The Obama administration has tightened the implementation of the blockade. Between January 2009 and September 2013, 30 US and foreign companies have been fined more than $2.45 billion for trading with Cuba and other countries.
The announcement by the Cuban Interests Section comes less than one month after 188 countries voted in favour of a Cuban motion condemning the US blockade in the United Nations General Assembly. Only Israel and the US voted against the motion. The only three countries to abstain were Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, all recipients of billions of US dollars received under the Compact of Free Association agreement, which makes them ‘associated states’ with the United States. It was the 22nd year in a row that the US policy has been rejected by the UN. Following the vote on 29 October and responding to claims by Ronald Godard, the principal US Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said: ‘Mr. Godard lies when he says that the United States promotes human rights on the island, because the blockade is a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of these rights and an act which qualifies as genocidal.’
Despite its punitive nature, the US blockade has failed as a tool for overthrowing Cuba’s socialist government. President Obama recognises this. As part of a Democratic Party fundraising tour, on 8 November he visited the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, a right-wing organisation set up by his father Jorge Mas Canosa, who, until his death in 1997, led sectors of the ultra-right in Miami and sponsored confessed terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. There Obama met with stars of Cuba’s tiny internal opposition, professional hungerstriker Guillermo Farinas and leader of the ‘Ladies in White’, Berta Soler, effectively mercenaries, who urged Obama to strengthen the blockade against their own people.
Interestingly, given the pro-blockade stance of his audience, Obama declared that the blockade of Cuba was not effective and stated that US policy towards Cuba needed updating. ‘[U]ltimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.’
This came with a promise to continue funding the internal opposition, to increase US investment – around $20 million annually – in order to create political instability. The aim remains the same: to overthrow the internationalist socialist government of the Cuban people and to return Cuba to its neo-colonial status. But Cubans are educated, activated and mobilised, and this policy will fail, just as the US blockade has done.
Helen Yaffe and Victoria Smith
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014