Cuba vs the US blockade

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cuba blockade

In mid-September 2016, US President Obama extended the Trading With the Enemy Act, the principal law that sustains the unilateral blockade against Cuba. Almost two years since announcing the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and ‘normalise’ relations, Obama’s fine words about ending an ‘updated and failed policy’ ring hollow. His administration has taken only small, strategic steps to dismantle the apparatus of hostility against Cuba. The objective of US policy remains regime change. A vote in the US Congress is necessary to lift the blockade, but Obama could use his executive powers decisively to virtually dismantle the blockade.

Meanwhile the US blockade continues to violate human rights: imposing scarcity and suffering on the Cuban people and preventing Cuba’s relations with rest of the world through its extraterritorial application. On 26 October, for the 25th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly will vote on Cuba’s motion to condemn the US blockade. Last year, the US voted against the motion, backed by Israel, and opposed by 191 countries. Some of the enduring impacts of the blockade are summarised below.

  • The US continues to ban exports to Cuba of products and equipment important to key sectors of the economy and prevents Cuba from exporting products and services to the US.
  • Cuba cannot have direct banking relations with the US or receive US investment in the economy, outside the telecommunications sector (just one US company – a small tractor manufacturer – has received a licence to set up in Cuba).
  • Despite the March 2016 measure authorising use of the US dollar in Cuba’s international transactions, there are still no normal banking relations between the two countries. Cuba is banned from opening correspondent accounts in US banks and has been unable to make either deposits or payments in cash in US dollars in third countries. International and US banks remain fearful of conducting operations with Cuba.
  • The US still blocks the transfers of funds to Cuba, withholding payments, even in currencies other than the US dollar; it denies Cuba financial services of all kinds, including to Cuban diplomatic missions and offices abroad, while foreign banks and other entities with links to Cuba continue to be fined.
  • In March 2015, the US imposed a $1.7bn fine on the German Commerzbank, which subsequently ceased operations with Cuba.
  • Consequently, in August 2016, Commerzbank and the Belgian KBC Bank refused to carry out a credit transfer of €12.5m by the Bank of Algeria to pay for Cuban medical services in Algeria: maternal and child, and ophthalmology services.

Cuba conservatively estimates the economic damage caused by the US blockade at nearly $754bn. Between March 2015 and March 2016 alone, the cost of the sanctions was $4.68bn. The US Congress has yet to approve any of the 20 bills with bipartisan support proposing the lifting the blockade in its entirety or in part. Meanwhile, Congress has received 51 anti-Cuba legislative initiatives, many designed to reinforce the blockade, prevent the President from passing new executive measures, and blocking the implementation of those already passed. Absurdly, US citizens remain banned from visiting Cuba as ‘tourists’.

Helen Yaffe

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 253 October/November 2016