If you ask a U.S. resident whether they voted against the U.S. blockade of Cuba the likely response would be: “Blockade? Didn’t that end when President Obama traveled to Cuba in March?”
Sadly and painfully, no. The economic, financial and commercial blockade of Cuba is still in full force and hurts every Cuban and every aspect of Cuban life. From April 2015 to April 2016, the blockade has cost Cuba more than US$4 billion. Instead of relief, the cost exacted by the U.S. trade and travel restrictions increased by US$256 million over the prior year.
Obama’s visit to Havana with his family combined with the giddy possibility of long forbidden legal U.S. travel to Cuba overshadowed the fact of the continued blockade for some, particularly in the U.S. If this were high school, the actions of the richest military power in the world against its 11 million Cuban neighbors, the word would be bullying.
Since the joint announcement by Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, broke the ice—less than two years ago—the U.S. government has levied US$2.8 billion in fines against eight entities. Three are outside the U.S. caught up by the international reach of the U.S. unilateral blockade.
In the last year, European delivery companies—recently bought by a U.S. corporation—refused to deliver shipments to Cuban embassies. In countries where diplomatic and trade relations are legal and longstanding, domestic banks bought out by international ones closed the accounts of Cuba solidarity organizations. Corporations and banks exclude Cuban transactions just to be on the safe side. That is why Cuba has not been able to make even a dollar transaction as authorized in March by Obama.
On Oct. 26 the U.N. General Assembly will tell the United States to end the blockade for the 25th consecutive year since 1992. The 2015 vote showed the U.S. and Israel stood alone—191 of 193 countries openly supported Cuba.
The united global voice and action, particularly that of Latin America and the Caribbean, insisted the U.S. end the blockade, forcing Obama to admit that the 55-year-old economic stranglehold and isolation strategy, combined with invasion, terror bombing, assassination and migratory destabilization, had failed to achieve U.S. imperialism’s objectives—overthrowing the socialist revolution. As Obama explained on Oct. 17, the new policy removes “an irritant from our relationships with our allies and partners.”
The new U.S. policy even rejects regime change in words, yet retains the U.S. Agency for International Development funded “democracy” projects, the odious TV and Radio Marti, and claims the right to occupy the Guantanamo Naval Base against the wishes of the Cuban people.
While basking in the glow of formal diplomatic relations, the whittling away of the trade and travel restrictions are being shaped and calculated to enrich a private sector, while training what the U.S. hopes will become future regime change agents. It is unacceptable. The blockade and interference in the internal life of Cuba must end.
The same U.S. Treasury Department that administers the blockade restrictions through the Office of Foreign Asset Controls is now taking action against friends of Cuba inside the U.S. Its Internal Revenue Service threatens to prevent the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, parent of the heroic Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravans to Cuba, from receiving tax-exempt charitable contributions. OFAC wants a Florida man to pay a fine of US$100,000 because he traveled to Cuba.
The Obama administration leans on the fact that only congress can change the 1992 Torricelli Act, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. Yet these laws prohibit only four actions: travel by U.S. citizens for the purpose of tourism; subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries doing business with Cuba; commercial relations with former U.S. properties which were nationalized; or ending the requirement that agricultural products be purchased in cash, in advance.
When it was due to expire in September, Obama renewed the Trading with the Enemy Act, an anachronism from 1917 that now exclusively applies to Cuba. We are told the reason for keeping this slanderous fabrication in effect is to empower the president to make executive order changes.
It is time to cut through the knotty web of rules and regulations that are the blockade. After Obama’s new Cuba policy directive and accompanying executive order changed, Cuba published 18 examples of additional executive measures that could help.
A good example of the contradictory regulations that need a diplomatic machete is Cuba’s internationally respected pharmaceutical research development and production which is hampered by the U.S.
A very welcome change would allow U.S. citizens to receive and pay for medical treatment in Cuba. Unbelievably at a time when many U.S.-based airlines have regular service from airports in the U.S. to Cuban airports, medical treatment is not included in the 12 categories of travel permitted by the U.S. Treasury Department.
A U.S. traveler can buy Cuban rum and cigars, but your relative at risk of limb amputation resulting from diabetic foot ulcers can’t be treated with Heberprot-P in Cuba. Lung cancer patients can be treated with Cimavax in Peru, but not in Cuba. Maybe a U.S. company can sell Cuban medical treatments in the U.S.? No, not permitted.
Five of 18 additional actions that Obama could take are health related, including allowing exports to Cuba of medical supplies and equipment for biotechnological production in Cuba; allowing sales of raw materials Cuba requires to produce medicines for the Cuban population and those in other developing countries; allowing direct investment by U.S. companies and joint ventures for broader collaborative development, marketing; and supply of Cuban medicines and biomedical products.
The U.N. votes are not on half measures or promises. It is past time for the blockade to end. Obama has the tools to make irrevocable changes in the blockade. He needs to do it.