Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1269, (5 - 11 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The world stands with Cuba

Though diplomatic relations have been established between the United States and Cuba, the US-imposed blockade lives on, writes Faiza Rady

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since 1992, for the 24th year in a row, the international community as represented by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) voted on 27 October on a Cuban resolution calling for “an end to the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. This year’s resolution received the highest approval rate ever: of the UN’s 193 member states, 191 voted in favour while two voted against (the United States and its ever-loyal ally Israel). For the first time since voting on like resolutions began, there were no abstentions.

Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, UNGA resolutions are non-binding and hence unenforceable. But Cuba continues to present an annual report to keep the cause alive and inform the world’s nations of the illegal — and ultimately genocidal — impact of the blockade on the Cuban people. Because it is transnational and transcends its outreach beyond US borders, the blockade is illegal. Aiming to globalise the blockade, Congress passed the 1992 Torricelli Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Bill, also known as the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act”. The latter requires that imports into the US include less than 10 per cent in Cuban ingredients, while the former prohibits foreign subsidiaries of US multinationals trading with Cuba and threatens severe sanctions for non-compliance. This creative piece of legislation also imposes a six-month ban from US ports on ships that anchor in Cuban waters.

Even though the US and Cuba established diplomatic relations on 20 July 2015 and the blockade’s restrictions were somewhat eased, notably in telecommunications, allowing some business to legally operate on the island, and while Cuba was deleted from the spurious list of “state sponsors of international terrorism” (a list on which it should never have been included), this does not affect the multitude of laws that compose the blockade, says the latest Cuban report. This was emphasised by Jeff Rathke, director of the Office of Press Relations of the US Department of State, who said: “The lifting of the state sponsor of terrorism designation does not lift the embargo, just to put that kind of bluntly.” “The blockade continues to be tightened with notable, increased extra-territorial application, in particular in the financial arena,” says Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. “It’s the “principal obstacle to our development” and “leads to unmet needs and deprivations for all Cuban families.”

“Cuba’s comprehensive report to the UNGA estimates that, based on current prices, the blockade has caused the island damages of more than $121,192 billion since its inception over 50 years ago,” explained Cuban Ambassador to Cairo Laureano Rodriguez Castro at a recent press conference. “The blockade should cease. It is the most unjust, severe and longest-lasting system of unilateral sanctions ever applied to any country.”

In spite of the overwhelming international condemnation of the continuing US blockade, US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Ronald Godard voiced his protest over the text of the resolution. “On 17 December, President Obama announced a new direction in US policy towards Cuba,” he said. “At the same time, President Castro spoke to the Cuban people about beginning a new relationship with the United States. Since then, the United States has taken a range of historic measures designed to begin normalising US-Cuban bilateral relations … We’ve made considerable progress. We regret, therefore, that the government of Cuba has chosen to proceed with its annual resolution,” Godard concluded.

Over and above easing travel restrictions and authorising telecommunication businesses to operate on the island, it is a euphemism to refer to any “historic measures” taken by the US to normalise relations between the two countries. Cuba’s report to the UNGA exposes the exponential damage resulting from ongoing blockade laws and regulations.

A case in point: Because Torricelli proscribes foreign subsidiaries of US corporations from exporting their products to Cuba, a number of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies are unavailable in Cuba. A few random examples, among many others listed in the report, illustrate some of the blockade’s lethal effects on Cuba’s people. Cuban haematologists cannot monitor adverse effects of the anti-cancer drug Methotrexate because its “diagnostic systems” are manufactured in the US. For the same reason, diagnostic catheter equipment is unavailable in a paediatric cardiology hospital. Medical imaging systems are often dysfunctional because they are programmed by Microsoft, a US corporation. And most poignantly, on the day of the vote, AFP news reported that Cuban children are dying of cancer because they lack chemotherapy agents produced by US pharmaceuticals.

As for the limitation of financial transactions, not only does the US prohibit Cuba from using the US dollar as payment for its imports, it also bars the island from opening dollar accounts in third countries; this in addition to denying Cuba access to loans from international financial institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“The blockade thus seriously continues to obstruct Cuba’s development in all major sectors of its economy,” says Ambassador Castro.

Again, to cite but a small sample among the multitude of recent examples of such obstructions, the report refers to the island’s potential loss of $27,645,000 owed to Cuba for foreign patient care and academic services as a result of US-imposed currency restrictions. Because they are slapped with substantial fines if they violate the terms of the blockade, foreign banks with branches in the US are reluctant to deal with Cuba. A recent victim of US sanctions is the German Commerzbank, which was fined $2,283,456 by the US Treasury Department in March for breaching regulations on Cuba and three other countries. Cowed by the example of sanctions of such magnitude, foreign banks generally refuse to effect transactions with Cuba, even in the case of humanitarian missions. In December 2014, the Cuban government had to pay over a one-month period for the room and board of its team of physicians treating Ebola patients in West Africa because US sanctions were impeding the World Health Organisation’s attempts to pay the doctors’ salaries.

“Even though it is only the US Congress that can lift the blockade, US President Barack Obama can use his presidential prerogatives to partially dismantle some of its most damaging clauses,” said Ambassador Castro. “Examples of such prerogatives involve cancelling Cuba’s prohibition to use the US dollar in international transactions, including those handled through the US banking system. In addition, Obama can authorise US firms to invest in the island, allow direct exports of US products to Cuba, as well as imports to the US of Cuban goods and services,” explained Castro.

Such examples establish that the US president is sufficiently empowered to alter some major terms of the blockade’s stranglehold on Cuban development. However, it remains to be seen if Obama has the political will to implement his presidential prerogatives.

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