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Ending the sanctions on Cuba

The governments of the world overwhelmingly support overturning these cruel and utterly unjustifiable measures — but the US still gets its way, reports TARIQ ANDERSON

LATER this week, on November 1-2, the UN general assembly will once again discuss and vote on Resolution 77/7 on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

Last year’s vote saw 185 nations vote to end this cruel policy (with just the US and Israel voting against it) demonstrating the breadth and depth of international feeling on the issue.

The nations of the world are expected, yet again, to overwhelmingly support Cuba’s resolution and call for an end to a blockade that has caused untold damage to the Cuban economy and the Cuban people.

The economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba has formed the central component of US policy towards the island since the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Its aim, as set out by US State Department official Lestor Mallory in a memorandum in April 1960, was to “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The policy goes far beyond the suspension of trade and commerce between US citizens and companies and Cuba. Instead, it seeks the widest possible extraterritorial application of its own legislation, severely affecting Cuba’s ability to trade with other nations and effectively isolating it from the rest of the world.

In recent years, the blockade has been tightened to unprecedented levels, with Donald Trump introducing an additional 243 harsh new sanctions and measures during his presidency.

The vast majority have remained in place under President Joe Biden. This includes the spurious inclusion of Cuba on the US government’s State Sponsors of Terrorism (SSOT) list, a parting gift from Trump as he left office in 2021.

Inclusion on the list bars Cuba from international banking transactions and makes it increasingly difficult to acquire basic necessities, such as fuel, food, medicines and hygiene products. Forty-five international banks immediately terminated relations with Cuba when it was placed on the list.

As a result, Cubans have since faced an increasingly difficult economic situation. Food shortages, long queues and a lack of medicines have pushed the country into the worst economic and humanitarian crisis it has faced in recent history.

In a report produced by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) ahead of the UN vote, the scale of the blockade’s impact on Cuba and its people over a single year has been laid out in stark terms. From March 1 2022 to February 28 2023 alone, it caused losses of nearly $5 billion.

At current prices, the accumulated losses over the six decades of blockade amount to nearly $160bn. What does this mean for ordinary Cubans?

In education, Cuba experiences extreme difficulties in obtaining the supplies needed for the production of basic school supplies, such as books and teaching materials.

Over 110,000 pupils lacked a complete set of exercise books in this period alone. Highlighting the extraterritorial nature of the blockade, University College London was dissuaded from purchasing and sending computer equipment planned for a joint project with the Jose Antonio Echeverria Technological University in Havana.

Cuba’s agricultural sector has also been seriously affected, with access to supplies, raw materials and the technologies needed for modern agricultural development being severely curtailed.

A Canadian company, Cypress View Land, recently terminated a grain production project in Cuba, citing the fear that it could be exposed to legal action as it also operates in the US.

This, among countless other examples, has led to a sharp downturn in national production and contributed to food shortages across the island.

In the health sector, losses amount to nearly $240 million in that single year. This has had a devastating impact on the health of the Cuban population, despite the strength of Cuba’s internationally renowned health systems.

Infant mortality rates have worsened, increasing from around 5 deaths per thousand live births in 2019 to 7.5 per thousand in 2022. The Minrex report highlights the case of a six-year-old girl whose battle against cancer has been jeopardised due to the blockade.

“While it was possible to provide her with the chemotherapy needed to combat the [cancer] growth,” the report said, “she could not be given Lomustine, the drug of choice in the treatment of advanced tumours of this type that affect the central nervous system — and unobtainable due to the blockade.”

She has now relapsed. For this girl, like many other Cuban children, the blockade of their country is a matter of life and death.

The international community remains united in its opposition to Cuba’s enforced isolation. The British government will likely vote in favour of Cuba’s resolution at the UN this week, as it has done in years past.

In its reply to the office of the UN secretary-general regarding the resolution and its implementation, the British government once again called on the United States to end the blockade.

It labelled the policy “harmful and counterproductive,” asserting that it “negatively affects the living standards of the Cuban people and impedes the economic development of the country.”

While this opposition is of course welcome, the British government must do more to oppose the blockade and protect British companies and individuals that want to trade with Cuba.  

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign has consistently called for Cuba to be removed from the SSOT list and we are now stepping up our public campaigning.

We are joining the international action to gain one million signatures to remove Cuba from the list, and in Britain, we will focus our efforts on reaching the US ambassador, Jane Hartley.

The devastating impact of this six-decade-old campaign of economic warfare against the Cuban people is clear for all to see. We must redouble our efforts in this country to end it.

Tariq Anderson is campaigns officer for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk).

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