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Humanity and solidarity require us to defy US sanctions against Cuba and other countries

The blockades and sanctions against Latin America are just a stark example of a neoliberal empire that preys on us all, writes KAREN LEE MP

THE Labour movement has a proud history of international solidarity and chairing the Latin America fringe is an event I look forward to at Labour Party conference each year. Conference will once again send a clear message to Donald Trump: no more blockades and sanctions.
 
The US blockade against Cuba has now been in place for more than 56 years and has cost the Cuban economy over $933 billion. The economic sanctions are an infringement of universal rights, a unilateral violation of international law, and a barrier to the development of Cuba and its people.

Trump’s government has intensified the unilateral assault on Cuba by effectively closing the US embassy in Havana, making travel and trade increasingly difficult, and blacklisting more Cuban state companies.

His aggressive administration recently took the unprecedented step of implementing Title III of The Helms-Burton Act, which further threatens foreign investments in the country.

It is unacceptable that Cubans, and businesses around the world, suffer as a result of Trump’s cynical attempts to woo the Cuban exile vote in the battleground state of Florida ahead of next year’s presidential election.

America’s blockade frightens international organisations into enforcing their illegal embargo, with HSBC, Barclays and NatWest all temporarily freezing bank accounts held by the Cuban embassy in London.

US fines enforced by the US Office of Foreign Asset Control have led to British and overseas banks paying huge multi-million pound penalties, with 49 international companies paying fines totalling over $14 billion during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency alone. This means that British companies are being fined by the US for a blockade policy that is opposed by the British government.

Since its implementation, the blockade has had a brutal impact on all areas of life on the island, nowhere more so than on those who are sick or vulnerable. There are multiple cases in which Cuba has been unable to obtain crucial aircraft safety components, chemotherapy drugs and medical equipment that can help diagnose cancers.

It is a cruel irony that Cuba, a country that has led the way in international aid efforts and voluntarily sent over 7,000 health professionals to over 20 countries since 2010, is itself denied crucial medicinal equipment by the unilateral blockade.

The embargo also has a devastating effect on Cuban special needs schools by prohibiting the purchase of Braille machines that are manufactured and sold in the US. In a wonderful example of internationalism and labour movement solidarity, Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the National Education Union have worked together to beat the blockade by sending dozens of Braille machines to schools across the island.

Opposing the blockade is a non-partisan issue; the British government has made it clear that it is illegal for British companies to comply with the US blockade of Cuba and have opposed Trump’s increased aggression.

For 27 years, Britain has been amongst the United Nations members who vote near-unanimously every year to end the blockade — once again this year the motion passed 189 in favour to two against. But the US once again refuses to listen to the weight of the international community.

This further underlines the need for Britain to be wary of falling blindly in step behind Trump’s aggressive, Twitter-driven foreign policy.

Internationally, Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement and even questioned the existence of man-made global warming. Since needlessly withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has been taking dangerous steps towards a devastating war with Iran that his hawkish advisers, including former national security adviser John Bolton, have been pushing for decades.

Trump has also repeatedly made clear that the NHS would be on the table in any post-Brexit free trade negotiation. Opening our NHS to private companies would undermine it as a free, universal public service.

The government’s reforms since 2010 have already created a fragmented, marketised system, which prevents proper integration of services and requires NHS commissioners to advertise NHS contracts to private firms.

NHS spending on private providers has more than doubled in cash terms since 2010, and over the last year the government awarded a record £9.2 billion of the health service budget to private providers.

As a former NHS nurse, I care passionately about our NHS. When the NHS is attacked by Tory governments or multinational corporations, I will always defend its founding principles as a universal healthcare system provided free at the point of use.

It is shameful that Boris Johnson is attempting to position Britain as a junior partner to enable Trump’s extractive, divisive foreign policy — whilst also risking our fragile public services in a “race to
 the bottom” trade deal that would slash workers’ rights and environmental protections.

It was very telling that the US president labelled Johnson “Britain’s Trump” and their similar approaches to dishonesty, racism and a disregard for democracy are apparent for all to see. We must do all we can to oppose their devastating brand of toxic politics.

Karen Lee is MP for Lincoln.

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