cuba

While President Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to reverse the “failed” policies of his predecessor that “inflicted harm on Cubans and their families,” his administration—already under mounting pressure from progressives to deliver on that promise—announced new sanctions against Cuba on Friday.

Following Cubans’ recent protests over shortages of food, medicine, and other essentials during the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Cuba’s main law enforcement body, Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), as well as its director and deputy director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce and Eddy Sierra Arias.

The Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the moves that “the Cuban regime deployed the PNR… to suppress and attack protesters.” In the midst of these protests, progressives have highlighted the role of the United States’ decadeslong blockade, and called out U.S. media for how it has handled that history and its present-day effects.

“Cuba has a population of 11 million people. The protests pale in comparison, both in terms of turnout and in state repression, to mass mobilizations that have rocked Colombia, Haiti, Chile, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries over the past few years—or even Portland, Oregon, or Ferguson, Missouri,” Medea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores of the U.S. anti-war group CodePink wrote for Common Dreams this month. “Moreover, U.S. media have paid little attention to the counterprotesters, who have gone out into the streets to express their support for the government and Cuban Revolution.”

Benjamin and Flores continued:

The protests should also be understood in the context of a brutal economic war waged by the United States against the island nation for more than 60 years. This was laid out clearly by the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in 1960, when he explicitly called for “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government.” This strategy has failed in its goal of regime change for decades, and it is unlikely to be successful now.

…While the blockade has been in place for over six decades, it was tightened in significant ways under the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure.” This strategy targeted Cuba’s tourism, energy, and other key economic sectors. It even restricted the amounts of money Cuban Americans can send home and closed the Cuban branches of Western Union, the main vehicle for sending remittances. These policies have had a disastrous impact on the Cuban economy, especially when the Covid-induced shutdown of the tourist industry has deprived the island of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. For its part, the Biden administration has been “reviewing” its Cuba policy for six months, all the while continuing Trump’s strategy of economic warfare that is designed precisely to create the shortages Cubans are now experiencing.

As Belén Fernández put it in a piece for Al Jazeera on Thursday: “Cuba’s dire situation has just about everything to do with United States interference… particularly the six-decades-long blockade that, under international law, technically qualifies as an act of war.”

“Although mainstream articles do often mention U.S. sanctions,” Fernández wrote of U.S. newspapers, “they almost never convey their comprehensively asphyxiating nature—context without which none of Cuba’s contemporary history can begin to be understood.”

The Biden administration’s new sanctions come after Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives blocked an amendment from Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García to roll back Trump’s $1,000-per-quarter limit on remittances that people in the United States can send to family in Cuba.

“The United States has no business preventing Cuban Americans from sending lifesaving remittances to their families, especially while so many lack adequate food, water, and medicine,” García told The Nation. “We must end our decadeslong blockade against Cuba, which has led to desperation instead of democracy. Restoring remittances is an important first step.”

Noting that Trump not only restricted remittances, but also tightened sanctions and barred most travel to Cuba, The Nation reported Wednesday, before the Treasury Department’s latest announcement:

Now, after months of ignoring Cuba, Biden has embraced Trump’s approach, slapping on additional sanctions last week and defying the progressive voices in his party calling for relief.

Biden’s tougher line on Cuba, and congressional Democrats’ complicity, is better understood in the context of domestic politics, not foreign policy. It’s largely driven by the desire to placate Cuban Americans in Florida, who weren’t planning on voting Democratic in the first place. Most Cuban American voters nationwide identify as Republican, a 2020 Pew Research Center study found. And for years now, Republicans have outperformed Democrats in Florida on things like ground game and voter registration. So Democrats hold relief hostage, inflicting pain on countless ordinary Cubans in the process, for political gain that doesn’t actually materialize.

A senior Biden administration official told CNN that along with the new sanctions—on top of those announced last week—the U.S. government is pursuing new “efforts to improve internet connectivity” on the island, and the president was set to discuss both topics in a meeting with Cuban-American leaders.

CodePink’s Benjamin, in a Friday tweet about the latest sanctions, nodded to the argument that the Biden administration’s policies are intended to appease Democrats in South Florida.

Benjamin is among hundreds of academics, activists, artists, clergy, musicians, politicians, and other public figures who have signed a public appeal to Biden calling on him to immediately lift Trump’s 243 unilateral and additional sanctions.

The open letter urging Biden to “Let Cuba Live!” appeared as an advertisement in last Friday’s edition of The New York Times and as symbolically represented in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square that same morning.

The letter encourages the U.S. president to “reject the cruel policies put into place by the Trump White House that have created so much suffering among the Cuban people,” emphasizing that “while the Covid-19 pandemic has proven challenging for all countries, it has been even more so for a small island under the heavy weight of an economic embargo.”

“We find it unconscionable, especially during a pandemic, to intentionally block remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions, given that access to dollars is necessary for the importation of food and medicine,” the letter says, calling on Biden to “begin the process of ending the embargo and fully normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.”

Last month, continuing a nearly three-decade trend, 184 members of the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution demanding an end to the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Only the United States and Israel voted against it, while Brazil, Colombia, and Ukraine abstained.

“The embargo is not only illegal and inhumane,” Progressive International said at the time. “It is incredibly unpopular.”

Originally published in CommonDreams


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2 Comments

  1. That bourgeois democracy is a sham has once again been proved by the seemingly opposition-party-government following in the footsteps of its ‘enemy’ government when it comes to the question of defending basic human rights! In a bourgeois parliamentary system people have no option other than changing their masters!

  2. Andrew (Andy) Alcock says:

    We should not be surprised at the actions of Joe Biden against Cuba.
    US leaders have been treating the people of Cuba shabbily for ove 100 years – well before the 1959 Cuban Revolution.The United States first seized Guantánamo Bay and established a naval base there in 1898 during the Spanish–American War in the Battle of Guantánamo Bay. In 1903, the United States and Cuba signed a lease granting the United States permission to use the land as a coaling and naval station and the US has been there everr since. The US treatment of Cuba is not just perpetrated by the Republicans, but also by the Democrats despite their claims that they will improve relations with the small socialist republic. As Jessica point out, Cuba is a small nation of only 11 million people and it is not a wealthy one either. Yet for its size, it plays a very important positive role in world affairs assisting nations that are not well off with medical services. Cuba sends solidarity health teams to many countries with poor health services – especially in Latin America and Africa. It has been doing this in Timor-Leste for several years since the East Timorese won their freedom from Indonesian fascist terror . Also it has been reserving 300 places per annum in its medical school for medical students from Timo-Leste to help te poorest nation in SE Asia to build up a reliable health service. When the Cuban medical workers saw that the East Timores had problems with illiteracy Cuba sent Yo, Si Peude (Yes, I can) literacy teams to help. These were begun just after the Cuban Revolution to overcome the illiteracy problem in the country at the time. These teams have also helped with literacy programs in Australian Aboriginal communities. In 2005, Cuba’s leaders looked ahead and saw a world increasingly beset by pandemics and natural disasters and this is what led to the formation of the solidarity medical teams to respond quickly to emergency requests from other nations. This initiative resulted in the mobilization of thousands of Cuban medical personnel with the skills and training to deal with a variety of global calamities They are called the Henry Reeve Brigades in honour of a US-born citizen who fought as a brigadier in the First Cuban War of Independence in the 19th century. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Cuba responded to emergency requests for trained medical personnel by sending 53 health teams to 39 countries on four continents including Lombardy in Italy. The health teams were able to assist countries with fragile health systems that were ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19. They had also sent teams to help African nations combat the Ebola pandemic Cuba’s response to COVID-19 eclipses all other front-line efforts from industrialized nations in the fight against COVID-19. Some years ago, my wife and I visited Cuba as part of a trip to Latin America. Cuba is not a very wealthy nation, but all its citizens have full health care and education free of charge – something of which they are very proud. But the US blockade had made the current situation very grim for the Cuban economy and its people. And since the beginning of the pandemic US leaders have stated that they might retaliate against any country receiving Cuban medical personnel! Why have leaders of western nations not stood up to US leaders for their absolute bastardry towards a small nation like Cuba that does more than most to be a positive and caring nation and praise Cuba for its generosity? In 2020, the Council of Canadians’ voted to endorse and promote Canada nominating for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to go to the Henry Reeve Medical Brigades of Cuba for their international work in the context of COVID-19. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more national leaders chose to carry out the important humanitarian work that Cuba does? Its role is far more positive than the war-mongering, exploitative and anti democratic policies of the US.All freedom loving people would endorse the idea of the Nobel peace prize for the Henry Reeve Medical Brigades. They also would also support the US stopping its blockade of Cuba and its withdrawl from Guantanamo Bay