Why there are increasing reasons now for the USA to end its blockade of Cuba?

Cuba Covid 19

The USA has  imposed the longest ever embargo on Cuba which has continued for almost six decades with very limited relaxations for short durations . The Cubans ( as well as other critics) refer to this as blockade to  convey its more damaging impacts.

For almost the last three decades the United Nations General Assembly has been regularly passing resolutions against the USA blockade or embargo for its violation of UN charter as well as international law. It has been common for over 90 per cent of member countries to support this resolution . European Union countries, Canada and other allies of the USA also join and support such resolutions. (The only major country which time and again supports the USA on this issue is  Israel).

The expression of such massive international opposition to the blockade of Cuba must have been adequate reason for ending the blockade, but the USA has continued the blockade by passing as many as 6 different laws for this over the years.

Perhaps less known is the fact that several important and influential voices even within the USA have been in favor of lifting the embargo , and some surveys suggest that more US citizens favor a reduction of restrictions on business and travel. At least two US Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barak Obama, have expressed their opposition to embargo, but could introduce only limited relaxations. Whatever they could achieve was moreover hastily undone by their successors. Trump made the embargo more restrictive than before, leading to more problems for Cuban people, and this restrictive trend has continued even after his departure.

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz said that this policy ( of embargo and isolation) is ‘insane’. Another prominent political leader and a Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern sated bluntly—It is a stupid policy. Several business leaders in the USA have spoken against it. Several leading human rights groups inside and outside the USA including the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed their opposition to the blockade.

Legal luminaries have also commented on the illegality of the embargo in the context of international law. To give one example Paul A. Shenyer and Virginia Barta have written in a paper titled ‘The Legality of the US Economic Blockade of Cuba Under International Law ( Western Reserve Journal of International Law), “ Whatever view is adopted, either that of coercion or aggression, it is quite evident that the imposition of the US economic blockade of Cuba constituted an illegal act…If there still remains doubt as to the illegality of the economic blockade  under the traditional view, there is no doubt that the blockade is a fragrant violation of the contemporary standard which is founded on economic principles and sovereign equality between states.”

The USA has defended its embargo largely on the basis of the events  nearly six decades back when  Cuba nationalized some USA refinery companies without giving compensation ( and later nationalized some other US property also). Hence the USA has been mentioning claims towards Cuba of around six billion dollars or so. However the wider context of this should be seen carefully before coming to any hurried conclusions.

The USA had then taken hostile action against the new socialist regime, its close neighbor, by stopping oil supplies. Cuba then got crude oil from the Soviet Union, but the US owned refineries in Cuba refused to process Soviet oil! It is in this situation that Cuba nationalized these refineries. The USA arbitrarily refused to accept Cuban sugar imports although Cuba was predominantly depending on this export in its trade. A Cuba study calculated that hostile trade and economic actions and blockade by the USA had led to economic losses to Cuba amounting to 28 billion dollars. This was in 1992 and the figure in terms of accumulated loss would of course be much, much higher by now.

Keeping in view all these factors the USA should have withdrawn this blockade a long time ago. Instead Trump made this even more restrictive, and that too in   Covid times , when Cuba like many other countries was passing through exceptionally difficult times. In particular this led to increasing difficulties in obtaining medicines and food and also disrupted electricity supply in several parts of the country.

Some critics of Cuba’s socialist system have used these difficulties to falsely allege that the regime has failed in meeting basic needs of people. In fact in recent years the agro-ecology approach of Cuba to increase food production in ecologically protective ways has attracted international praise and appreciation, including at UN/FAO level. However the fact that at  one time Cuba had become a one-crop land and had become highly dependent on imports, implies that despite several successes, it takes time to achieve self-reliance in diversity of foods needed, particularly when a big and powerful neighbor is creating problems all the time. Similarly despite the widely admired successes of Cuba in health sector, shortages in terms of specific medicines are likely to occur in trade blockade conditions.

The blockade applies not just to US businesses but also to  other  businesses having commercial links  with US. The US Ambassador has given several examples in the UN when trade contracts of other countries or businesses belonging to other countries were scrapped following US pressures. Oil exploration in Cuba also could not take place due to such pressures despite the interest shown by important companies. Hence a big source of potential income was denied to Cuba.

Clearly the increasing difficulties Cuba is facing in temporarily meeting some basic needs are more a reflection of unjust actions taken against this small country by its giant neighbor. Let us also not forget that despite these problems Cuba has achieved very high overall health and education indicators and in addition its doctors have served about 40 countries at the time of special difficulties and disasters.

Hence there is a very strong case now, stronger than ever before, for the USA to respect all the numerous UN General assembly resolutions and lift the longest ever embargo against Cuba.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas) and Planet in Peril.

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