High-cost blockade

Published : Nov 17, 2006 00:00 IST

FOR the past 15 years, the United Nations General Assembly has voted against the economic blockade of Cuba, which the United States imposed 40 years ago under President John F. Kennedy's administration. In the past couple of years the vote has been overwhelming, with only Israel voting consistently in support of the U.S. Last year the resolution condemning the blockade was approved by a record 182-4 vote. The U.N. Secretary-General's report this year on the situation created by the economic blockade is in circulation among member-countries. When voting takes place in the second week of June, 2007, Cuba expects some close allies of the U.S. who abstained last year to side with the majority.

Twenty U.N. agencies have condemned the blockade as a "unilateral" policy that has seriously harmed the island nation's economy and social sector. The U.N. Secretary-General's report states that U.N. agencies demand that the blockade be lifted and point out that it is a violation of international laws. The report also includes the recommendations of around 100 member-countries that oppose America's economic policies towards Cuba. The report reflects the view of the international community on the "blockade" issue.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) highlighted the Bush administration's decision to intensify the blockade. Its report refers to the figures given out by the Cuban authorities, who have calculated that the accumulated direct and indirect damage caused by the blockade amounts $82 billion. This is not a trifling amount for a small developing country with a population of around 12 million.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the serious impact the blockade has had on the health of children in the island. Children suffering from cancer do not have recourse to chemotherapy. Many pharmaceutical companies that used to do business with Cuba have been taken over by American multinationals. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted that the extra-territorial aspects of the blockade have had serious consequences for Cuba as many multinationals are not willing to go against American interests.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that Cuba was finding it virtually impossible to acquire life-saving equipment and other products manufactured in the U.S. or protected by patents held by that country. The blockade effectively prevents Cuba from having access to low-cost chemical products and equipment that are crucial for water treatment and for solid waste management. "The U.N. system in Cuba has come up against difficulties and limitations for technical cooperation projects, above all acquiring equipment and other supplies manufactured in the United States or with components manufactured there," the UNDP observed. A non-American company cannot sell Cuba any equipment if more than 10 per cent of its components are U.S.-made.

Because of the blockade, Cuba does not have access to international banking institutions. In 2005, the Inter-American Development Bank (BID) and the World Bank loaned nearly $12 billion for development programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba did not get a single dollar. However, despite the longest running and most ruthless sanctions, the U.N. announced this year that Cuba is the only country in Latin America that has no malnutrition.

In 2004, the Bush administration created the "Commission for the Creation of a Free Cuba", with the avowed aim of destroying the country's socialist way of life. Washington allocated $8.9 million last year and $15 million this year for the commission. Furthermore, there seems to be a mistaken notion in the corridors of power that a "regime change" can be effected in Havana once Fidel Castro is no longer on the scene. Washington has claimed that the new programme has substantially reduced the number of Americans visiting Cuba.

Americans of Cuban origin are now allowed to visit their relatives in Cuba only once in three years. Remittance by Cuban Americans to their relatives on the island has been reduced by 60 per cent, according to the U.S. State Department.

In 2005, the American Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) fined eight U.S. companies and banks a total of $44.2 billion and penalised around 500 American citizens $530 million for travelling to Cuba.

The Bush administration's obsession with Cuba is illustrated by the fact that in 2003 the OFAC had 21 full-time agents tracking Cuba's dealings with the outside world and only three tracking the activities of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

John Cherian
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