An endless blockade

Published : Nov 18, 2005 00:00 IST

Cuban President Fidel Castro shows a photo of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for acts of terrorism in the country and in Latin America, and is currently in the U.S. enjoying the patronage of American intelligence agencies. - JOSE GOITIA/AP

Cuban President Fidel Castro shows a photo of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for acts of terrorism in the country and in Latin America, and is currently in the U.S. enjoying the patronage of American intelligence agencies. - JOSE GOITIA/AP

The rest of the world once again calls on the U.S. to end the sanctions on Cuba, which have resulted in an estimated economic damage of $82 billion to the country, but Washington hardens its stance.

FOR the 14th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly will once again overwhelmingly condemn the United States for its economic blockade of Cuba. On November 8, the General Assembly will again debate and act on the draft resolution presented by Cuba entitled "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba". A similar resolution was passed last year when 179 states voted in favour of the Cuban resolution. Only three countries voted against it alongside the U.S; Israel and two tiny Pacific island republics.

The Cuban Ambassador to India, Juan Carretero Ibanez, said that the blockade against his country contravened the most basic principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter and international law. "The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States is the longest and cruellest in the history of humanity," said Ibanez.

Unofficial American sanctions against Cuba began almost immediately after the 1959 Cuban revolution, when the U.S. government refused to extend credit so that the new government could stabilise its economy. At the beginning of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy formally announced the U.S. trade embargo. One of Kennedy's biographers has recorded that before he imposed sanctions, he had stocked up on his supply of Cuban cigars. Cigars and rum from Cuba continue to be banned. George Galloway, the outspoken member of British Parliament who defended himself before of a U.S. Senate Committee against claims that he received oil from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, said recently that he had symbolically breached U.S. sanctions by smoking a Havana cigar on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Since the early 1960s, U.S. sanctions have progressively become more draconian. The trade embargo turned into a full-fledged blockade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. By the early 1990s, Cuba had suddenly found itself without reliable trading partners. Eighty five per cent of its foreign trade was with the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of East Europe. In 1992, the notorious Toricelli Act was put into practice by the U.S. administration in a bid to throttle the Cuban economy completely. In the process, the sanctions acquired an extra-territorial component when a new law prevented Cuba from buying essential drugs and food from even the subsidiaries of U.S. companies based in third countries.

"Even essential medicines for children suffering from cancer made by U.S. pharmaceutical companies, used for chemotherapy, were not allowed into Cuba. This is a crime against humanity. The medicine is not for Fidel Castro but for the children of Cuba," said the Cuban Ambassador. The Toricelli Act for the first time placed tough restrictions on ships calling on Cuban ports. A ship from a third country could not enter a port in the U.S. for six months after having docked in Cuba. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Helms-Burton Law that aimed at dissuading foreign companies from investing in Cuba.

Subsidiaries of U.S. companies based in third countries are forbidden to acquire goods that are made with Cuban products. Non-American companies are forbidden from exporting any products containing raw material of Cuban origin to the U.S. Countries are also forbidden from selling to Cuba goods or services in which U.S. technology has been used. Banks in third countries are prohibited from allowing Cuban citizens from opening accounts in U.S. dollars or carrying out financial transactions in U.S. currency with Cuban companies. The UBC Bank of Switzerland had to pay a $100-million fine early this year for dealing with a Cuban company.

It has not only been the Cuban people who have suffered as a result of the blockade. Cuban life-saving drugs that could be used in the U.S. and other countries also came under Washington's ban. One of the rare exceptions made was for the life-saving anti-cancer vaccine produced in Cuba. Otherwise, Washington went all-out to prevent Cuban-made vaccines and life-saving drugs from finding an international market. The Cuban Ambassador to India gave an illustration: had Washington allowed the Cuban-made cholesterol-reducing drug "polycosanol" to be marketed to the U.S., the Cuban pharmaceutical industry would have made a handsome profit. This Cuban product is now marketed widely in the rest of the world.

American grain and cattle exporters have long demanded a lifting of the blockade. Because of American congressional pressure in the last couple of years, the Bush administration has allowed Cuba to purchase goods worth $474.1 million. However, Washington saw to it that Cuba was not provided with any credit facilities and had to make a down payment in advance of the goods being delivered. Cuba was not allowed to use its own ships for transporting the goods, which consisted mainly of agricultural produce.

More than 70 per cent of the Cuban population today has grown up under the "blockade". According to Ibanez, preliminary estimates undertaken by the Cuban government, which are on the conservative side, the damage to the Cuban economy resulting from the blockade is over $82 billion. This year alone the economic damage is estimated at $2,674 million. Under the influence of Cuban rightwing exile groups in Florida, which played an important role in installing George W. Bush in the U.S. presidency, the White House grandiosely announced the creation of the so-called "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba" in May last year.

In the last couple of years, the extra-territorial aspects of the blockade became even more blatant. Restrictions have been placed on millions of Cubans residing within U.S. borders. They will no longer be allowed to visit their friends and relatives on a regular basis or remit money. The booming tourist industry in the island nation has also been targeted by the Bush administration. Hefty penalties have been handed out to U.S. citizens who took the risk of going to Cuba. Some Americans are even languishing in jail for the crime of visiting the neighbouring country. On the campaign trail last year, Bush said that measures were being undertaken to accelerate regime change in Cuba. In yet another foolhardy move, the Bush administration has appointed a "virtual governor" to coordinate the moves to expedite such regime change.

In the third week of October, leaders from Latin America and Europe present at the annual Ibero-American Summit held in Salamanca, Spain, issued a communiqu demanding that the U.S. abide by the 13 consecutive U.N. resolutions and lift the sanctions. For the first time the word "blockade" was used in the communiqu, despite the Bush administration expressing its disapproval a day before it was formally issued on the grounds that it could be interpreted as "a kind of support for the dictatorship in Cuba". Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero told American officials that the wording of the communiqu reflected the spirit of the U.N. resolutions. The communiqu called on the U.S. "to comply with that laid down in 13 successive resolutions approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and to bring an end to the economic, trade and financial blockade it maintains against Cuba".

Before Zapatero and the Socialist Party took over in 2004, Spain was a staunch supporter of the blockade. Mexico's President Vincente Fox, who had on previous occasions been critical of Cuba, said that the summit's final statement reflected the feelings of the Mexican people and that he considered the U.S. position on Cuba "an attack on the welfare of the Cuban people". He said it was unrealistic to use commercial and economic embargoes or blockades to solve political problems.

The leaders of the 17 countries issued another communiqu on terrorism. It demanded that the notorious terrorist, Posada Carriles, be repatriated to Venezuela from the U.S. to face trial. Posada, known as the Osama bin Laden of Latin America, was responsible for many acts of terrorism against Cuba and other progressive Latin American countries' governments. The Cuban-American, who has Venezuelan citizenship, is known to enjoy the patronage of U.S. intelligence agencies since the triumph of the Cuban revolution.

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