Cuba's struggle against the economic blockade continues even as the United States remains internationally isolated on the issue.
AS it has been doing for the last 12 years, Cuba is once again submitting a draft resolution to the United Nations General Assembly this year demanding the lifting of the United States' economic blockade of the island. The almost total isolation of Washington on the issue was illustrated by the fact that, last year only three countries, including the U.S. voted against the resolution calling for the lifting of the economic and trade embargo against Cuba. The other countries supporting the U.S. were, its traditional ally Israel and the tiny island republic of Micronesia. The economic blockade is now more than four decades old. Despite the international community condemning Washington's policy of trying to subjugate the Cuban people by causing hunger and disease in the country, the Bush administration has been unrelenting. In fact, there are indications that Washington is even toying with the idea of intervening militarily in the island. Senior Bush administration officials have been suggesting that Syria, North Korea, Iran and Cuba, are on the U.S. military's hit list.
In May last year, U.S. Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, who belongs to the neo-conservative cabal in the Bush Cabinet, had alleged that Cuba was developing a biological warfare programme. Bush's brother Jeb Bush, who also happens to be the Governor of Florida, suggested after the fall of Iraq that Cuba should be the next candidate for regime change.
This year, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has earmarked $1.602 million to create independent non-government organisations (NGO) in Cuba and $2.132 million to bring about a political transition in Cuba. In all, USAID has spent $22 million in the last five years to undermine the socialist government of Cuba.
The Cuban government takes the U.S. threats seriously given the firsthand experience it has had of U.S.-sponsored terrorism dating back to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. One of the most devious acts of U.S.-sponsored terrorism was the shooting down of the Cuban passenger airliner in mid-air off the Barbados coast, and killing all the 73 people on board.
On April 11 this year, the U.S. State Department put Cuba once again on the list of countries that support international terrorism though Cuba is a signatory to all the 12 international conventions and protocols against terrorism. At a time when U.S. public opinion was known to be in favour of normalising ties with Cuba, the Bush administration has, instead, increased funding to encourage subversive activities against Cuba. The U.S. House of Representatives had recently voted in favour of moves to lift partially some of the sanctions. A majority in the U.S. Senate was also for allowing Americans to visit Cuba freely and lifting of the ceiling on remittances that can be sent by Cuban-Americans to their relatives on the island. The Bush administration, however, threatened to veto any move by Congress to normalise ties, arguing that it was necessary to maintain sanctions and travel restrictions to deny economic resources to Cuba.
The Toricelli and the Helms-Burton Acts passed by the U.S. Congress in the 1990s, violate accepted international trade norms. The Toricelli Act of 1992, for instance, cut off Cuba's access to medicines and food from subsidiaries of U.S. companies based in third countries. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 was aimed at cutting off foreign investments in Cuba.
The Cuban government has estimated that it has lost $685 million in foreign trade in 2002 as a result of the embargo. The Cuban government has estimated a loss of $72 billion more in the last four decades as a result of the U.S. embargo. Cuba last year had to buy teaching aids and other educational material worth $11.7 million from markets in Asia. If it was allowed to source the materiel from the U.S., the savings would have been substantial. Cuba's agricultural sector too has suffered big losses owing to the unilateral sanctions. The Cuban government, in its report to the U.N. Secretary-General on the impact of the American blockade, has emphasised that the sanctions were imposed with the express goal of causing "hunger, despair and the overthrow of the government", as was stated in a U.S. State Department document of April 6, 1960, a year after the triumph of the revolution.
It is only owing to the tremendous dedication and scientific training of the Cuban health care workers that the health sector has not been too adversely affected by the sanctions. Cuba could not acquire the diagnostic kit to detect the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, after the epidemic broke out recently. Around 70 per cent of the companies that manufacture diagnostic tools are American-owned. On April 10 this year, the Bush administration denied an export licence to USA/Cuba Info Med, a humanitarian NGO based in California, to donate 423 computers to health care institutions in Cuba. The computers donated in previous years were installed in Cuban hospitals and clinics as part of the diagnostic and medical information network.
Since the beginning of this year, Washington has been inciting Cubans dissidents to hijack boats and aircraft to Florida. The Bush administration is overflowing with known Cuba-baiters and people hailing from the right-wing Cuban emigre community based mainly in Florida. They are among those in the forefront of the Bush administration, hoping to provoke an armed attack on the island.
BUSH obviously feels that the Cuban-American vote in Florida will once again be crucial for his re-election bid. After all, it was the powerful Cuban exile community, whose terrorist and criminal antecedents are well known, which helped manipulate the votes in Florida in the last presidential elections. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. Interest Section in Havana has been used to fund mercenaries and so-called dissidents. In March this year, Secretary of State Colin Powell increased federal funding for subversive radio and television programmes beamed into Cuba, in violation of the regulations established by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The broadcasts call on Cubans to indulge in anti-national acts like illegal immigration and subversion.
Earlier in the year, the Bush administration had imposed more restrictions to discourage people-to-people contact between ordinary Americans and Cubans. The harassment of U.S. citizens visiting Cuba has considerably increased. One of the celebrated cases is that of 74-year-old Joan Slote, who has been fined $8,500 by the U.S. government for committing a "serious violation" of the blockade regulations. On the other hand, six common Cuban criminals who hijacked a passenger plane to Key West in Florida earlier in the year were set free on bail a few days after the incident.
In many previous cases too, the U.S. government has not brought hijackers of Cuban boats and planes to justice. In fact, two Cuban passenger planes hijacked earlier in the year were actually auctioned off by the authorities in Florida. The U.S. has confiscated many of the 51 Cuban planes hijacked between 1959 and 2001 and so far not a single hijacker has been punished. In contrast, Cuba has handed out stiff punishment to American hijackers who forced passenger planes to land in Cuba. In 71 cases of hijacking, 69 of those involved have been sentenced. Two others have been handed over to the American authorities.
In December 2001, Cuba had enacted a tough anti-terrorist law, stipulating heavy sentences for those using Cuban territory to organise attacks against any country, including the U.S. On the other hand the Americans have provided training for paramilitary groups opposed to Cuba on their territory. Five Cubans who infiltrated a right-wing Cuban exile terrorist group in Florida and informed the U.S. government of their activities were instead jailed on espionage charges. They are still languishing in American jails.