The George Brathwaite Column – Need to End Embargo
Since December 8, 1972, Cuba and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have had formal relations. The countries are ‘thrust together by geopolitical realities and common regional and global challenges’, and the CARICOM-Cuba relationship has been sustained ‘by mutual respect for the right to self-determination and to the development model of their choosing’. In the name of justice, and given the 45 years of regional solidarity with Cuba, all CARICOM countries must again register their full support for Cuba within the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN).
On Wednesday, November 1st, 2017, at the 72nd session, for the umpteenth consecutive year there will be a resolution for the ‘need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockage imposed’ by the United States of America (USA) against the sovereign nation of Cuba. Adoption of the resolution in the UN to end the outmoded and perilous economic embargo has become an annual ritual. When it first passed in 1992, it received 59 yes votes and three votes against. Last year, there were two abstentions, the USA and Israel and no country voted against the resolution. This gradual shift to a near-unanimous vote by the international community in favour of ending the blockade is a clear sign of the widespread and global disapproval of the USA embargo on Cuba.
Indeed, between the years 2015 and 2016, President Obama made amendments to some of the regulations of the blockade policy, and modified its aggressive posturing and application. The progress made in showed that Cuba and the USA can live together in a civilised way, respecting their differences and cooperating for the benefit of both countries and their people. This was a step in the right direction by President Obama, aimed at adjusting, if not eliminating, an anachronistic policy that remains unjust and almost universally rejected by the international community. Even within the USA, 73% of Americans and 63% of Cubans living in that country support the lifting of the blockade.
The USA introduced and has repeatedly extended the economic blockade of Cuba based on its ‘Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917’ which was created to restrict trade with countries hostile to the USA. The blockade qualifies as an act of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. Relatedly, some argue that the blockade is an act of economic war, in accordance with the Declaration on the Law of Maritime War adopted by the Naval Conference of London of 1909.
Nonetheless, Cuba and the USA are not at war. Cuba has never organised or carried out military aggression against the USA from its territory; nor have violent acts against the American people been promoted by the Cuban Government. Cuba, like the CARICOM countries, believes in the right of sovereignty and self-determination. Cuba speaks out against misguided forms of hostile USA imperialism being mounted against its nation. Indeed, the evidence is there from the Obama administration that Cuba continues to reaffirm its willingness to hold respectful dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest. Cuba remains a willing actor ready to negotiate pending bilateral issues with the USA.
Most important, Cuba’s relations with the USA can become advanced if based on equality, reciprocity, and respect for Cuba’s sovereignty and independence. There is no doubt that the blockade or economic embargo by the USA against Cuba is fallaciously being continued after being unilaterally imposed 55 years ago. Several international law scholars contend that the USA has ‘breached the acceptable standard of conduct between states and is engaging in an illegal economic blockade’ of the Republic of Cuba. Additionally, the economic blockade is more than a simple embargo because it is extended to imports, and it is more than a modest boycott because the USA attempted to control actions of third party states in their relations with Cuba.
From a humanistic perspective, the economic embargo impedes the economic development of Cuba and, therefore, constitutes a flagrant violation of the human rights of the Cuban people. There is ample proof that death has come to thousands of the Cuban people over the past few decades which could be linked to the USA’s cruel posturing. For example, the economic blockade meant that specific medications and/or equipment and technologies to diagnose the illnesses could not be obtained. A Cuban official noted that: “There is not, and there has not been in the world, such a terrorizing and vile violation of human rights of an entire people than the blockade that the US government has been leading against Cuba.” This damaging action by the USA against Cuba is nothing less than an injustice that threatens to completely rip apart the lives of the Cuban people.
To date, more than 70 per cent of the Cuban population and at least three generations were born and raised under the application of this inhumane policy. The social, economic, and human damage to Cuba by the USA’s prolonged imposition of the economic embargo has been severe. The blockade has caused the Cuban people for almost six decades, accumulated damages that amount to well over $1 trillion dollars. This is considering the depreciation of the dollar against the value of gold in the international market.
Everyone knows that Cuba has demonstrated its commitment to healthcare beyond its shores. Yet, with the economic blockade still in place, Cuba loses more than 4 billion dollars annually from the potential of foreign investments and other revenues. According to estimates made by Cuba’s Ministry of Economy and Planning, the country requires between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars of annual foreign direct investment to achieve its economic development objectives. In other words, the cost of the annual blockade represents for Cuba about double what is necessary for the total development of its economy.
The recent rhetoric by President Donald Trump is menacing, and is set on rolling back recent gains in USA-Cuba relations. The Trump administration announced measures that will impose additional obstacles to the already limited opportunities for trade between Cuba and the USA. With the reinforcement of the blockade, it will become increasingly difficult for Cuba to acquire technologies and technical equipment that only the USA produces, or that have components manufactured by American companies or subsidiaries. Many of these items are required, for example, in the public health sector in Cuba, where, despite the difficulties, universal and free access to the health services of all Cuban citizens is guaranteed.
Additionally, the economic blockade has a marked extra-territorial character, which is reflected, among other examples, in the financial persecution against third country banks. The USA has proposed the imposition of new fines on institutions suggesting that foreign and transnational companies and countries are violating the USA’s rules of engagement with Cuba. This has led many banking institutions to close Cuban accounts and adopt measures that hinder and complicate the normal functioning of the banking system on the island.
Therefore, implementation of punitive and destructive measures will further restrict the right of Cuban citizens to travel to Cuba, and diminish the chances of the Cuban people to achieve sustainable development in the medium term. The USA must unilaterally and unconditionally end the unjust blockade that has plagued the Cuban people for almost 60 years. It is the most unjust, severe and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions that has been applied in human history against any country.
Moreover, Cuba will not compromise on principle, nor should it cease in its claims for the lifting and total elimination of the blockade. On Wednesday, the Cuban government will denounce the resurgence of this policy and will once again present to the UN’s General Assembly the draft resolution entitled: “Need to end the economic, commercial blockade and financial embargo imposed by the Government of the United States against Cuba.”