Spiralling Into a Whirlpool
On May 2, 2019, the U.S. government tightened its 57-year-old blockade on Cuba by invoking “Title III” of the Helms-Burton Law. Starting with President Clinton in 1996, all following U.S. presidents – including Trump until May – never implemented “Title III”, which is one of the more punishing measures within the Helms-Burton Law. However, the Trump administration did not stop there. Since May 2019, the U.S. government has continued its campaign of escalating hostile and aggressive measures against Cuba.
On June 5, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restricted non-family travel to Cuba by removing a previous authorization for group “people-to-people educational travel”. This is meant to stop Americans from visiting Cuba in an educational capacity, for sports, artistic, cultural or other educational exchanges. These measures isolate Cuba but also ensure that fewer Americans will travel to Cuba and see with their own eyes the important gains of the Cuban revolution.
On June 20, Cuba was added to the "lowest tier" on the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report. According to CNN, this means the U.S. government is accusing Cuba of, “not fully meet[ing] the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and not making any efforts to do so." In a press conference U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo explained that Cuba was being downgraded in this report due to Cuba’s internationalist medical missions in which Havana sends tens of thousands of doctors and medical professionals around the world to treat people for free. This is a world-renowned Cuban program that has received many awards and accolades from various international institutions including the World Health Organization and United Nations. The U.S. government is trying to undermine these life-saving programs by accusing the Cuban government of threatening or coercing its doctors into participating in the medical missions.
On September 6, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released a statement, "Treasury Issues Changes to Strengthen Cuba Sanctions Rules." The changes made further restrict Cubans living in the U.S. from sending remittances to their family members in Cuba, they also halted U-turn transactions. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated, “We are taking additional steps to financially isolate the Cuban regime. The United States holds the Cuban regime accountable for its oppression of the Cuban people and support of other dictatorships throughout the region, such as the illegitimate Maduro regime.” These false pretexts about increasing the blockade on Cuba due to its close relationship with Venezuela did not stop there.
On September 24, U.S President Trump spoke at the United Nations General Assembly stating, “The dictator Maduro is a Cuban puppet, protected by Cuban bodyguards, hiding from his own people, while Cubans plunder Venezuela’s oil wealth to sustain its own corrupt communist rule.” Like many of Trump’s outlandish statements, this is easily verifiable as false. President Maduro’s bodyguards are Venezuelan and there are numerous international accords between Cuba and Venezuela related to exchanging cheaper oil for Cuban doctors and medical professionals to work in rural communities in Venezuela.
On September 26, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on former Cuban President and leader of Cuba's Communist Party, Raul Castro. They also extended the sanctions to all of Castro's children. Mike Pompeo tweeted, "Today we designate Raul Castro and his immediate family for his involvement in gross violations of human rights. The Cuban regime's disregard for human rights and the use of violence to prop up the former Maduro regime are responsible for the ongoing crises in #Cuba and #Venezuela."
These on-going attacks on Cuba, specifically those on former President Raul Castro, were strangely foreshadowed by the actions of an important American company. Just a week before Trump’s UN speech, Twitter blocked dozens of official Cuban twitter accounts including Raul Castro; his daughter, Mariela Castro (who leads Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education); Cuba Debate, Granma, Mesa Redonda (news and discussion on Cuba); and many accounts of journalists for Cuban media. The blocking of the accounts took place at a suspiciously calculated moment. According to the Guardian UK Newspaper on September 12, 2019, "The move came just as Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, was addressing the nation on state-run TV, warning of an energy crisis due to US sanctions." While most accounts were restored the next day, Twitter did not explain or apologize, instead the company stated that they followed their company’s policy guidelines and accused the accounts of breaking Twitter’s rules. However, no specifics were given to answer the questions about: why it happened at this particular time; why it happened to verified accounts; or why several accounts were quickly restored.
Cuba Responds to U.S. Attacks
Throughout these months of attacks and increasing blockade, the Cuban government and Cuban people have been responding, with petition campaigns, social media campaigns, speeches at international summits, articles in the Cuban and international press, and statements from the Ministry of Foreign affairs and other government institutions.
On September 28, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla spoke during the general debate of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). He responded to the U.S. government's ongoing attacks on Cuba explaining, "In the course of last year, the U.S. government has steadily and qualitatively increased its hostile actions and the blockade of Cuba. [...] The economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. continues to be the principal obstacle to our country’s development and progress in the process to update the socialist economic and social development model that our country has designed."
During his address to the UNGA, Rodriguez not only questioned the U.S. blockade on Cuba, but the whole capitalist and imperialist system defended by Trump. Rodriguez stated, "As we witnessed a few days ago in this Assembly, the U.S. President usually attacks socialism in his public statements, with clearly electoral purposes, while promoting a McCarthyist intolerance of those who believe in the possibility of a better world and entertain the hope of living in peace in sustainable harmony with nature and in solidarity with all others. President Trump ignores or intends to overlook the fact that neoliberal capitalism is responsible for the increasing social and economic inequality affecting even the most developed societies and that, given its nature, fosters corruption, social marginalization, a rise in crime, racial intolerance, and xenophobia. He forgets, or does not know, that capitalism begots fascism, apartheid, and imperialism."
History of the U.S. Blockade on Cuba
After the triumph of the Cuban revolution on January 1, 1959, the U.S. government imposed a series of sanctions on Cuba. A full trade blockade was imposed on Cuba in 1962. Since its inception this unjust and cruel U.S. policy has hurt all sectors of Cuban society: cutting access to medicines, school supplies, travel, international trade, construction materials, and the list goes on. The blockade also hurts people living in the United States: imposing travel restrictions, international legal/financial penalties on U.S. companies, blocking the sale of Cuban medicines to the United States, etc.
Of course, the blockade is only one element in the U.S. government’s campaign against Cuba and its revolutionary people and government. The U.S. has also led invasions (Bay of Pigs), used biological warfare (the spread of dengue fever and swine flu), funded opposition groups, launched international media campaigns, and imposed other “diplomatic” pressure and threats against Cuba.
In 2014 when Cuba and the United States formally re-established diplomatic ties – under then-Cuban President Raul Castro and then-U.S. president Barack Obama – many believed it was only a matter of time until the blockade would end. However, Obama did not have the political will or political power needed to end this unjust U.S. policy. Now we see that many of the gains are being reversed by the Trump administration, however, both countries have decided to maintain their formal diplomatic ties.
Why Does Blockade Exist?
Since the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. government has been searching for ways to destroy the Cuban revolution and, with it, Cuba’s independence. The U.S. government cannot afford to have governments’ independent of its hegemonic and imperialist agenda anywhere in the world, much less on an island only 90 miles off their shores.
Cuba is the threat of a good example for Americans and people the world. When they learn about the gains of the Cuban revolution: free healthcare, free education, and many other areas, they might start to ask why those gains have not been made in the wealthiest places on earth. Why is the U.S. government unable to provide these services for free, when a small natural-resource-poor ‘third-world’ nation to the south is providing them for its people and internationally to the world?
The blockade is meant to divide people in the U.S. and Cuba, but it is also meant to create shortages and poverty within Cuba so that the Cuban people become disillusioned with their own socialist revolutionary project. It is meant to create desperation and misery so that the Cuban people and government give up on their socialist vision for the future. In over 57 years this policy has been unsuccessful, and rather than isolating Cuba, it has isolated the U.S. However, the U.S. government seems intent on doubling-down on this policy of blockade, which means deepening hardship for the people of Cuba.
Why the U.S. Blockade on Cuba Must End
On November 6-7, 2019, the United Nations General Assembly will hold its 28th annual debate and vote on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Last year the world community stood together with 189 countries voting in favour of ending the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Once again the United States and Israel stood alone on the wrong side of history in voting against the resolution to end the blockade. Every year the United States government and its blockade on Cuba has been condemned by the international community during this vote. However, it is not only countries voting at the United Nations. Around the world in letters, petitions, on social media, and in interviews people from all continents participate in regular actions to condemn the U.S. blockade on Cuba. In Canada on the 17th of every month solidarity activists and organizers gather in front of the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver and Montreal and in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa to raise their voices against the blockade on Cuba.
Of course, the strongest and most steadfast opposition to the blockade for over 57 years has come from the dignified and independent people of Cuba and their revolutionary government who study and protest the impacts of the blockade on their society, economy and daily lives.
Together the Cuban people and the world must continue to stand united chanting, “¡Cuba Si! ¡Bloqueo No!”
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
Back to Article Listing