Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade

Meeting with reporters on September 17, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez discussed his ministry’s recent report on the U. S. economic blockade against Cuba. The 36 – page document presents Cuba’s case in advance of an October 27 vote in the United Nations General Assembly on a Cuban resolution calling for the blockade’s end. This will be the 24th consecutive year for such a vote. The Assembly has recently approved the resolution overwhelmingly – 188 nations in favor last year, two opposed.

This year is different. Cuba and the United States recently re-established diplomatic relations. The Obama administration has eased some embargo rules through executive action. And the President has urged the U. S. Congress to exercise powers it gained through the 1996 Helms – Burton Law and lift the blockade.

Nevertheless, Rodriguez pointed out, “The blockade continues[s] to be tightened with notable, increased extra-territorial application, in particular in the financial arena.” It’s the “principal obstacle to our development” and “leads to unmet needs and deprivations for all Cuban families.” According to the report, the blockade has deprived Cuba of $834 billion (allowing for inflation) over the 50 years of its existence.

This detailed, comprehensive report is accessible in English here. It surveys multiple U.S. laws undergirding the blockade, details executive actions the Obama administration has already taken, and has recommendations for further presidential initiatives. In particular the document underscores hardship from financial services being withheld by international bankers and lending institutions seeking to avoid U. S. sanctions. The report surveys present day U. S. and international actions and campaigns opposing the blockade.

The overall thrust of the report is to emphasize the complexity and reach of blockade regulations. Prohibitions on exports to Cuba from foreign subsidiaries of U. S. corporations, for instance, interfere with Cuba’s efforts to acquire needed medical supplies. The report makes it clear that any congressional action taken to end regulations most responsible for damage in Cuba must be comprehensive.

Cuba’s report submitted to the General Assembly catalogues stories of distress and dysfunction stemming from the blockade. Its descriptions of adverse effects on agencies, organizations, companies, hospital patients, students, farmers, and athletes are taken from the year ending on June 1, 2015.   Some examples follow:

* In March 2015 the U. S. Treasury Department fined Commerzbank of Germany $2,283,456 for violating regulations on Cuba (56 transactions) and three other countries.

* Because foreign banks often refuse to handle dollars intended for Cuba, Cuba faces the loss of $27,645,000 owed for patient care for foreigners in Cuba and for academic services.

* “Botox,” a U. S. – made drug used to treat some 50 diseases, is obtainable in third countries only and so costs $500 instead of $200 per dose.

* Cuban hematologists can’t monitor adverse effects of the anti-cancer drug Methotrexate because they lack “diagnostic systems” made in the United States.

* Medical imaging systems often don’t work because they depend for activation on computer programing from Microsoft – which is unavailable.

* Because technical equipment made by U. S. companies or their foreign affiliates is off limits, medical geneticists have to send tissue samples to foreign labs.

* A pediatric cardiology hospital must do without diagnostic catheter equipment manufactured only in the United States.

* Having to buy seeds in Europe and Japan added $592,269,000 in agricultural sector costs.

* Due to shipping costs, Cuban educators had to pay 30 percent extra to obtain disposable school supplies available only in Europe.

* Cuban athletes competing internationally missed out on prizes paid for in dollars.

These items represent but a tiny fraction of grief-ridden incidents included in Cuba’s report for this year. Earlier reports documented hundreds more.

The 2015 version of the report to the UN General Assembly leaves out references to genocide found in earlier ones. Yet State Department strategic proposals on Cuba in 1960 anticipated that crime. As conveyed by Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his remarks, those proposals called for the “greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The Obama administration is steering now on a delicate course. Reportedly the U. S. government may abstain from the approaching General Assembly vote on the Cuban resolution. In mid-September, however, Obama took criticism for re-authorizing the Trading with the Enemy Act as it applies to Cuba.

But that made sense, says experienced Washington lawyer Michael Muse. Legislation replacing the TWEA in 1977 “allows the President to continue the TWEA-based embargo on Cuba … on a year-to-year basis.” Through that law, the president gained “executive authority to relax and modify” embargo provisions. Had Obama not reauthorized the TWEA, the 1977 law would have died, and the Helms-Burton Law of 1966 would have superseded whatever presidential discretion remained.

The blockade saga is grim. Yet Cuban socialism survives, and international solidarity with Cuba flourishes. And the United States had to abandon its way of bringing down a revolution. Measures of social well-being in Cuba are up, and tens of thousands of Cuban doctors are treating illnesses worldwide and training doctors from all over. Surely the scenario is of interim victory in a long struggle.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.