Confronting and Ending the US Blockade Against Cuba

Photograph Source: NatalieMaynor – CC BY 2.0

U.S. news reports rarely touch upon the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. The blockade destroys people’s lives and threatens the island’s economy and Cuba’s economic development. Damning evidence appears in the Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s most recent report on adverse effects. Its authors refer to “the longest-lasting trade embargo in modern history.”

How long is long? It’s been in place for 60 years. If from there you go back only five 60-year chunks of time, you might have greeted the Puritans arriving in Boston. Meanwhile, “Cuba bashing is like ordering pizza; … cheap and easy and everyone likes you for it.” – in the words of Cuba analyst and lawyer José Pertierra.

Here we try to account for the blockade’s long life; we propose a new approach toward ending it.

Anti-blockade activists have generally operated on the assumption that if public and elected officials actually understood the horrors of the blockade, they would come together and finish it off. The blockade, it’s been variously pointed out, is illegal, cruel, immoral, bad for U.S. businesses wanting to sell to Cuba, bad for potential U.S. importers, bad for U.S. tourists, and bad for U.S. fans of Cuban culture, music, and sports. Yet no large, sustained protest movement ever materialized.

Fundamentally, it seems, blockade opponents have never confronted the reality of powerful forces mobilized against them. Masters of the blockade, with the machinery of government at their disposal, enjoy free rein. Well-crafted blockade regulations are in force. And the resistance movement is small; its leadership, divided.

Dedicated activists often rely on what looks like magical thinking. They presume that if something ought to happen, it will happen. It’s a fantasy politics which New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (December 13) characterizes as “dreampolitik.” Currently, for example, Trump die-hards insist, despite the facts, that he won the presidency and that President-elect Biden has socialist leanings or enables socialists or communists.

Two other factors are crucial. One: many members of the public, sympathetic though they may be, are not yet prepared to take a stand in favor of ending the blockade. Moved by a prevailing narrative that associates social radicalism with societal destabilization, they may hold Cuba at arm’s length.

Another is the problem of how to overcome the legacy of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. Among other nefarious provisions, that legislation awarded Congress sole responsibility for changing blockade regulations, in particular, for closing it down.

Some suggest that inasmuch as the blockade hasn’t worked to cause regime change, it must disappear. They don’t realize that the blockade is programmed to last exactly as long as the revolutionary government lasts. “But you must “keep the foot on the snake, don’t let up.” That was New Jersey congressman Robert Torricelli’s advice in 1992 as he introduced new blockade legislation.

The foundational purpose of the blockade was to inflict suffering and distress upon the Cuban people to induce them to overthrow their government. The blockade serves as one of many tools for protecting global capitalism and maintaining U.S. hegemony abroad. There is bonus value. Its existence cements the loyalty of the Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan exile communities to rightwing candidates in U.S. elections.

The need is therefore great to radically alter the manner of resisting. Struggle against the blockade now takes place as a single issue, walled off from other good causes. It’s a side show in the three-ring circus of U.S. politics. However, if efforts to end the blockade were included in a multi-faceted program of progressive change, and if the fight proceeded on those terms, then the odds of finishing off the blockade would surely improve.

An anti-capitalist or left-leaning political party would be leading the charge. After all, the U.S. anti-Cuban blockade is a key part of the ceaseless U. S. war against communism.

Packaging a demand in class-struggle wrapping did the trick in bringing about universally available healthcare. Following World War II every industrialized capitalist country in the world, except one, established some kind of care system for all people. A socialist political party, labor party, or strong union movement was operating in each of those countries, except the United States. That’s the one country that does not allow for universally available healthcare. Its labor unions are weak and there’s no socialist party competing in elections.

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

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