On the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of JFK Signing the Blockade into Law, Executive Order 3447
It has now been 60 years since this U.S. enacted its “embargo” on Cuba. The term embargo is however, a gross understatement of the measures designed to undermine and overthrow the Cuban government, in the words of U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Interamerican Affairs, Lester Mallory (1960) “through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship”. The concept of ‘economic war’ is a much more accurate depiction.
For sixty years the U.S. has sought to create a U.S. policy, in the words of Mallory (1960), that “while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of government”.
While this is the 60th anniversary of Kennedy signing this shameful legislation that violates Cuba’s sovereignty and is undoubtedly at war with the Cuban people, the U.S. began its economic war with Public Act 86-592 that cut off the sugar quota that the United States typically acquired from Cuba pursuant to the Sugar Act of 1948 (Lamrani 2013: 24; Perez 2011: 249). The U.S. policy was enacted in part as a response to a chain of events starting with Cuba’s May 19thAgrarian Reform and later with the nationalizations of U.S. based company operations in Cuba, including those of Texaco, ITT, and United Fruit Company. These measures were in accordance with Articles 24 and 90 of the 1940 Cuban constitution and international law as argued by Lamrani (2013: 20) “that grants any nation the sovereign right to nationalize companies operating on its territory in exchange for compensation”. Although these measures pursued by the Cuban government were in accord with international and Cuban domestic law, they were not seen as friendly to U.S. corporate interests that dominated the Cuban economy since the U.S. imposed the Platt Amendment on Cuba’s constitution. While many other nations also had businesses nationalized, they settled their claims through compensation agreements accorded with the Cuban government that were based on the amount the corporate entities claimed their enterprises were worth on their previous respective tax returns, these compensation agreements were vigorously rejected by the U.S. based companies since they had previously understated the value of their assets to evade taxes (Lamrani 2013: 20-21).
These hostile measures were accompanied by a host of other shameful attacks on Cuba and its people, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the double-tap bombing of Le Coubre, support for acts of terror inside Cuba, such as the firebombing of El Encanto, and Operation Mongoose- a dirty war against the Cuban people that included sabotage, assassination plots, and the killing of literacy workers such as Conrado Benitez.
Returning to the U.S.’s economic war, the U.S. directed sanctions against Cuba prohibit imports and exports between the United States and Cuba, restrict travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba, and limit the amount of monetary remittances that can be sent to persons on the island as well as who can receive them, among other onerous restrictions (U.S. Department of Treasury 2022) After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of Cuba’s trading partners in Eastern Europe, the U.S. took advantage of Cuba’s economic vulnerability to increase its efforts to suffocate the Cuban Revolution. In 1992, the U.S. congress passed the Cuban Democracy Act also known as the Torricelli Act signed into law by George H. W. Bush and later in 1996 passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act also known as the Helms-Burton Act, signed into law under President Clinton.
Among the provisions included in these laws are the requirement that any foreign ship visiting a Cuban port be barred from U.S. ports for a period of at least 180 days, restrictions on the amount of remittances sent to persons on the island, the prohibition of extension of credit to Cuba from international financial institutions, restrictions on daily spending of travelers to Cuba, and the extension of the prohibition of trade with Cuba to U.S. subsidiaries in other countries, even when this trade consists of food and medicine. Furthermore, Title III, Section 302 of the Helms Burton Act allows for the prosecution of foreign companies that invested in nationalized properties as well as allowing the U.S. to prevent foreign investors who have invested in Cuba from investing in the United States. This law also prohibits any international financial institution from providing any form of support to Cuba (Lamrani 2013: 33-35; Perez 2011: 299-301; Saney 2004: 169). The Helms-Burton law further stipulates that neither Raul nor Fidel Castro form part of any future government of Cuba as a condition for the lifting of sanctions on the island (Saney 2004; Lamrani 2013). While these conditions were both unjustifiable and a violation of Cuban sovereignty in their own right, in spite of Fidel’s passing and Raul honoring his term limits, the sanctions against Cuba are more brutal than ever.
The extraterritorial extension of the U.S. economic war is reflected by the fact that Cuba cannot import any item with more than 10% of U.S. components and third-party countries cannot export Cuban items to the U.S. if they contain Cuban components. The U.S. prohibits Cuba from using dollars in its international transactions. For example, in 2004, Swiss bank UBS was fined $100 million dollars for violation of this prohibition (Lamrani 2013).
Since September 30, 2004, and the strict application of rules set by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, a Japanese car manufacturer wishing to sell to the U.S. market must first demonstrate to the Treasury Department that its automobiles do not contain even a single gram of Cuban nickel. Similarly, a French pastry concern that wishes to compete in world’s premier economic market must first prove to the same entity that its products do not contain even a gram of Cuban sugar. (Lamrani 2013: 57).
While food and medicine were ‘supposed to be exempted’ that has not been the case in practice. In this regard, the American Association for World Health issued an extensive report titled “Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the U.S. Embargo on Health and Nutrition in Cuba” documenting the ways in which the U.S.’s economic war affected the import of food, fuel, chemicals needed to maintain water quality, and items necessary for agriculture and maintaining the health of the Cuban population. The report also documented the negative impacts of the economic war on Cuba’s production of medicine- that affected everything from the production of anti-cancer drugs to anti-coagulants such as wafarin sodium, when in 1995 DuPont Merk “purchased the rights to the Wafarin Sodium technology from Chemoswed AR of Sweden” (American Association for World Health 1997: 117). In 2020, at the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, Vyaire Medical Inc. bought Medical Ag and Acutronic, and since this company is a U.S. company, Cuba could not complete the purchase of artificial respirators (Sanchez and Rivas 2020).
Notably, the report from the American Association for World Health indicated that it was only due to measures taken by the Cuban government (including an increased proportion of the state budget allocated for health care) that a great humanitarian crisis had been averted. Examples of how implementation of these economic sanctions have interfered with the Cuban population’s right to medical care include the $168,500.00 fine imposed on Chiron Corporation “for exporting vaccines for children to Cuba through one of its European Subsidiaries, even though it had been licensed to do so by UNICEF” and a $260,000 fine leveled on the Purolite company of Philadelphia “for having sold to Cuba ion exchange resins used for water purification” and “seizing $4.1 million that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has earmarked for Cuba” (Lamrani 2013:48). The utter disregard for human life and basic ethical principles wrapped up in this policy is both astonishing and shameful.
The U.S. has shamefully and mendaciously included Cuba on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, in spite of the knowledge that Cuba has not and does not sponsor terrorism, but that it has been a victim of terrorism. The economic aggression is accompanied with U.S. funding a propaganda war as evidenced by Article 1705 of the Torricelli Law, The Helms Burton provision for Radio and T.V. Marti and the annual distribution of millions of dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy to fund organizations intent on destroying Cuba’s government.
During the Trump administration an additional 243 measures were passed that were hostile to Cuba, including the cutting off of remittances to the island (Augustin 2020) during the middle of the pandemic. The Cuban chancellor Bruno Rodrguez reported to the United Nations that the estimated damage to the Cuba by the U.S. blockade since its inception was over $147.8 billion, and as measured against the price of gold, sums to $1.3 trillion. President Biden is not only continuing the economic war and all of President Trump’s measures, but is actively adding to them, by falsely accusing the Cuban government’s medical internationalism of being human trafficking and warning recipient countries not to work with Cuban medical brigades (Granma 2021). Such a slander is not only terrible because of its falsehood and misleading nature, but because it ultimately threatens the healthcare access of some of the world’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.
How the U.S. Economic War against Cuba Hurts U.S. Citizens and Residents
In addition to denying Americans the freedom to travel, and U.S. companies the freedom to engage in trade with Cuba, the U.S. Economic War damages people living in the U.S. in other ways. Heberprot-P is a Cuban medicine (human recombinant epidermal growth factor) that treats diabetic foot ulcers and has been shown to be effective at preventing amputations by up to 70% (Lopez-Saura et al. 2013). Yet, diabetic foot patients in the U.S. access to the drug is affected by the blockade. For example, a student of mine taking my course in health inequalities upon learning of the existence of the medication spoke in anger, “my dad lost his foot because of a diabetic foot ulcer, you mean to tell me that there was a chance to save his foot and we were not able to because of U.S. sanctions on Cuba?”
In 2009, in a letter to President Obama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims that the embargo costs the U.S. economy roughly 1.2 billion dollars annually while the Cuban Policy Foundation estimates that U.S. policy towards Cuba costs the U.S. economy up to 3.6 billion dollars per year (Pepper 2009; Cuba Policy Foundation 2002). Other forms of scientific collaboration are jeopardized and damaged. The positive collaboration with Roswell Park Cancer Center could be just the beginning of a mutually beneficial collaboration with Cuba in better conditions. The people of New Orleans suffered serious adverse effects with Cuba’s to send the Henry Reeves Brigade to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina was turned down by then U.S. President George W. Bush. U.S. citizens lose access to educational and tourist opportunities for a policy that is designed, not to help the Cuban people, but to destroy Cuba’s revolutionary government that has proven time and again a commitment to the ideals of social justice, public health, and internationalism.
Finally, the U.S. economic war serves to isolate the U.S. For twenty-nine consecutive votes, the United Nations General Assembly has continuously and virtuously unanimously condemned the U.S. aggression against Cuba. However, instead of respecting the will of almost the entire planet, the U.S. arrogantly continues in contempt of not just Cuba’s wishes, but the world’s wishes. In addition to being routinely condemned in the UN, the very intent of the U.S. to try to change Cuba’s political and economic system violates UN resolution 2625 that states that nations have the right to choose their own “political, economic, social and cultural systems” (UNGA 2625 XXV). Before the U.S. can make amends for the harm done to the Cuban, American and global populations, it must first end its offending behavior, that can only be characterized as bullying with the admitted immoral and criminal intent of “denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of government”.
Augustín, Ed. 2020. “Cubans Lose Access to Vital Remittances after Latest U.S. Sanctions”. The Guardian. November 1st, 2020. Accessed Online February 6, 2022
Cuba Policy Foundation. 2002. “America’s Farmers Bearing Heavy Burden for U.S. Embargo against Cuba: New Report.” Accessed online 10/2/23
Granma. 2021. “Minrex: Estados Unidos miente al acusar a Cuba en su informe de Trata de Personas” Granma. 3 de Julio, 2021.
Lamrani, Salim. 2013. The Economic War Against Cuba: A Historical and Legal Perspective on the U.S. Blockade. Monthly Review Press. New York.
López-Saura P, Year-Alos IB, Valenzuela-Silva C, et al. Medical practice confirms clinical trial results of the use of intralesional human recombinant epidermal growth factor in advanced diabetic foot ulcers. Adv Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2013; 2: 1000128.
Mallory, Lester D. 1960. “Memorandum from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mallory) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom),” April 6th 1960, US Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/4-660, Secret, drafted by Mallory, in Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) 1958–1960, Volume VI, Cuba: (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1991), p. 885.
Pepper, Margot. 2009. “The Costs of the Embargo” Dollars & Cents. Accessed Online 10/02/13
Sanchez, Walkiria and Ronald Suarez Rivas. 2020. “Empresa estadounidense compra compañía proveedora de respiradores artificiales y suspende envíos a Cuba por causa del bloqueo” Granma April 11, 2020. Accessed online February 7 2022
United Nations General Assembly. 1970. “Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations” GA Res 2625 XXV 1883rd Plenary Meeting. Accessed online. 10/07/13
U.S. Department of Treasury. 2023. “Cuba Sanctions” Department of the Treasury. Accessed online 2/7/2022