Battle of Ideas: Anti-Communism Prolongs Already Long US Blockade of Cuba

Remarkably, the U. S. economic blockade of Cuba is 60 years old. It began with President John Kennedy’s executive order signed on February 3, 1962 that broadened existing restrictions on U.S.-Cuba trade. When the blockade reached its35-year milestone, it was already “the longest embargo in modem history”, according to one observer.

Equally remarkable is the zeal with which the blockade is still being enforced. Two recent news reports, selected as coinciding with the blockade’s 60-year anniversary, testify to the U.S. government’s still-remaining commitment and serious purpose.

Argentinian Graciela Ramírez works in Cuba as a correspondent for, an important Buenos Aires news outlet. She directs both the Cuba branch of the Network of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity and its English language website. Ramírez is co-coordinator of the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, based in Oakland, California. She is a public figure whose undoing would gratify U.S. reactionaries.

Ramírez also operates the website. She reports that on “January 27, while we were preparing different notes on national and international affairs, our [website] was silenced. We could not upload any information.” Replying to her inquiry, the server, Linode LLC in Canada, indicated that that, “this account may be being used in connection with a country that is subject to the embargo laws of the U.S.”

Ramírez is outraged: “The absurd attempt to silence us lays bare the lies and hypocrisy about the much-manipulated freedom of press and information that we hear ad nauseum from the imperialists.”

The other report of interest concerns Cuba’s BioCubaFarma company, which exports Cuban-produced vaccines and other bio-medical products. Dr. Eduardo Martínez, the company’s president, told reporters on January 31 that foreign banks have yet to transfer funds owed to BioCubaFarma by purchasers abroad.  The banks are motivated by fear of incurring U.S. fines for violating blockade regulations that prohibit them from handling payments denominated in U.S. dollars.  Martínez laments the “accumulation of millions [of dollars] in receivables” and BioCubaFarma “lagging on its commitment to pay providers for raw materials.”

The two reports attest to the persisting dedication and diligence of blockade enforcers.  After 60 years, they still harass a solitary anti-blockade activist like Graciela Ramírez who is little known to the U.S. public and hardly a threat to U.S. national security. Even now the U.S. government pursues its blockade with such determination as to reject norms of international humanitarian law: they interfere with BioCubaFarma’s distribution of lifesaving coronavirus vaccines.

Almost two years before it was launched, the U.S. State Department defined the blockade’s main purpose to be that of getting rid of Cuba’s revolutionary government. The year was 1962, and the blockade decisively took on an anti-communist mission. Apologists of the anti-communism of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who died in 1957, occupied positions of power. The Vietnam War, with its anti-communist mission, had hardly begun, leaving an anti-communist void to be filled.

No mental gymnastics are required to appreciate overlap in motivation between blockade aimed at Cuba’s government and blockade as war on communism. Blockade operatives leaning toward the latter, perhaps the very ones hitting at Graciela Ramírez and BioCubaFarma, very likely have a special view of their work.

The motivations of individual operatives are divided, qualitatively. On the one hand, there are strategies, priorities, isolated grievances, external pressures, and passing enthusiasms to be dealt with; they change over time. Responding to these factors becomes motivation according to circumstance.

A co-existing impulse, motivation as sense of mission, has to do with far-reaching principles and has an eye to a supposed greater good, for all time. It crystalizes as a set of ideas, particularly those that inspire anti-communism. Ideas fuel the blockade, bestowing upon its defenders a missionary-type zeal. They are steadfast in preserving the blockade in all of its rigidity.

In any case, high-level commitment to implementing the blockade does remain. It stems from the enforcers’ mission of fighting communism, a mission that is no stranger to historical experience in the United States.

U.S. governments and opinion shapers have long taken advantage of anti-communism; it’s useful.  With anti-communist ideas and deeds having been mobilized against the Soviet Union, the way was clear for the United States to build a capitalist world order after World War II. Anti-communism became a battle-flag in U.S. interventionist ploys throughout the global South. It prompted formation of the anti-communist Organization of American States in 1948 and rationalized all kinds of skullduggery and regime-change projects.

Anti-communism has riled U.S. politics. Often, rightwing spokesperson freely, falsely, and even randomly label political opponents as “socialist,” or “communist.” Fear of communism has terrified far too many U.S. citizens, leaving them silent and accepting. Mainstream politicians regularly have manipulated that fear to weaken or block progressive political initiatives.

Over time, the U.S. government has experienced difficulties in extending its war on communism overseas. Communist-led nations ripe for harassment are in short supply.

Vietnam and China are U.S. trading partners. As for China and North Korea, power politics takes precedence over anti-communist needling Communist Laos, small and far away, attracts little notice. But close neighbor Cuba, long the object of acquisitive U.S. ambitions, comes to the rescue. It qualifies.

It’s as if the United States needs Cuba. Beating up on Cuba can be an advertising ploy. The word spreads: “Watch out for those leftist politics brewing in your country. You don’t want to mess with the United States.” The U.S., government is always game to manipulating public opinion to its advantage, at home and abroad. Regarding Cuba, the United Nations General Assembly helps out.

For almost 30 years, nations of the world annually vote on a Cuban resolution denouncing the blockade. They massively vote their approval; only the United States, Israel, and the rare straggler disapprove. The message goes out near and far: for reliable anti-communism, one can count on the U.S. government.

The anti-communism that is key to prolonging the blockade figures into what Fidel Castro called a battle of ideas. The implication for us is that fighting the blockade on the basis of contingencies and balance of forces is necessary and commendable. But what counts, ultimately, is attention to ideology, basic principles, and a sense of our own mission.

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