The Cuban embargo by the United States of America, which has been in place for more than 50 years, continues to strangle the economic and social progress of the small country. Now, more than ever, it is costing lives.
At a recent meeting between the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland Teresita Trujillo and Mandate General Secretary John Douglas, Ms Trujillo said: “The embargo is worse now under the Presidency of Barack Obama than it ever was under George Bush jnr.”
This illustrates the longevity of the petty grudge held by the most powerful nation on earth, which is determined not to allow an independent country with an alternative economic, democratic and social model to succeed.
The Americans will insist that their policy of isolation against the Cuban people is based on breaches of human and civil rights and the promotion of democracy. But this is quite clearly a convenient smokescreen for the real reasons for the policy.
How is it that the US is so concerned for civil and human rights in Cuba, but continues to deal openly and positively with Saudi Arabia, Iran and China? Where is the concern for the citizens of Palestine who are consistently oppressed by the Israeli government? The hypocrisy is palpable.
The history between the two countries goes back centuries but their modern history began in 1898 when, after fighting for independence against the Spanish for more than three years, the Cubans were joined by the US during the final three months of the war. After the Cubans were successful, the US felt it should be them and not the Cubans who should put in place future determinations for the country.
“Our new subjects, foolish, impulsive, headstrong, unreasonable… We are old in this learning and they must obey those who are in tutelage. They are children and we are men in these deep matters of governance and justice,” said Woodrow Wilson, future President of the United States.
The US set up conditions for America to intervene in Cuban affairs under the Platt Amendment with the result that within a few short years, American interests controlled 80% of all sugar mills, the banks, electric and telephone companies and all oil refineries. By 1958, 75% of all arable land was foreign-owned.
Governor Leonard Wood said: “There is, of course, little or no independence left in Cuba under the Platt Amendment. It is quite apparent that she is absolutely in our hands.”
The US also blocked the introduction of a minimum wage in the 1920s and put in place one of the most brutal dictators in the history of Latin America, Fulgencio Batista.
In 1959, a small group of Cubans, frustrated with high levels of poverty and corruption fought back in one of the most famous revolutions in recent history led by Fidel Castro.
The revolution grew in numbers and strength over time and its success was immediate. Before the revolution, 23.6% of the population were illiterate. Within 12 months the country was comparable with any first world nation. Pre-revolutionary Cuba had an infant mortality rate of 60 per 1,000. This reduced to 6 per 1,000. Today only Uruguay and Argentina can compare out of the 19 Latin American countries.
At first, the US didn’t know how to react, but when Castro began taking back control of land from foreign-owned businesses, a new urgency was found by the US but it had nothing to do with civil rights or democracy.
“The majority of Cubans support Castro. The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lestor D. Mallory in April 1960. “We wanted to keep bread out of the stores so that people would go hungry,” commented one CIA officer in the 1970s.
The aggression of the US was never more evident than when, in 1962, US President John F. Kennedy, sanctioned the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Lesser known is the fact that JFK was planning a second full-scale invasion, set to take place 50 years ago on December 1, 1963. JFK was shot one week before so his plans never came to fruition.
The aggression continued into the 1980s when Secretary of State to Ronald Reagan, Alexander Haig, said to the President: “You just give me the word and I’ll turn that fucking island into a parking lot.”
The US has also supported terrorist organisations based out of Miami, who have taken the lives of more than 3,000 innocent Cubans in the past four decades.
People often blame the Cubans or the Soviet Union for the Cuban missile crisis, but clearly when you are faced with this level of aggression, a small country, isolated by a very powerful aggressor, will take refuge from any nation willing to help protect it.
The placing of Soviet missiles in Cuba was not an act of aggression by Cuba, but an act of protection for its citizens. The failed military interventions resulted in an economic response — the longest blockade ever — with dire consequences for the people of Cuba.
On a recent trip to Cuba, I asked one of our tour guides what he thought of the US embargo on his country. His response was simple: “It is a policy dictated by a few very powerful wealthy people based out of Miami. People who lost property and entitlements due to the revolution. The vast majority of Cubans in the US want the embargo lifted.”
His understanding of the situation is precise. Yet, still, the US persists in making life difficult for ordinary Cubans. This year saw the US more isolated than ever at the UN General Assembly when 188 countries voted against the blockade and only two countries (the US and Israel) voted to continue it.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said: “Cuba has lost more than $1.1 trillion dollars because of the embargo.” According to the minister, “the blockade prevents Cuba from getting heart and anti-AIDS drugs for children.”
An estimated 90% of all medical patents are under the control of American companies meaning the Cuban people have to suffer the most damning effects of an extended, unnecessary and pointless grudge.
“Children have died because we haven’t been able to purchase certain items that are prohibited under the embargo,” said Dr Alejandro Gonzalez, head of haematology at the Cuban National Children’s Hospital.
Another farcical aspect to the blockade of Cuba is the travel embargo. Although recently relaxed to allow US residents born in Cuba to return, they still refuse to allow US citizens to visit the country.
Rafael Hernandez, who edits the Havana-based Temas magazine, said: “The way they want to deal with Cuba is to deny Americans to travel here, to deny freedom of trade, to deny those freedoms they say they are so supportive of in Cuba, but they deny them to their own citizens.
“There is a perverse logic to it, and their rationale is ridiculous. Are they afraid that the Americans would become Fidelistas or communists if the visited Cuba? They believe this political system is so awful, so let them come and see it for themselves. They will find what the American press says about Cuba is not true.
“The US press controls the message about Cuba, based on the right-wing agenda. If Americans came here they would see for themselves, and see that message is false.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said: “The Castro brothers do not want to see an end to the embargo… because then they would lose all the excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years.”
Responding to this, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said: “If she really thinks that the blockade benefits the Cuban government — which she wants to undermine — the solution is very simple: that they lift it even for a year to see whether it’s in our interests or theirs.”
Quite clearly, the US cannot allow a socialist economic and political system to succeed because it would undermine everything the Americans believe in.
The current siege will not work and has only strengthened the revolution, so what are the real motives behind it?
Is it being used as a punishment for disrupting the natural order of the free market? Is it to being used to dissuade other countries from following the same path?
Or are the smart people in the CIA and the US government still of the belief, after more than 50 years, that starving people of food and medicine will somehow incentivise the overthrowing of the Cuban government, which is without any historical precedence. I’ll let you decide.”
Originally published in Shopfloor, December 2014, page 24