Only two days prior to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) vote on 7 November to end the “economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba”, the Trump administration flexed its muscles by expelling from its territory two Cuban officials based at the UN New York mission.
To justify the unprecedented expulsion of UN-stationed diplomats, State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus alleged that they had been “abusing their privileges of residence” and conducting “influence operations against the US”, saying it was a matter of “national security”. In a spurious attempt to further prepare the ground in favour of the blockade, Kelly Craft, the US Ambassador to the UN, loftily referred to his country’s “sovereign rights”, reported the Cuban daily Granma.
“Like all nations, we get to choose which countries we trade with. This is our sovereign right. So, it is worrying that the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right,” he explained before the vote. Even so, Craft omitted to mention the multilateral aspects of the blockade that extends its orbit worldwide.
If the Trump administration’s intent was to vilify the Cuban government by accusing its diplomats of foul play, so as to gain additional votes at the UNGA session, they were mistaken. On 7 November, 187 countries from a total of the 193 nations represented at the General Assembly voted to condemn the US blockade. While Columbia and Ukraine abstained, the US and Israel, its long-time ally and friend, in addition to Brazil, were the only countries voting to support the blockade.
Even so, on the majority side of the tracks, the international community — as represented by Latin America and the Caribbean, the African Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77, China and the European Union, among others — vehemently opposed the blockade. Addressing the session on behalf of the Group of 77, the developing countries’ bloc, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour condemned its intensification under the Trump administration.
“Limited foreign investment and difficult access to development credits translate directly into economic hardship and humanitarian impacts on the people of Cuba,” said Mansour.
Keisha McGuire, Grenada’s ambassador to the UN, defined the blockade as “an anachronism and aberration” in an era when global cooperation is critical to address common challenges such as climate change. She reminded the audience that Cuba was among the first to assist the Bahamas in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in September. “It is in this broader context that we view the blockade. Not just as a punitive act against Cuba, but as an impediment to Caribbean regional development.”
Regarding the 187 votes against the blockade, it is “an ironic coincidence that the Trump administration has adopted precisely 187 hostile measures to damage our economy and living conditions,”commented Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in his address to the UN General Assembly.
“The behaviour of the current United States government is an insult to the international community which has for 27 consecutive years condemned the blockade of Cuba within the framework of the United Nations,” Parrilla said. What’s more, the US has “escalated aggression” in recent months.
“The blockade has caused incalculable humanitarian damages. It is a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of human rights…There is not one single Cuban family that has not suffered the consequences of this,”he explained.
It is estimated that between April 2018 and March of this year, the US blockade has cost the Cuban economy a loss of $4 billion in foreign trade, reports the Cuban daily Granma.
“This is because the US has, for the first time, extended the Helms Burton Act against Cuba to include Title III, which allows judicial actions in US courts against Cuban enterprises, companies or individuals — in addition to third countries — that do business with properties nationalised since the 1960s,” said Tania Aguiar Fernández, Cuban Ambassador to Egypt, at a recent press conference. Title III has further compromised the island’s foreign trade and investment.
“Added to the foregoing are provisions of the Office of Foreign Assets Control to eliminate, as of 5 June, the permits for group educational travel, and the denial of permits to non-commercial aircrafts to land, and recreational ships to anchor in Cuba. This measure has considerably reduced the island’s tourist sector revenues,” Fernández explained.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the most damaging sanctions to the Cuban economy long precede the Trump administration, namely the blockade’s extra territorial dimension which is contingent on the 1992 Torricelli Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Bill. The latter requires that imports into the US include less than 10 per cent of Cuban ingredients, while the former prohibits US subsidiaries in third countries from trading with Cuba.
Presently, US law decrees that “persons subject to the jurisdiction of North America include: US residents, US corporations and their US or foreign subsidiaries operating within the United States and its territories,” writes Nelson Valdes in Counterpunch. And because international banks and companies dealing with both Cuban and US banks have been consistently slapped with harsh sanctions for trading with Cuba, the island’s international financial transactions have over the years been seriously impeded. To the staggering tune of $1.5 trillion, reports Valdes.
To cite a few examples, among many quoted by Valdes, a foreign corporation, like the Royal Bank of Scotland, which has a branch in the US, is held responsible for all transactions of its branches worldwide. On 12 November 2013, the bank was fined $100 million for violating US-imposed sanctions.
Another more surreal example involves the Dutch ING bank that agreed to pay the US $619 million on 12 June 2012, not for an actual violation, but to clear charges of “conspiring to violate US economic sanctions.”
“In spite of the US economic warfare against Cuba, its people have prevailed,” Dennis Benitez, counsellor of the Embassy of Cuba in Egypt told Al-Ahram Weekly.With Cuban physicians providing quality healthcare to remote communities in the Americas and elsewhere, the island’s healthcare system is internationally renowned. According to a 2019 Healthiest Country Index, researched by Bloomberg, Cuba ranked 30th worldwide in healthcare while the US ranked 35th — trailing Croatia, Estonia, Chile and Costa Rica.
Finally, what is it that motivates the superpower’s 59-year-long assault on the island’s economy and its people? It’s simply Cuba’s socialist success story. As prominent writer Noam Chomsky explains, “Cuba as a symbol and reality challenged US hegemony in Latin America. Economic warfare to bring about regime change is justified…by its successful defiance of the proper master of the hemisphere.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.