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CUBA-US: ‘Embargo as Usual’ Flies in the Face of Int’l Opposition

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Sep 17 2009 (IPS) - Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez complained that the U.S. embargo against Cuba has remained intact under the government of Barack Obama, who he said has “a historic opportunity” to eliminate the “obsolete” and “unacceptable” blockade in place for nearly half a century.

On Oct. 28, the United Nations General Assembly will vote again on a motion calling for an end to the embargo against Cuba. For 17 years in a row, the U.N. has called on the U.S. to lift the embargo.

The motion that Cuba will submit to the General Assembly details the impact of the embargo on areas like health, education, food and transportation in this Caribbean island nation, and says it has cost Cuba 96 billion dollars, or 236 billion dollars at today’s exchange rates.

“It is not hard to imagine the progress Cuba would have made…if it had not been subjected to this brutal economic war for (nearly) 50 years,” says the Cuban report on the need to eliminate the U.S. embargo in place since February 1962.

In the General Assembly’s annual vote on the issue in 2008, 185 countries supported the motion to lift the embargo, while only three – the United States, Israel and Palau – voted against it. The first time Havana brought the motion, in 1992, it won the support of just 59 countries.

Rodríguez pointed out that not only does the international community condemn the embargo, but most Cubans living in the United States believe it should be dismantled, and there is a growing movement against it in the U.S. Congress.


In a February staff report, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington “must recognise the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.”

“After 47 years…the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of ‘bringing democracy to the Cuban people’,” Lugar wrote in the introduction to the report, entitled ‘Changing Cuba Policy – In the United States National Interest’.

And in April, Obama said he wanted to “recast” relations with Cuba.

But this week, the U.S. president extended the embargo for another year – a largely symbolic move, as it would be up to Congress to lift the measure. However, opponents of the embargo had hoped he would send a signal by withholding his signature.

The embargo was extended under the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA), enacted in 1917 to restrict trade with countries hostile to the United States. Only trade with Cuba is currently restricted under the act.

Rodríguez acknowledged that under the current administration, Washington has taken a “less aggressive” stance towards Cuba, and he described Obama as “well-intentioned and intelligent.”

Cuba, meanwhile, has expressed a willingness to engage in a dialogue between equals, he said, as long as there is no attempt to undermine its independence and national sovereignty.

“It has also been made clear that Cuba is not going to negotiate its internal affairs with anyone, neither the United States nor any government or group of countries,” said the foreign minister, who added that “President Obama has a historic opportunity to use his executive powers or lead the elimination of the blockade against Cuba.”

The official said that although the U.S. president cannot amend laws, he does have the power to modify the embargo’s regulations or issue executive decisions, in order to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, for example.

The 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened the embargo, gave Congress the power to override an executive branch decision to eliminate the embargo.

The Cuban government said that although welcome, the measures adopted by Obama in April to lift all restrictions on Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba and send money to family members here fell far short, and were no indication that the embargo had begun to be dismantled.

The restrictions had been adopted by the government of George W. Bush (2001-2009).

The document submitted to the U.N. says the measures “do not go beyond the intention of returning the question of family ties to the situation that existed in 2004, when the economic blockade was in full force.”

Havana says the blockade has been the main hurdle to economic development in Cuba. Seven out of 10 Cubans have spent their entire lives under the embargo, which Rodríguez termed “genocidal” because of decades of restrictions on the sale of medicine and food to this country, which were loosened, however, in recent years.

 
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