The Cuba Blockade Has Died, but the Embargo Lives On

Fernando Ravsberg*

The Blockade on Cuba is uninstalling.

HAVANA TIMES — Negotiations between Cuba and the United States are making it clear that the financial embargo on the island was also a blockade that placed restrictions on Havana’s relations with other countries around the world and international organizations.

The avalanche of offers of business, credits, investments and partnerships, and the number of politicians and entrepreneurs who have visited the island after December 17 last year, demonstrate that many had not approached Cuba before fearing reprisals from Washington.

And one couldn’t blame them: in 1992, the US approved the Torricelli Act, to prevent the subsidiaries of US companies in third countries from selling anything to Cuba. Four years later, they issued the Helms-Burton Act, which entitles the United States to sue those who make any transactions involving properties nationalized in Cuba.

No one in their right mind could today ignore the collateral effects that this blockade must have had on the island’s economy. How many doors did simple fear close? How much extra money was paid to cover risks? How much of a technological lag did this situation cause?

The fear of doing business with Cuba could be gaged on the basis of the interest that British, French, Spanish, Mexican, South Korean, Canadian and Japanese investors have demonstrated over the last few months, and from the change in attitude seen at the Paris and London Clubs.

The world’s reaction has been of such magnitude that some inattentive colleagues assume that the embargo is over. US entrepreneurs, the only ones invited to the party who are denied a slice of the cake, make no such mistake.

The French president shook hands with Cubans and condemned the US embargo.

Not all of the island’s economic problems stem from the blockade, of course. That said, deliberately ignoring its effects would be an act of cynicism, comparable to the cynicism of those who claim it does not have an impact on the Cuban economy while demanding that it be left in place.

According to official State Department documents, the embargo was born to bring about hunger, misery, low wages and despair among those who supported the Cuban government, to push these people to rebel and overthrow the revolutionary leadership.

Reading these documents, one cannot accept the claim that the blockade was intended to affect the government exclusively. US officials themselves reveal that, from the start, this measure was aimed at applying pressure on common people.

For 40 years, Washington forbade the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. This measure could only have sought to undermine the health of the population, particularly in the midst of critical moments, such as the economic crisis of the 1990s.

The huge step back that forced Cuba to replace US technology with Soviet technology was devastating. The country’s industry lost in quality and efficiency and the price and consumption of fuel went up. On occasion, production costs were higher than those of the international market.

Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Strictly forbidden from using the US dollar as a currency for its commercial transactions, Cuba was forced to accept a very high financial exchange rate. When they tried to sidestep Washington’s blockade, the banks ended up with fines of up to US $ 8 billion.

Obama holds a record as the US president who applied the most fines on banking institutions for conducting transactions with Havana. He inspired such fear that no bank was willing to open an account for Cuba’s diplomatic delegation in Washington.

Before being elected, the United States’ first African-American president believed the embargo on Cuba could be used as a “lever” to move Havana in the direction Washington had established. His greatest merit was acknowledging he was wrong.

Today, the embargo is condemned by all of the world’s governments (as evidenced at the UN National Assembly), by the majority of US and Cuban-American citizens and, according to polls, by the US president himself.

Curiously, all of this condemnation does not quite manage to put an end to the economic embargo, which remains in effect thanks to the US Congress. This is reminiscent of those ancient Roman senators who felt powerful enough to oppose the will of the entire world.

Obama was the US president who applied the most fines on foreign banks for conducting transactions with Cuba. He worked to make the embargo a veritable blockade more than any other, before accepting this policy was a failure.

Obama’s policy change, however, dealt a crucial blow to the “blockade”, and US companies and those of other nations do not fear reprisals as much. It is one step towards dismantling the international fence Washington had propped up around Cuba with laws, threats, sanctions and fines.

At any rate, the economic “embargo” is still standing and to think it will fall of its own weight is deluded. A Cuban-American senator has just presented a bill that would make making the embargo more flexible dependent on Cuba’s payments for nationalized properties.

Others seek to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act in an attempt to force Cubans to become political dissidents in order to be allowed to immigrate to the USA. Anti-Castro hardliners may indeed fight tooth and nail to keep the embargo – a natural reaction, when we bear in mind that their very existence is being threatened.

(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

18 thoughts on “The Cuba Blockade Has Died, but the Embargo Lives On

  • The US policy is legal as it was passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President. The problem for you folks who are Americans is your political system. Don’t blame me!
    The semantics you refer to were introduced by Mr. Ravsberg when he incorrectly described the US embargo as a blockade – which it ain’t!
    I carefully explained that in my opinion Mr. Ravsberg got it right when he said that:
    “this measure was aimed at putting pressure on the common people”
    I then explained why in my opinion the US politicians were wrong.
    My observation about elephants was made without thinking about a particular US political party – perhaps I should have included the donkeys?
    I hope you read the extracts I gave from the US Cuban Democracy Act. and the specific reference to “the Castro regime”. The Act was passed by your elected government! As you may know, my elected governments – whether Liberal or Conservative have consistently given diplomatic recognition to the Cuban government and has permitted Canadian companies to do business in Cuba. Also my elected governments both Liberal and Conservative have voted at the UN in favour of the US lifting the embargo – but the stubborn elephant has consistently refused – or was it an ass?

  • Right you are.
    China is a fine blend of totalitarian economies to wit:
    1) State capitalism wherein government officials determine what is done with the surplus created by the workers at the bottom. The workers have no say in anything.
    2) Free enterprise capitalism wherein private individuals or boards determine what is done with the surplus created by the workers at the bottom. The workers have no say in anything.
    Both are totalitarian
    Neither can be termed socialist or communist for that one reason alone.
    Under either socialism or communism , it is the workers at the bottom who determine policy i.e. the majority, which in any democracy SHOULD determine everything of importance. …that is,
    if you truly believe in democracy.

  • FYI,
    In order for any economy to be tagged “socialist” it would HAVE to be , by definition, one controlled by the workers , from the bottom up.
    What the world has seen in the Soviet Union , in China, in Vietnam and in Cuba is STATE CAPITALISM wherein instead of a private individual or corporate board deciding what is done with the surplus created by the workers as it is with U.S.-style free enterprise capitalism , those top-down decisions are made by government officials under Cuba’s Leninist ( top-down) economic form which again CANNOT academically be termed socialist ( and MOST CERTAINLY not communist) .
    The answer to Cuba and the USA’s problems is direct democracy which unhappily, is an alien concept for most people .

  • Thank you Fernando for one of the most cogent, comprehensive and factual presentations of the effects of the embargo I have ever read .
    You nailed the facts on its origins and purpose .
    I especially appreciated your pointing out the hypocrisy of those who wish the embargo were stiffened even more, whom, I am sure you will hear from .
    A really good piece brother.

  • Fernando has a written a hard-hitting article exposing the illegality and cruelty of US policy and yet all we get here is a discussion on semantics.

  • China is communist…By what measure? China is a hyper capitalist country controlled by an oligarchy. Its a state controlled market economy. They are concerned with order and control and will go to any length to maintain it. Its what makes them so dangerous.

    Dan, can you point to a communist country that abounds with millionaires and billionaires. Mind you many are tied to the ruling families in China.

    ….Didn’t they teach you critical thinking in law school Dan?

  • So you define the economic system in China as ‘socialist? I ask that because many armchair Bolcheviks would disagree with you. China has the fastest growing number of billionaires in the world. Is that the benchmark for success in socialism?

  • I’ll answer that…. China.

    And China’s success has been supported by America for years, and by no small measure. Now if America could only fully support Cuba in the same way, perhaps we would have another success story for socialism, instead of nothing more than a disgraceful and hypocritical injustice that has been condemned world wide for years.

  • You just said it in the last paragraph. It didn’t work for the Cuban people but for the Cuban government did work very well those 50 years of failure. The pockets of the Castro family… are full now and for the next generations to come.
    Maduro, that donkey of president is just trying to enjoy his momentum , which I assure you wont last to much long because he does not have the high intellect of our loved and hated Fidel Castro Ruz . Hopefully Venezuelan people can find another way that is not the Cuban way to save themselves. It is in the Venezuelan pueblo the power for changing their future.

  • Are you suggesting that the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba is not active and is failing in its duty and function?
    Time to examine methodically and in detail the constitution of the Party – as an analyser you are incompetent and failing to live up to your pen-name.
    All those enormous billboards littering the villages, towns and cities of Cuba, all those slogans posted on all levels of government buildings, all those posters on the walls of every classroom in the country and you fail to recognize the hard work of the Department of Propaganda!
    You say that the US is “globally renowned for the lies, spin and propaganda they churn out.” Well, its good to know that although not possessing a Department of Propaganda, they are according to you, more efficient than the Communist Party of Cuba’s Propaganda Department.
    I hadn’t seen the political billboards, slogans and posters in the US, but I have seen lots promoting commercial businesses there. Route 66 was it not that gained particular fame? I note that those US posters have influenced you personally so that propaganda has been effective – have a McCafe on me!

  • If I had the time, I would love to engage in the debate about this. But that would first require a definition of the terms success and failure, as well as the effect of externalities, such as invasions, embargoes, sabotage, propaganda campaigns, ect, Who has time for that ? I’m sure I could find plenty of Americans,Indonesians, Mexicans or whatever, for whom Capitalism personally has been not just a failure, but a disaster.

  • The Soviet Union and it’s central planning model died 25 years ago. Buried by the incompetence and inefficiencies of the system. States with free market systems evolved such that most countries run a mixed economy. Had the U.S. modified it’s stance in the 1990’s, Cuba’s market reforms would be further along.

    Even North Korea, the last bastion of Soviet era control is opening up a market for farmers. The solution to these failed states is not to coercive them into free markets, just let failure happen on it’s own. This does not mean favored nation trading, but it does mean not exerting energy to make what happens naturally happen.

    Good luck to Venezuela as they adopt the Cuban economic model. Watching 55 years of failure apparently was not enough to learn it won’t work. A state can only afford so much socialism, that is a key lesson the new Cuban leaders learned.

  • That’s a little rich suggesting Cuba has implemented propaganda. The US are globally renowned for the lies, spin and propaganda they churn out. Dream on McDaft!

  • It seems that the failure of every socialist economy that has ever existed has not taught anything to Dan.

  • There is NOT a blockade on Cuba – see description below!

  • Dan, where has socialism succeeded?

  • Although fanatical opponents of Cuba pretend that the unprecedented 50 year blockade was easily circumvented and had only marginal effects on the economy while offering an excuse to the government, those who do not stick their heads in the sand cannot help but marvel that the country survived such aggression intact. I believe that if and when the economy and trade cease to be so effectively suffocated by the benevolent Superpower to the North,the people of Cuba will see such a quick improvement in their lives, and the proportion of blame between blockade and incompetence will become so clear, that those who write reams about the “failure of socialismo”, will, if they have a shred of verguenza, finally remain callado.

  • Just to enable Fernando Ravsberg to understand English:
    Blockade: an act of sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving.
    Embargo: an official ban on trade or other commercial activity with a particular country.
    Oxford Dictionary of English.
    The US has an embargo on Cuba NOT a blockade. The US did place a blockade on Cuba when it invited Russia to install nuclear weapons in Cuba. That blockade was subsequently removed under the agreement reached between Russia under Kruschev and the US under Kennedy.
    The Castro family regime has chosen to misrepresent the embargo as a blockade. The United Nations voted for removal of the embargo by 180 votes to 2. It did not vote on a blockade as there wasn’t one.
    Ravsberg however puts his finger on a key point when he says that: “this measure was aimed at applying pressure on common people.” The US politicians responsible for imposing the embargo living in a democracy, assumed that the common people would be able to apply pressures upon the Castro family regime – a dictatorship. This demonstrated a lack of understanding of just how much control the regime possesses and just how much power it would use to retain that control.
    Whereas the US politicians have a long history of opposition to the evil that is communism, they appear to have little understanding of the reality of life for the common people of Cuba. One consequence of their actions being that many Cubans have been indoctrinated into believing that the US represents all that is bad and the embargo has been used by the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of Cuba as means of explaining to the common people why their are shortages of everything from toilet paper, to cheese, to beer, to butter, to everyday tools. This has done much harm to the image of the US and the embargo policy after 55 years is a proven failure. Cubans have never seen the US Cuban Democracy Act which includes:
    Section 1708(b)(3) 22 U.S.C. [section] 6007(b)(3) which directs the President to:
    take steps to end the United States trade embargo of Cuba when two conditions have been met.
    First, that the President has made a determination, and reported it to Congress, that the Cuban government has taken five steps identified in [section] 1708(a) including the free and fair elections conducted under international supervision, permitting opposition parties ample time to organize and campaign for such elections, showing respect for the basic civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Cuba, moving toward establishing a free market economic system, and committing itself to a constitutional change that would ensure regular free and fair elections.
    Second, that a Cuban government has been elected as a result of such free and fair elections.
    The Cuban Democracy Act is very specific when it says:

    “to maintain sanctions on the Castro regime as long as it continues to refuse to move towards democratizations and greater respect for human rights” and “to encourage free and fair elections to determine Cuba’s political future.”
    Taken at face value these objectives of the embargo are admirable. Clearly those who admire communism and “Socialismo” will decry the objectives, for they do not support freedom of the individual. But a problem for the US is that it has accepted doing business with China and Vietnam – that to the outside world appears inconsistent.
    The policy has as demonstrated by Fernando Ravsberg the dissemination of a multitude of half-truths. This in turn damages the interests of the US.
    Elephants in their natural surroundings are magnificent creatures rumbling along at some 10 km per hour doing remarkably little damage to the shrubbery as they pass. But the US Congress is like an elephant constricted by walls which sometimes impede its vision and create unintended damage to its own interests.

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