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.
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.
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’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.