Cuba: Embargo, Blockade, Excuses and Medicine Shortages

Turning to the US blockade/embargo to explain all of Cuba’s hardships has been done to death: at the beginning of the year, the Government itself recognized that it had failed to meet all of its targets to boost the national economy.

By Cubaencuentro

Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez pleads his country’s case against the US embargo at the United Nations.  Photo:

HAVANA TIMES – Maylen has spent the last eight years sitting in a hospital chair and looking after her son, who has a congenital heart defect. She says that that the US “blockade” (embargo) on Cuba stops her son from having access to some drugs and they need to be replaced, she tells AFP.

Her long stay at Havana’s Pediatric Cardiac Center, next to Carlos’ bed, has made her a witness of doctors’ running about. “Sometimes, there aren’t any drugs. There are times they need to change them because they don’t have them,” she says.

The UN General Assembly is getting ready to vote Thursday on a resolution against the US embargo, imposed on the island since February 1962, for the 27th time.

Cuba goes to this vote with Miguel Diaz-Canel as a replacement for brothers Fidel and Raul Castro, and amidst a time of greater hostile relations with the US under the Trump administration.

Washington will ask for the resolution to be amended, questioning the human rights situations in Cuba.

Except for the US and Israel, every other country normally votes to lift the embargo. The resolution is non-binding.

According to Cuban political expert Carlos Alzugaray, “we have returned to the most hostile years of the late ‘90s, after the Cold War ended.”

Cuba claims that this blockade has resulted in damages worth 134 billion USD, up until now.

Even a part of the Cuban dissidence movement questions the embargo, although they do believe the Cuban government uses it as an excuse to justify the country’s economic problems, which are the result of the State’s own incompetent production system.

Eugenio Selman, a doctor at the Cardiac Center, explains how practical it would be to be able to import prosthetics or medicines from the US, just 145 km away.

However, the embargo doesn’t allow this. They need to go looking for these in Europe a lot of the time, which just drives up expenses. Plus, they would be able to avoid the “no” some banks give, who refuse to handle transfers out of fear of being sanctioned.

“The blockade’s damages can be seen in every Cuban’s everyday life. It isn’t (just) a medicine, a piece of equipment or reactant,” he says.

The Institute of Oncology is also in a tough spot. Four-year-old Rocio suffers from Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone tumor which attacks the limbs. Both of her legs were amputated eight months ago and she has been going to chemotherapy for three.

“In order to save the legs of child cancer patients, we buy tumor endoprostheses (a kind of substitute bone) in Mexico, but not expandable endoprostheses from the US,” doctor Erasmo Gomez, the Insitute’s vice-director, says.

“We have to amputate (the limbs) of growing children suffering from this disease” when expandable endoprostheses could prevent this measure, he adds.

According to official statistics, damages to the island’s public health sector are estimated to be more than 2.5 billion USD, ever since the embargo was imposed.

In Caimito, 38 kms to the west of Havana, the state-run Ceiba Citrus Fruits company (5,400 hectares), is recovering from a pest infestation, while trying to diversify its produce and supply the hotel industry.

“Loan requests to buy more state-of-the-art technology, machinery and supplies which would allow us to improve our yield, are denied,” Jose Pinero, the company’s technical director, explains.

Old beat-up trucks from the now disappeared Soviet Union stand in one part of the factory.

“We could be buying US technology, which would reduce expenses. But, we have to go elsewhere. And these are countries which the US sanctions if they sell us anything,” Angel Mesa, the services director, remarks.

Cuba imports most of the food and raw materials it consumes. Between April 2017 and March 2018, damages to the food industry reached 413 million USD, according to an official report.

“I don’t agree with the US blockade being the main reason why Cuba can’t make any progress. It is partly to blame, but it isn’t fully responsible,” political expert Alzugaray weighs in.

He points out that Cuba never developed its own economic model. It’s only now, during a time of constitutional reform, that the Island is getting ready to make changes that recognize the role markets and private and foreign investment play.

“The Cuban government finds it hard to open up the economy. It doesn’t dare to take risks, like currency unification (there are currently two national currencies circulating). There are factors that have to do with the Cuban system itself,” he says.

After negotiating its foreign debt with the Paris Club, Europe became the island’s main trading partner, prioritizing investment in the tourism sector.

However, at the beginning of this year, the Government itself recognized that it had failed to meet all of its targets to boost the national economy.

“Cuba has to work hard to make the blockade ineffective. When it manages to do this, it would be more likely that it be lifted,” Alzugaray believes.

2 thoughts on “Cuba: Embargo, Blockade, Excuses and Medicine Shortages

  • I’ve visited Cuba many times. I’m amazed that no one knows the ’embargo’ (their term) on food & medicine was lifted 18 years ago. Even the smart people that wrote these articles never mentioned this.

    Reference Wikipedia: “The Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (Title IX) was enacted by the United States Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.[1] The act altered regulations in regards to U.S. trade with Cuba. Under the act, the trade of certain agricultural commodities (defined and listed under section 102 of the Agricultural Trade Act of 1978) and medicine/medical devices (defined and listed under section 201 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) became permitted.”

  • Yes, the embargo has its effects. But the socialist government of Cuba is the real problem.

    Currently, foreign investment can only occur with a 51% Cuban partner. A foreign business must be incredibly naive or stupid to buy into that deal. Cuba appropriated all private assets in 1959. Its government cannot be trusted. Its legal system is based on socialist principles, not economic principles. A company would be crazy to take that risk.

    It is hard to believe that a country like Cuba, with a creative and energetic populace, and vast acres of fertile and potentially productive land, must import 80% of its food. That is not an embargo problem….it is a problem created and perpetuated by Cuban socialism.

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