Cuba Blockade under UN Scrutiny, again

By Patricia Grogg

The blockade has seriously hurt the Cuban economy. Photo: Elio Delgado
The blockade has seriously hurt the Cuban economy. Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 17 (IPS) – Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, said on Wednesday that the United States blockade against Cuba is being “maintained intact” under the administration of Barack Obama, who nevertheless has the “historic opportunity” to eliminate that policy in effect for almost half a century.

“The regulations of the blockade are being fully applied,” the head of Cuban diplomacy emphasized to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization.  On September 28, that body will consider a report on the need to put an end to the restrictive measures of Washington.

The report details the impact of the embargo on Cuba in terms of health, education, food and transportation, among other sectors.  It makes the case that the actual damage over the past five decades now exceeds $96 billion dollars.  “The report estimates that this figure would rise to $236 billion if the calculation were based on the current value of the US dollar.”

“It is not difficult to imagine the progress that Cuba would have achieved if during these last 50 years it had not been subjected to this brutal economic war,” indicates the report on “The need to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

This will be the eighteenth consecutive occasion in which the Cuba has submitted the issue for consideration before the UN.  Last year 185 countries voted in favor of a motion that requested the cessation of the policy, described by the Cuban foreign minister as “bankrupt,” “obsolete” and “ethically unacceptable.”

Rodriguez noted that the international rejection of the policy is joined by opposition from most Cuban émigrés in the United States and even in legislation before the Congress of that country, where there is also “taking shape” a growing movement in support of the elimination of the embargo, [as it is called in the US.]

The announcement of the new diplomatic offensive coincided with Democratic president Obama’s decision to sign an order that extends for another year the so-called Trading with the Enemy Act.  In effect since 1917, that legislation prohibits any trade with countries considered a threat to the US, which today affects only Cuba.

The official Cuban daily Granma, reported on Wednesday that it was that regulatory framework gave rise to the blockade against the island.  By ratifying it, Obama did the same as all of his predecessors who have held that office since the 1960s, when the measure was first introduced.

Making History is in Obama’s Hands

After acknowledging that currently there is “less aggressiveness” coming from Washington, Foreign Minister Rodriguez considered that Obama has shown himself to be “a very deliberate, intelligent man” and a “modern politician.”  For its part, Cuba has expressed its willingness for a dialogue among equals, without compromising its independence or sovereignty.

When will the blockade ever end?-- Photo Elio Delgado

“At the same time it has been clear that Cuba will not negotiate with anyone concerning its internal affairs – neither with the United States nor with any government or group of countries – and President Obama has the historic opportunity to use his executive authority and affect the elimination of the blockade of Cuba,” said Rodríguez.

Rodriguez said it is clear that the American leader cannot modify the law; however, he has the constitutional power to modify the regulations that apply the blockade.  He can, for example, issue executive orders such as a general license in the case of the trips to the island by US citizens, who up to now have been subject to strict constraints.

The law for Democratic Solidarity and the Freedom of Cuba – better known as the Helms-Burton Act, approved in 1996 – codified the regulations of the embargo into a single legislative ruling.  It also limited presidential prerogative to suspend this policy and expanded its extraterritorial reach.

The Cuban report clarifies that the latest measures put in practice by Washington on trips and money transfers to the island by Cuban-Americans are insufficient, have very limited impact and do not signify the beginning of the “dismantling of the blockade,” although they partly redress a “serious injustice.”

Those regulations “do not go beyond the intention of returning to the situation that existed in 2004 regarding family relations, when the economic blockade was being applied in full vigor.” The restrictive measures were ordered as part of the hostile policies applied during the last term of President George W. Bush, a member of the opposing Republican Party.

Havana affirms that the blockade has been the main obstacle to its economic development and that it has the stated purpose of using hunger and illness to coerce the Cuban people to surrender.  Given this situation, “public health and food provisions for the population  have remained as prioritized objectives to mitigate the blockade policies,” assured the report.

Havana took the case to the UN for the first time in 1992, on which occasion it received the backing of only 59 countries.

The United States formally began the economic, commercial and financial embargo on February 3, 1962, and it is calculated that seven of every ten Cubans have been born under that policy which the foreign minister branded as genocidal.

A Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.