Let’s Talk about the US Blockade

By Repatriado

Havana mural. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES – Official Cuban media have recently launched another propaganda campaign about the Blockade, to reinforce the idea that it is the main source of all our problems.

Let’s analyze these arguments:

  • It is isn’t fair because it is a conditioning factor for Cuba which reduces its ability to compete with other countries.

I would say that is neither fair nor unfair, it just is. Every country has relative advantages and disadvantages. The Blockade is one of Cuba’s disadvantages, but the Cuban people’s admiration of messianic leaders is another disadvantage. However, Cuba has many advantages that other nations would be envious of: a great coastline, a regular and predictable climate, flatlands, a single time zone, a population that is culturally and linguistically homogeneous, a strategic geographical location.

  • The blockade is an interfering imposition.

The essence of the Blockade is that the US government won’t allow most trade with the Cuban government or allow it to use its currency. Plus, the former has warned the international community that it will not trade with whoever decides to trade with the Cuban government. Does a country’s government not have every right to establish its foreign trade policy? Doesn’t every country do this, including Cuba? If the United States government doesn’t want to trade with Cuba or anyone else who trades with Cuba, is that being interfering? Don’t friendly countries like Venezuela do the same when they refuse to sell oil or threaten to do this?

Interfering would be to try and force the US government to trade with nations they don’t want to because of their own reasons.

  • It’s illegal.

If it’s illegal, why haven’t any of the laws that make up the Blockade been denounced in front of US courts? Why does the Cuban government turn to the UN General Assembly and not to the International Court?

  • It’s immoral.

I agree with this point. It is immoral to exploit a people’s hardships even when you believe that you are seeking out the greater good by freeing them of a tyrannical government. However, it is also immoral of the Cuban government to choose and decide in the name of a people they have never consulted, forcing us to pay the extremely high price of being enemies with the greatest world power, a price which the people pay, not our leaders who never have to go without anything.

  • It violates Human Rights.

It always astonishes me when I hear the Cuban government talk about how a foreign government is violating the Cuban people’s human rights… I only ask myself, is it the Cuban government’s right to trade with the United States? Obviously, it isn’t.

  • It’s the main reason why 60 years of a “socialist” government haven’t been able to achieve sustainable economic progress, this is why advances made in education and healthcare are deteriorating quickly.

Jose Luis Rodriguez, a consultant at the International Economy Research Centre (CIEM) and former Cuban Economy minister, one of the people who best understands this subject, said the following when talking about Cuba’s foreign trade and its relationship with Moscow between 1961 and 1991: “the relationship in exchange terms reveal a favorable balance for Cuba whose revenue exceeded what they would have made by trading at global market prices by 50%.” That’s to say that Cuba was bringing in 50% more than it would have if it had been trading on the global market, even without a blockade!

Soviet subsidies during those 30 years were estimated to stand around 120 billion, “without this figure taking into account the payment and trade facilities socialist countries granted the island, without taking into account all of the extra aid that Cuba received from other socialist member states of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and without taking into account the high rents the USSR paid for military and intelligence facilities, for example, the 200 million USD Russia paid every year to rent out the Lourdes SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Center in Pinar del Rio.”

The former minister pointed out the fact that the “US blockade cost the country approximately 30 billion” during that time, which means that the scales were still tipped in Cuba’s favor.

From 1991 to 2000, Cuba had to survive with its own resources for the first time since this government came into power. The result? An epidemic of optic neuropathy due to vitamin deficiencies, sharks in the Florida Strait doubling in size and a country whose infrastructure, literally and still, is falling to pieces.

Ever since 2000, the Cuba-Venezuela Cooperation Agreement has rescued the Cuban government. With this agreement, Cuba sends thousands of professionals in semi-slavery conditions to Venezuela in exchange for foreign currency, oil and huge investments. This is the way that Chavez found to pay for Fidel’s patronage.

As a result, saying that the Blockade is the main reason for Cuba’s failed socialist system is a lie, a poor excuse. This system that our government chose and imposed so they could survive politically has failed even when its existence has been financed with foreign sums of money that far exceed whatever it has lost as a result of the Blockade!

I would look for the reason for this economic disaster in the State’s monopoly and its infinite ways of paralyzing society and preventing any independent progress within their control with monetary, Customs, tax or trade policies that resemble the ones Spain imposed on Cuba during colonial times.

16 thoughts on “Let’s Talk about the US Blockade

  • You don’t understand business. If Cuba could produce more, they would and the marketplace would buy it. Yes, demand creates supply but only after the market has identified quality supply exists. First comes the product, then comes the buyer. If Cuba had a 1000 high quality software architects hanging around unemployed, they would get snapped up. The reality is they don’t. As Kevin Costner said, “…if you build it, they will come”.

  • I think the situation is as follows. If you are of Cuban descent or a diplomat or journalist you can travel to Cuba. Otherwise you can only travel legally as part of a so called people to people cultural package. If you don’t mind breaking the law you could travel to a third country like Mexico first and you would be unlikely to get caught as your passports won’t be stamped and I don’t think anyone checks credit cards or anything like that. But maybe someone has better info on this.

  • Perhaps this comment is in the wrong place or out of context, but I’ve seen many comments on the site and somewhat in this tread about opening up tourism. As an American who was in Cuba last week, tourism seems wide open to Cuba. It wasn’t difficult at all to get a visa for the country. Yes, we came in on a cruise ship. I’ve seen how others get flamed on here for their “cruise ship, tourist experience”. I can understand the point and yes it was very touristy. My wife and I have never been on a cruise before and didn’t know what to expect. We chose the cruise mainly because it had 2 days in Havana. We loved the city. Granted I especially was enthralled by the beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture amidst decay and poverty. The city is raw and beautiful with amazing people we met. Given that we’ve traveled quite a bit outside the US we aren’t naive to the facts of the oppressive government and associated tyrannical practices. However, Cuba is a beautiful country. And a large number of Americans are infatuated with Cuba given the history and proximity to the US. So I guess my real point is I’m confused on the tourism limitations and would like to understand this better. We are planning a return trip the first part of 2019. You can get direct flights out of Miami to Havana that are very cheap. The arguments throughout the comments about the impact of the embargo are beyond my level of knowledge. Maybe I’m foolish, don’t know.

  • Between the blocking of tourism the increased price and costs of importing and the lack of access to the US market the affect of the embargo is significant. Even just allowing tourism would do a lot for the Cuban economy.

    Companies don’t produce in excess of what they can sell. If there is greater demand combined with investment they will expand and increase production. Cubans aren’t congenitally unable to produce more.

    There are many things that they could excel in other than the obvious of rum and cigars. Cuban honey and wine is particularly good in my opinion. Also there is a high level of education in technological fields. An obvious area would be agencies for writing software and providing IT contractors.

  • Let’s cut to the chase. The US embargo has very little effect on the Cuban economy due to the prohibition of commercial companies trading with Cuba. The only real impact is the prohibition of using US dollars and the lack of access to credit. Even these limitations are mostly owed to Cuba’s low productivity. Even if there were no limits to Cuba’s ability to sell products to the US, the Cuban economy would not benefit greatly. Think about it: it’s not like there are warehouses full of Cuban rum, coffee, or cigars left unsold because of the embargo. Cuba sells all that they can produce. The problem is that they don’t produce enough stuff.

  • The fact is that the embargo EXCLUDES food and medicine. You should acknowledge that correction. Secondly, when indeed countries do actually engage in commercial trade in Cuba, the US has never sanctioned that country. China, Russia, Brazil and many others engage in government to government trade with Cuba and the US heartily continues our trade relationship with every one of these countries. Our trade sanctions with Russia have NOTHING to do with the Cuban embargo.

  • I Have sure Bought & Eaten Lots of U.S.A.D. Chicken the last 2 years in Cuba.

  • At one time the US embargo included blocking access to medicine and food. Most trade between countries is done through companies so it is perfectly valid to use the term. However if a government department traded with Cuba it would also probably be blocked.

  • I’ll have to agree to disagree on the case of the hater. I think the rights of the black, jewish, gay shopkeeper to carry out his or her business and live in peace are being infringed.

    I would also say that the person giving the orders is far more guilty than the person carrying them out. Another example of freedom of speech being relative.

    I would disagree that joining comecon was a choice for Cuba. Normal trade with their neighbors was not available.

    If you take numbers of incidents and severity of incidents of human rights abuse they are much worse in places like Nicaragua and Spain and many other countries I could mention. The point is that there is no blockade of those countries so it can’t be used as a reason by the US government.

    Unfortunately your story fails because Catalunya isn’t a farm. It is a historic nation of which nearly a million people came out on the street the other day in support of independence and protest against the incarceration of politicians and others due to the referendum. But you might like this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Borough_of_Llanrwst where this Welsh town applied to the UN for a seat on the security council.

  • The US EMBARGO excludes food and medicine. It also only applies to companies not COUNTRIES.

  • Dany, I don´t defend absolute freedom of speech, as you say you can use language to harm others, to harm others is never a right, in my personal view, the limit should be in the incitation to commit a crime and the promotion of violence. Words have consequence, so punish the consequence, not the words.
    If I stand in front of a shop that belongs to a Jew or a gay person and make a out loud anti-Semitic or homophobic speech, asking people do not enter to the shop because they will be contaminated for the gay Jew, I should not be prosecuted for that, society must counterattack that with general education, tolerance and scientific thinking, and yes, maybe someone should punch my face, that person that punch will have the moral support of the majority, but his action do is illegal.

    Understand that my view about freedom of speech is tanned with my own personal experience in a country where it is controlled and suffocated, so I prefer to deal with problem due to an excessive freedom of speech that the problems for the lack of it.

    My friend, Cuba tied to the Soviet block because that was the way Fidel found to maintain his personal control, the soviet block had the recipe for the perfect dictatorship, communism.

    What Bolivia and Nicaragua have received from Venezuela´s regime is peanuts compare with all Cuba has received and still receive. I disagree in that that the oil they received have nothing to do with the blockade.

    Cuban government comfrontative attitude against US is the base of what we can resume as Cuban antimperialist myth, that myth is the ground for Cuban foreign policy that so profitable has being for Cuban government, first with the COMECOM and now with Venezuela.

    Please do not get me wrong, but I think that to compare what happened in Nicaragua with that that is happening in Spain is absurd.

    I respect your opinion that there is not an extreme human right situation in Cuba, but of course I disagree, 60 years without rights at all beyond those that the state allows is an extreme human right situation for me. Cuban government is not killing people because they don’t have to, but to kill people is not the only extreme situation.

    To say that Cuban situation is not extreme because there are places with a worst situation, is like to say that a flame is not hot because the sun surface is hotter.
    About Catalonia let me make you a short story. I have a friend that live in a big farm in Girona, that Masia has being in his family for more than 300 years, he did a consult with his family and 6 of they voted to separate the farm from the rest of Catalonia, just his wife said no, but she had to respect what the majority wants.

    So my friend went to see the Conceill in Girona to tell them that now his Masia is a free and independent country separated from Catalonia and Spain, that he won’t pay more taxes, that that was the democratic election his family did. For his surprise, the Catalan authority said that he cannot do that, it is illegal they claimed. Is that crazy no?

  • Hi Charles. People are allowed to take small quantities of cigars and rum into the US since Obama. And yes you are right that there is some circumventing of the blockade. The fact that food is allowed into Cuba is only because of the international laws that the embargo was previously contravening. And it is a one way trade. The fact is that the blockade still has an affect on the Cuban economy. I don’t know how much, but Hilary Clinton put it as 20% of their economic problems.

  • Some really good points Repatriado. I think the line between immoral and illegal is here. If the hater chooses not to frequent a shop on racial grounds then that is immoral but is his or her business. However if they encourage or pressurize other people to boycott the shop keeper then that would be illegal – at least under UK law. A trade union was prosecuted for telling people to boycott a newspaper they were in dispute with. In my opinion people don’t have an absolute right to free speech because words have consequences. There are many things that curtail that freedom. You can’t be libelous, you can’t be threatening, you can’t encourage other people to commit a crime, you can’t incite racial hatred and to offensive language can also be prosecuted.

    I have to concede you might be right regarding the Cuban government sponsoring an action in the American courts. I’m not sure why they haven’t. The tendency is that the US when confronted with something like this they adjust minimally rather than dropping the blockade completely or going through the court procedures. That’s what they’ve done with food and medicine and maybe the minimum tours allowed is enough to cover them.

    During the cold war the blockade didn’t have much affect except that it tied Cuba very firmly to the Soviet block. Since the fall of Communism it is a very different situation and there is no justification. That they receive oil from Venezuela on preferential rates has nothing to do with the blockade. Nicaragua and Bolivia also receive the same benefits as do poor people in the US. And there were plans to do such a deal with London. The point is that if the blockade was dropped there is no suggestion that Cuba would lose any of this.

    Ok you are right the third example is where sanctions are applied due to a country invading others.

    No I don’t think there are extreme human rights abuses in Cuba. There are far worse examples where the US has done nothing – take Nicaragua where 300 people have died in the recent upheaval or Spain where 900 Catalans have been jailed or awaiting trial.

  • Check the cargo that arrives everyday on commercial airlines!! Check th cigars and rum that leave for the U.S. There is a private enterprises going on in the private sector on a cash basis. If Cuba had a good credit record on payment there would be room for a discussion on the matter. The U.S. is their largest supplier of food to Cuba.

  • Hi dani,

    I would say that intentions are important, but they are not everything.

    About the case you mention I have to say that I defend the freedom of speech, even to speak nonsenses, I defend the right of any parson to boycott a shop because he or she does not like the owner based on racial, ideological or religious ground. This person, let me call him/she “the hater”, must be free to talk while is not calling for a direct aggression, the same way I defend the right of the owner to stand in front of “the hater” and call him asshole.

    Is that an ideal situation? Not, but I prefer absolute freedom of speech, with little exceptions associated to calls to violence, that an State interfering in my right to think and talk any way I want.

    It is a different situation if the owner do not allow to a black or a jew to get in the shop to buy, that owner is a hater, but in this case his action is violating the other person right to buy or to access anywhere.

    I never said that blockade do not affect Cuba´s economy, what I say is that Cuban government has received in political aids more money of what Cuba have lost because of the blockade, so it is false to argue that blockade is the main reason to our problems. Inside cuba propaganda call it not only the bigger but almost the only reason.

    About legality, Cuba have money enough to pay for good lawyers, they did it when Fidel decided to make a show with the 5 Cubans held in US for espionage, so Cuba easily could pay for the better firm of new York or even better, in San Francisco to fight the blockade laws.

    You say countries only normally block certain products because of hygiene standards or occasionally because of extreme human rights abuses, I don´t think so, do you remember what arab countries did when israel defeated them?, they blockade the oil commerce and that cracked world economy and was a major impulse to this crazy and fictitious economy we suffer now, in that moment Cuban government was very happy with that blockade.

    And, don´t you believe that 60 years of dictatorship do not catalogue as extreme human right abuses?

  • Hi Repatriado,

    I would say that the blockade is interfering because of it’s intention to manipulate the political situation in Cuba. Countries only normally block certain products because of hygiene standards or occasionally because of extreme human rights abuses.

    Your argument is a bit like whether someone has a right not to frequent a shop because you don’t like the owner. Well in some ways yes. But what if the owner is black or a jew and your intention is racially motivated to put that shopkeeper out of business. And you are pressurizing other people to boycott as well. Then the situation is very different. Motivation is everything.

    As for illegality. The blockade has contravened many laws over the years eg not allowing access to medicine or food goes against international law. Not allowing citizens to visit Cuba also contravenes the US constitution and international law. The reason none has taken them to court is because it is extremely costly and Americans usually circumvent the law by going through third countries. But that doesn’t mean that the blockade doesn’t have an affect in discouraging people from going. It is also probably illegal for the US to block third countries from trading with Cuba. The EU brought a case against them on one occasion. However it wasn’t fully tested in law as it was dropped in favour of negotiations. Not as some people maintain that they didn’t have a case.

    Of course the blockade has an affect on the Cuban economy. Any kind of sanction does – that is what its purpose is. How much of Cuba’s problems are down to the blockade and how much to other factors like government policy is unknown. The only way to find out is to drop it.

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