The Cuba Embargo: A Dying Patient

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cuban factory.  Photo: Raquel Díaz Pérez
Cuban factory. Photo: Raquel Díaz Pérez

HAVANA TIMES — For fifty years, the Cuban economy has had to play the game with barefoot athletes, a one-handed goalkeeper, a rival with a smaller goal and a referee who’s been bought. Despite all this, sports commentators criticize it because it doesn’t score goals.

First, they declared an economic and commercial embargo that deprived the island of access to the largest and closest world market. Then, they turned it into a blockade to “discourage” businesses in third countries with intentions of trading with or investing in Cuba.

They barred Cuba from using the US dollar, even though many international transactions are carried out using this currency and, in case any banker had any doubts, started applying fines everywhere, going as far as fining a French bank US $8 billion.

The Cuban economy had to resort to Soviet technology, which was far less developed and consumed much more energy. A Ural-brand motorcycle consumes more fuel than a car, and let’s not even talk about the trucks, buses, harvesters or tractors imported from the USSR.

Blaming the economic embargo for all of Cuba’s disasters was of course also a tactic used to conceal the failure of many utopian plans that undermined the nation’s economic foundations even more. Those disasters had no foreign help, they were 100% Cuban.

2.The Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) devoted more personnel to maintaining the embargo on Cuba than to persecute the finances of Al Qaeda.
The Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) devoted more personnel to maintaining the embargo on Cuba than to persecute the finances of Al Qaeda.

There’s no shortage of examples: the destruction of fruit trees in Havana for the planting of coffee, the revolutionary offensive of 1968, which nationalized all small businesses, the sugarcane harvest of 1970, the creation of massive State farms and the abyss between economic possibilities and education.

The blockade can also not be blamed for the centralization of all economic decisions, or for the creation of a bureaucracy that was as large as it was inept and corrupt. Those to blame for this economic model aren’t the enemies but the “friends” that it was copied from.

Investment in education was, economically, the most profitable. Cuba trained over one million professionals and, today, medical doctors, university professors, sport coaches, engineers, architects and scientists are the nation’s largest source of hard currency.

To fairly evaluate the Cuban economy today is a difficult task. Some argue that the island’s economic crisis demonstrates communism’s inability to generate wealth. Others believe the nation was able to survive a blockade imposed by the world’s greatest power thanks only to socialism.

What continues to be very suspect is that those who claim the embargo is an excuse used by the Cuban government to justify its inefficiency also insist on maintaining it, against the express will of the president of the United States. Don’t they want to unmask their enemies?

In this connection, the Cuban government appears to be more coherent. In an interview with diplomat Johana Tablada, the reply about this was immediate: “the best way to confirm where the truth lies is to lift the blockade and let life tell the rest.”

3.The opening of embassies is another step towards the gradual erosion of the embargo.
The opening of embassies is another step towards the gradual erosion of the embargo.

Indeed, we’ll only be able to see the truth when Cuba ceases to suffer external economic reprisals and is allowed to develop under the same conditions that all other countries enjoy, including the use of all currencies and credits afforded by international organizations.

Following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, the lifting of the blockade appears to be the next station along the way. The anti-embargo lobby has grown and secured allies as powerful as the US president and his Secretary of State.

Congress’ insistence on maintaining the embargo prevents US investors from coming to the island. All the while, the rapprochement begun by the White House encourages companies in third countries to find a niche in Cuba, without fear of US reprisals.

Even common folk perceive this contradiction. A nationwide poll conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that 72% of US citizens want the embargo to end so that US companies can conduct business in Cuba and Cuban companies can do so in the United States.

“The embargo isn’t likely to be lifted in one fell swoop. Instead, it will be eroded gradually and more and more clauses will be eliminated little by little,” notes Michael Shifter, Chair of Dialogo Interamericano (“Inter-American Dialogue”), a Washington think-tank specialized in US-Latin America relations.

The White House’s plan is to change tactics to reach the same aim, but the Republicans have thwarted these designs. Thanks to Congress, US tourists and companies will not invade but trickle into the island, allowing the Cuban government to manage the risks more easily.

(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

44 thoughts on “The Cuba Embargo: A Dying Patient

  • Carlyle,

    Why do you think Mexico signed that pre-agreement banning the mobility of labor? I can understand the U.S. position. What I can’t understand is the Mexican position.

  • Not really. Albeit embarassing to the Castro dictatorship, these flights posed no threat to life unless getting hit by a falling flyer frightens you. Using military jets to shoot down annoying but non-threatening civilian aircraft is over the top. Clinton’s message did reach the BTR pilots by the way. But they chose, which was their right in a free country, to ignore the warning.

  • Moses, actually there were 2 planes shot down. Debatable if they had gotten out out Cuban airspace into international airspace.

    But, your scenario sidesteps a few critical points.

    First, these flights had been overflying Havana for two years with the Cuban government asking the US government to find a way to stop them.

    Secondly, Fidel Castro personally notified Bill Clinton that the flights scheduled in 2 days were going to be shot down. The Cubans knew from the Red Wasp network even though the US government was unaware. It does appear that Clinton attempted to stop the flights but his orders got lost in US bureaucracy.

    So this event was dramatically different from the common “unauthorized flight such as those that fly near the White House, the Super Bowl, etc”

  • The flight was shot down while over international waters. If a ‘private’ Cuban aircraft (laughable) was flying over Miami it would be treated like any unauthorized flight such as those that fly near the White House, the Super Bowl, etc. They are escorted to a nearby airport and forced to land. We don’t shoot them down. That doesn’t even happen in the movies.

  • Moses, there certainly is blame on both sides. Let us analyze what reactions would be if the tables were turned. Of course we would have to assume that Cuba had private aviation (which they do not.)

    Imagine a Cuban private aircraft buzzing downtown Miami for two years in spite of the US asking Cuba to stop the flights as the only US recourse would be to shoot it down.

    The US tells Cuba that they know another flight over Miami is to take place in two days. The US pleads with the Cuban government to stop the flight and tells Cuba that if it happens again, the US will have no recourse other than to shoot down the unarmed Cuban private aircraft.

    In spite of everything, the Cuban aircraft flies over Miami again and the US does as it said it would and shoots it down.

    Would the US feel validated based on the many warnings and the specific advance directive about what we would do? That is the exact situation with only the roles reversed.

  • But Bob, that is exactly what happened. You said it. Cuban MiGs shot down an innocent [insert unarmed] Cessna. No, not a joyride but not a military threat. And no, President Clinton did not have the authority to ground a private plane intended to fly on international airspace. It’s a free country on this side of the Florida straits.

  • Now that you have been honest about your background and living in Canada for more than half your life, you can quit the nonsense about representing Cuban views – its bogus!
    IC would be ill-advised to believe your views about what Canadians think. NAFTA was and currently is the greatest asset that our (I write as a Canadian) commercial businesses possess. Our exports to the US rocketed as a consequence of NAFTA – and US purchasers pay!
    Brian Mulroney was so unpopular that the people of Canada re-elected him!
    The socialist/communist lot despised him because he was successful As the child of a poor family he rose to become PM through a combination of hard work and abilities. But to your lot, individual enterprise is rejected as “capitalism”.

  • The US had the opportunity as Castro told Clinton two days in advance that the Brothers to the Rescue flight was planned to invade Cuban airspace and would be shot down if the US did not stop the flight.

  • Moses, we must acknowledge that the US had two days notice that the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft would happen if the US continued to allow intrusion into Cuban airspace. Castro pleaded with Clinton to stop the flight, which the Cuban government but not the US government knew was scheduled, saying the Cuban government had no alternative but to shoot them down this time. This followed two years of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft dropping propaganda leaflets over downtown Havana with the Cuban government asking the US to stop them as the only Cuban alternative would be disastrous.

    I am not Fidel or Raul supporter, but the portrayal of Cuban MIGs shooting down innocent Americans out for a joyride in international airspace is total fiction.

  • No, it’s not. I’ve lived in 2 cities in Ontario, in Calgary and in BC; visited in Nova Scotia, in Quebec, in Ontario, in Manitoba and NWT, I’ve spent more than half my life in Canada and I can tell you for sure Canadians Do Not Like the people from the USA that come here and Do Not Like the USA government. In fact, the USA is the most unpopular country in the world. I wonder why? Oh, and why is Cuba one of the most popular countries in this planet? You should at some point get out of the Miami Gusano bubble and travel a bit outside the USA
    We (I live here so I count myself in) do, however, like your money because you are taking our Canadian resources and we think we should get paid for that. Under the “Free Trade Agreement” Brian Mulroney sold away Canada’s economic independence allowing large USA corporations to do as they wish in Canada. He was the most despised PM we ever had with surveyed approval ratings of 9%.

  • What a silly statement. Other than highlighting your hate of the US, Economically it makes no sense.

  • The roadblick they ran Ito was Fidel Caatro. It’s always been about Castro and his pride….not about the Cuban people. The result of his pride and hubris has been 55+ years of decay and poverty.

  • Gordon, the Chinese don’t require plants in Cuba to sell into the US market. There is no particular product that is peculiar to Cuba which is a massive net importer.

  • Nonsense is the best word to describe your view. Few neighbouring countries in the world have as sound a relationship as Canada and the US.
    Commercial businesses do trade – governments facilitate trade. Canadian businesses seized with enthusiasm the better trading opportunities that NAFTA provided and it benefitted the national economy. Those companies and the tens of thousands of Canadians employed by them appreciate the US.
    It is equally stupid for people -including US citizens – not to understand the benefits for the US in that Canada is their largest single market.
    To state that Canadians cannot stand (the) US is contrary to all the evidence. Where else in the world can you find such a long undefended border. At Portal on the US Canadian border (Saskatchewan), if you pitch your ball onto the 9th green, it takes 1 hour to land. Reason? the fairway is in Canada and the 9th green in the US. Where else in the world can you find that as an example of good neighbours. If you lived in most other countries you would know what bad neighbours are – hence the formation of the European Union!

  • I don’t disagree George T. My point, incoherent or not, is that Fidel created the circumstances that made signing the bill a good political move. Had Fidel allowed the Brothers to the Rescue flights to return to Miami safely, Clinton would have had the political capital to resist Miami. After the unnecessary shoot down, Clinton was under pressure for a military response. Signing HB was a compromise that many say Clinton initially rejected.

  • we would be better off trading with other countries
    usa is a country that just wants and wants..
    Even Canadians cant stand usa.

  • The purpose of the embargo was not to overthrow Fidel Castro
    – that’s what the Bay of Pigs was about, that’s what Operation Mongoose was
    about, but not the embargo. The intent of the embargo is to protect the
    property of Americans from being trafficked into the United States being that they have been expropriated, confiscated (stolen goods)….

  • The USA’s largest trading partner is Canada, thanks to the NAFTA agreement made in 1991 by the Progressive Conservative Government of Brian Mulroney with the Republican Administration of George Bush Snr.
    But on the subject of labour, the US made pre-agreements with both Mexico and Canada that they would not raise the subject of mobility of labour in the negotiations, making it clear that otherwise the US would withdraw. Carla Hills was the US negotiator.
    The US purpose was to be able to use Mexico as a source of cheap labour, moving US companies into Mexico – and that happened, reducing manufacturing in the States.
    It was proposed in May 1991 by an organization in Canada which I represented , that Canada propose mobility of labour between the three countries using a green card system which would ensure no permanent immigration. A Canadian magazine discovered that Mexico and the USA had the pre-agreement in June 1991. I then wrote to Michael Wilson querying whether Canada had been party to a similar agreement and he eventually responded in a letter in September that he personally signed, that yes Canada had made a pre-agreement for the reasons I described above.
    From the States point of view the decision resulted in a massive increase in illegal labour and a loss of manufacturing jobs. George Bush Jnr. suffered the consequences of a decision taken under his father.
    The current Conservative Government in Canada has made strenuous endeavors to widen the number of countries with which Canada has trade agreements and any have been successful. The current Pacific Rim Countries trade discussions will come to a successful conclusion – but will Canada be a partner with the difficulties presented by the foolish supply management systems in the dairy and feather sectors of agriculture?

  • Currently investing nations include Spain, Canada, UK and China. There are some paladars and perhaps a few casa particulars that involve US/Cuban families, but it is an exaggeration to say that “most of the paladars and casa particulars are US family investments. Right now I don’t see much investment by the US

  • I won’t take the bait. Besides, it was an obscure reference and easily overlooked.

  • Nixon, Carter and Clinton all made overtures toward the Castros in an effort toward rapprochement. All were rebuffed. The US has consistently worked toward a more democratic Cuba and hopefully always will. The only difference is strategy.

  • Jose,
    The US Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission Cuba Program only applies to US Nationals or US corporations that were in Cuba at the time of nationalization. Cuban nationals living in Cuba at the time of nationalization must deal with the Government of Cuba and its

  • I agree 100% about the US investments in paladares and casa particulares. I have picked up friends at Jose Marti Terminal Two many times and the loads they bring are massive! I also concur that the Cuba’s own foreign investment laws have a greater effect than the embargo. However, you may want to take a better look around Cuba, or research which other countries are doing business with/in Cuba.

  • Moses,

    I think I’ll have to take the word of two lefties, whom I respect for their amazing research, (though not always their conclusions, as I am a conservative) over your incoherent daydreaming.

    In “Back Channel to Cuba”, William LeoGrande and Peter
    Kornbluh explain that Clinton,

    “surrendered his presidential authority to make policy toward Cuba, and the authority of the presidents who would succeed him. Clinton understood what he had done. He felt “backed into a policy of proven failure,” he lamented to a confidant in the Oval office, “closing off political engagement toward a peaceful transition in Cuba” for the sake of electoral expediency. “Supporting the bill was good election-year politics in Florida,” Clinton conceded in his autobiography,“but it undermined whatever chance I might have had if I won a second term to lift the embargo in return for positive changes within Cuba.”

    “Supporting the bill was good election-year politics in Florida,”

  • Soviet made Cuban MIGs shooting down unarmed civilian single engine prop planes in international waters is rather threatening. ….Oh but I wish our F16 could have had the opportunity to engaged those MIGs.

  • John, please try to stick to the subject of the posts. The readers are already well aware of your beliefs.

  • First N.J.,
    I’m an ANARCHIST. My belief sets center on bottom-up direct democracy as is now made possible by the universality of personal communication devices. .
    Second, in that near-future , high-tech, non-capitalist, moneyless society there will only be work for those who choose to work because automation will take the vast majority of all human jobs within 20 years.
    The unemployment rates will be unsustainable once they get anywhere near 40% much less the 95% expected by end of that twenty years. This will cause the death of capitalism.
    Were human workers to remain necessary then , again, I’d see them as do all anarchists, socialists and especially communists as running the workplace from the bottom in a majority-rule democratic fashion.
    My beliefs and /or philosophies are simple to understand.
    I believe in direct democracy in all major aspects of life.
    That is the reason I must oppose any form of capitalism, organized religion ( I’m okay with Deists) , the oligarchic/totalitarian USG and the traditionally male-dominated nuclear family structure ( think Afghani culture) all of which are unquestionable totalitarian forms.
    Most of these four pillars of U.S. society are unquestionably followed by the bulk of the U.S. electorate which, oddly, professes to love democracy.
    I often think of myself as a democratic-minded Daniel in a den of totalitarian lion cubs.

  • You have a great career ahead of you in writing fiction or revisionist histories.
    The U.S. was never interested in anything short of the overthrow of the Cuban revolution for 54 years .
    Were I in the Cuban leadership ( or regime as Rush Limbaugh et al prefer to call the governments foreign and domestic they wish to slander) I would not trust the U.S. until they stopped all hostilities and normalize relations .
    How threatening.

  • .I was making a JOKE .
    I love Donald Trump for bringing out all the crazies on the far right.
    The polls give a fairly good look at the percentage of the low-information, Republicans who like to hear what they hear on Fox News , Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, O’Reilly etc etc etc i.e…the crazy right the speeches of politicians they would like to see in office.
    Most of the U.S. electorate does not understand that the U.S. media is almost entirely a corporately sponsored media.
    What we get is the very rich (who own almost all of the media ) telling the middle class and working people to blame the poor.
    You can see how well this works in a Trump.

  • That was H-U-M-O-R, Moses
    Try to raise that room-temperature I.Q., please

  • Where would Canada be today if we had no trade with the USA ?

  • You should remember the circumstances that preceded the passage of Helms Burton Act. Fidel has just ordered the shoot down of an unarmed civilian Cessna propeller airplane flown by Cuban-Americans. There was a very real desire in Washington to respond militarily. In an effort to avoid annihilating the Castro regime, Clinton accepted this compromise response. Up until this disaster, Clinton has made overtures toward reconciliation with the Castro dictatorship. Fidel, uninterested in normalizing relations with the US, scrambled his Soviet-made jets to scuttle Clinton’s good intentions.

  • I have seen significant US investment in small businesses for many years, most of the paladars and casa particulars are US family investments.

    I will contend that the undesirable investment climate created by the Cuban government for mid or large size businesses has much more effect than US law. I don’t see much investment by nations other than the US.

  • “Congress’ insistence on maintaining the embargo prevents US investors from coming to the island.” Just how did Congress get the power to do that?
    Who do we have to thank for that? Oh yes, it was none other that DEMOCRAT Bill Clinton who signed away his, and every future President’s, authority to end the embargo.

  • The opening of Cuba by Obama is on an irreversible course. A small nation that does not present a military threat is not worth maintaining a policy unlike any other. Politics will prevent a swift end, so it will be strung out. Parts of embargo could linger for another decade. They should speed up resolution of 1960’s property seizures before everyone from that era is dead. Some the Cuban exiles from 1959 are in their 90’s.

  • In your democratic communist utopia do individuals control their own labor or are they slaves of a central authority that gets to disperse the fruits of their labor as it deems ?

  • If you did not get it, John was quoting nonsense from a caller from Texas to a national call line protesting the Cuba deals; also, 72% of all USA citizens support the dismantling of the Blockade and 73% approve of opening diplomatic relations, even 57% of all Republicans interviewed…

  • And thanks John, this an accurate, balanced opinion of the options Cuba has after the Blockade. As my friend Ali’s dad once told me in Yemen:
    “Roberto, how long can one remain honest when one is forced to live in a cave of thieves?”

  • Clearly Mr. Goodrich is an adherent of Mr. Donald Trump who first promoted the nonsense about Barack Obama being born outside the US because his middle name is Hussein, that he is Muslim. George (He must be a Royalist supporter) Bush Jnr. was born in the States and there is little evidence that that necessarily improved his IQ.
    Goodrich = semantics

  • There will be no excuses for failure to visit Cuba Mr. Goodrich!

  • President Barack Obama was born in the US. His father was born in Kenya.

  • Senate Panel votes on travel to Cuba ny Americans.

    Published July 23, 2015

    Associated Press


    A GOP-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift decades-long
    restrictions on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack
    Obama’s moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with the
    Castro-governed nation.

    The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly
    ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights
    for the first time.

    The panel’s 18-12 vote comes just days after the U.S. and Cuba
    formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by
    re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the Cold War.

    The Cuba legislation was added to a $21 billion measure funding the
    Treasury Department, which enforces the longstanding trade embargo.

  • I have reasons to believe the embargo will be lifted shortly. China wants to put manufacture plants in Cuba and they want to sell into the US market.
    Gordon Robinson Port Alberni B.C.
    [email protected]

  • Nothing less than a superior analysis by Fernando of the embargo, its effects and how it is used by both sides to justify unjustifiable actions .

    I’ll add in that it is precisely the fear of the success of a socialist society/economy that has been behind the vast majority of U.S. foreign policy interventions since at least the 1918 invasion of the Soviet Union.

    The opponents of democracy in the economic sphere are trying to have it both ways and in their willful ignorance claim that it is Cuba’s (autochthonous) economic system that is entirely/mostly to blame and that the effects of the 54 YEAR-OLD embargo are minimal.

    As I’ve stated before, the eight or so Democratic and Republican presidents, their Congresses under both parties and the majority of their advisors have steadfastly maintained the embargo for that long because it DOES work, is the central cause for Cuba’s poverty and will be maintained until it is undermined enough by (Kenyan-born , Islamist, communist) President Obama’s openings in the economic areas rendering the embargo relatively useless. .

    Such is the power of the anti-democratic ( what most Americans foolishly call anti-communist) oligarchy which IS the government of the USA for whom a democratic society would be fatal.

    Capitalism cannot exist in a democratic society. PERIOD.

    Should Cuba continue with its (top-down, totalitarian) state capitalism after the in-the-pocket-of-the-wealthy Congress is allowed to call off the embargo by its owners, it will be because, true to anarchist belief, the Leninist ( cadre-led) Cuban society/government refuses to relinquish power to its people whom it no longer trusts to do the right thing .

    This will end the best chance for a nation on the planet to be the first true democracy ( You cannot have a true democracy under any form of capitalism until the inevitable demise of capitalism in the 3030s. ( via advanced, i.e. super-human artificial intelligence and s-f -like robotics enabled through all the exponentially developing technologies involved .

    This excerpt from the piece:
    “…..the best way to confirm where the truth lies is to lift the blockade and let life tell the rest.”
    is something opposed most by those who proclaim the loudest that Cuba’s government is totally to blame for Cuba’s economic plight.
    To which many of us say: Let Cuba sink or swim in a normal economic environment and then and only then can we be able to see who is correct.
    The fact that they have maintained the embargo for 54 years and against world condemnation for so long is all the proof I need that they think it will ultimately bring down this potential experiment in democracy just 90 miles away from the U.S. mainland .
    Again, certainly one of the best analyses I’ve read on the embargo.
    Thanks, Fernando

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