Counting the cost of the US blockade

Morning Star | Monday, 3 October 2016 | Click here for original article

Cuba has once again been forced to present its annual motion to the United Nations protesting against the illegal US blockade, which continues unabated despite all the early promise of the restoration of diplomatic links and President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba. ROB MILLER has the story

Cuba has once again presented its annual motion to the United Nations. This will be the 25th year it has been forced to protest against the illegal US blockade against its country.

It’s titled: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” and sets out in detail the US laws that support the blockade, the limitations of the recent changes in US policies by the Obama administration and a huge list of examples illustrating the full and pernicious impact of the blockade on the lives of the people of Cuba.

Having seen Cuban and US embassies opening and President Barack Obama himself visiting Havana many people across the globe believe that the blockade is now over and all is well between the two countries.

The truth is in fact very different.

The US has just renewed its designation of Cuba as an “enemy” under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, thus using its foreign policy interests as the foundation for the laws and regulations that underpin the extraterritorial blockade that continues to hinder Cuba’s economic development.

In Havana on March 22 2016, Obama called on the US Congress to put an end to the policy of blockade. Yet the economic, commercial and financial blockade remains in force and the restrictions imposed by this policy continue to be applied.

Despite the US announcement that Cuba would finally be allowed to use the dollar in international transactions this has still not taken effect. At the same time US banks have so far refused to provide loans or credits to Cuban importers of US products that have supposedly been authorised by the US government for sale to the island.

The biggest obstacle, however, is the long list of multimillion-dollar fines — and the threats of such fines — levied by the US Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) against international banks and financial institutions that are exploring engagement with Cuba. These massive penalties are an insurmountable block on any major institution from even examining the Cuban option.

The motion states that “since this policy began to be applied over 50 years ago, the blockade has caused damages of over US$125,873,000,000 at current prices.” That is over £97 billion.

The report accompanying the motion includes many of the hundreds of examples of the application of blockade policies that have occurred in the last 12 months alone. They range from the malicious to the absurd and cover companies in every corner of the globe including Britain, Spain, Denmark, China, France, Venezuela, China, Australia, Namibia, Turkey, Argentina and the US.

The examples include:

In October 2015, the French bank, Credit Agricole agreed to pay a fine of $1.1bn for violating the US regulations against Cuba. The bank had purely processed transactions between international accounts and the Cuban government or its nationals. Over a four-year period the bank had transferred a total of around $97 million of transactions yet was forced to pay a fine over 10 times bigger.

In November of 2015, PayPal blocked the account of the German ticket agency Proticket, which had been used by customers to pay for tickets for the musical comedy Soy Cubano and a concert by the Cuban singer Addys Mercedes.

In January 2016, OFAC levied a fine of $140,400 on the UK subsidiary of design company WATG Holdings which had worked on the design of a proposed hotel project in Cuba.

In February 2016, a branch of the British Standard Chartered Bank in Uganda informed Cuban doctors working at Mbarara University that they had to withdraw their money due to the fact that as Cubans they were not able to continue holding accounts in said bank. The university suggested that the Cubans open accounts in the British bank Barclays. After they did so, the bank advised them that they would not be able to make any transactions to or from Cuba.

The report highlights the real effects of the blockade on the Cuban people themselves in health, education and social provision.

In January 2016, Cuba received a delegation from the US corporation Medtronic, which supplies cerebral stimulators for the treatment of neurological diseases. While the Cuban Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery went ahead to purchase the much-needed specialist equipment, the US company has not been authorised to make the sales. Consequently Cuban patients suffering from Parkinson’s and various neurological disorders cannot receive a treatment that could improve their quality of life.

In education effects are widespread. One small example given was the extra $56,000 Cuba was forced to spend on string instruments for the 414 elementary level students enrolled last year. Cuba guarantees an instrument for every music student at this level yet they were forced to buy the instruments from countries other than the US, where they were charged premium rates for their efforts to circumvent the blockade. Such extra costs place a huge burden on the state when trying to provide the necessary equipment for all students.

The report estimates that because of the higher costs of buying products from countries other than the US, the Ministry of Education suffered losses of $1.2m in the last 12 months alone.

The report shows how the blockade can also negatively affect people in other countries.

The Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology developed Heberprot-P, a new medicine that is unique in the treatment of severe ulcers of the diabetic foot which can lead to amputations.

This therapy has benefited over 230,000 patients throughout the world and has 21 health registrations and over 30 patents worldwide. Yet it cannot be sold in the US where diabetes affects some 29 million people and an estimated 200,000 could benefit directly from Heberprot-P.

As well as medical products Cuba is unable to realise the value of likely exports to the US of many of its products including rum, tobacco, nickel and foodstuffs.

The Asda supermarket chain based in Britain is owned by the US Walmart Group and it has been instructed to remove from sale all Cuban products — this includes rum and tobacco products which are now no longer available in Asda stores.

The Cuban report to the UN even includes the example of the impact of the blockade on our own work of solidarity.

In November 2015 the bank accounts of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) in Britain were forcibly closed by the Co-op Bank. In March 2016, the bank confirmed that said closure was due to the risks derived from sanctions applied by OFAC.

Virtually every international body from the UN to the Union of South American Nations, the African Union and even the Vatican have called for an end to the blockade — yet it is still kept in place by the United States.

The report shows once again that the blockade is not merely a bilateral matter between the US and Cuba — it is extraterritorial, affects third countries and is applied with ruthless and total impunity in open violation of international law.

As the report makes clear: “It is the most unfair, severe and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country.”

There has been much said over the past two years about “normalisation.” Yet there is a very long way to go before the welcome “restoration” of diplomatic relations will bring anything like a normalisation of relations.

The report concludes by reiterating that: “The US blockade constitutes the greatest obstacle for the development of all the potential of the economy and the wellbeing of the Cuban people, as well as for the economic, commercial and financial relations of Cuba with the United States and the rest of the world.”

While the illegal blockade continues the struggle against it and for the rights of the Cuban people to develop their society free from such aggression must be fought for by us all.

Rob Miller is director of the Cuba Solidary Campaign.

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