People’s court makes judgement against US Blockade

Campaign News | Thursday, 23 November 2023

A report on the International Tribunal on the United States blockade of Cuba by Bernard Regan, who attended on behalf of CSC. You can read the final ruling of the Tribunal here.

An International Tribunal on the United States blockade of Cuba was held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 16th and 17th November.

At the opening session, Emeritus Professor and former member of the German Parliament Norman Paech explained that the Tribunal was based on previous hearings such as the Russell Tribunal of 1966 which investigated the war crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam. The Tribunal panel consisted of six distinguished lawyers, academics and human rights campaigners from Germany, Greece, Portugal, and the USA. The case for the prosecution was presented by lawyers from Belgium and the USA.

The panel sat for two days hearing the evidence on the impact of the blockade from a range of witnesses including cancer specialists, scientists, lawyers, health experts, academics, educationalist and business people from Cuba, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and many more.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign, represented at the Tribunal by Bernard Regan, National Secretary and Rob Miller, Director, gave evidence on the case of the Open University who blocked the application of a Cuban student in 2017. After a huge campaign and a legal case the OU were forced to overturn the policy and compensate the student. It was an important victory in the battle against the extraterritorial impact of the blockade around the world.

Some of the most poignant and moving evidence came in the form of videos from Cuba that demonstrated how the blockade impacts the availability of medicines for cancer patients. A mother described how it had become impossible to obtain the drugs to treat her son’s Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the William Soler Hospital in Havana. While Cuba had been prepared to buy the drugs to treat him, this had been impossible.

Belinda Sanchez, a bio-chemist and Managing Director of Molecular Immunology in Cuba explained how the country’s work on a COVID vaccine had been delayed because of the blockade. There had been a 20% increase in costs for the purchase of essential medicines and the blockade laws meant that the supply chains were much slower. Because of their circuitous routes, their cost increased by millions of dollars.

Cuba has developed cancer vaccines but they were not able to purchase the appropriate patents in order to be able to share them abroad. The blockade meant that Cuba’s ground-breaking cancer treatment was unavailable to US citizens and as a result thousands of lives had been lost unnecessarily.

Because Cuba was unable to pay for patents in the USA, some of their products were stolen, thereby depriving the country of revenue. Some 24 updates and innovations in cancer research could not be published and it was impossible to find partners due to the threats of the blockade policies. People all over the world could benefit from Cuban scientists’ research, providing remedies for lung cancer patients and diabetes sufferers.

While Cuba has difficulty because of the blockade, witnesses also explained how its extraterritorial measures impacted on countries across the globe. Professor Franco Cavalli explained the challenges faced by MediCuba in trying to send medicine from Europe to Cuba. Despite existing antidote legislation in Europe, and indeed in Britain, which supposedly protects companies who want to trade with Cuba, the huge threats from the blockade made it almost impossible. The European Investment Bank itself would not sign off on any trade or cooperation projects when funded by European Union money.

The EU’s “Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement”, was signed in December 2016 and endorsed by the UK at the time, made a commitment to “consolidate and strengthen existing relations between the parties…(and)…promote trade and economic relations in conformity with the rules and principles governing international trade as stipulated in the World Trade Organisation Agreements.” However despite this agreement the EU was “absolutely useless”, he said, in opposing the blockade, despite its regular vote at the UN in support of Cuba.

A Spanish businessman reported that he had been forced to close his bank accounts and some 69 financial entities had had their lines of credit cancelled. Just three weeks ago, an order in Havana for pens was cancelled because they had 3% of their components from the USA. It was a risk for him to do business with Cuba but he declared, to warm applause, his intention to keep on trying.

Another expert on trade explained that whilst the Dominican Republic, a country of a similar population to Cuba has five ships a week entering its ports Cuba has only two a month. In addition, the cost of sending a shipping container from Europe to the Dominican Republic was $1,300. It was $4,000 to send the same to Cuba. Some Cuban products, such as eco-friendly coconut fibres used for a variety of things, have a limited time span for use and the transport delays meant that they became valueless. As a result Cuba had ceased to produce them.

Amongst the witnesses was Miguel Ángel Martinez, a former Vice-President of the European Parliament and a founder of the EU-Cuba Friendship group. As a life-long campaigner for world peace, he had condemned all breaches of international law whenever they occurred and he felt that it was apt to describe the USA as a “bully”, inflicting totally unjustifiable pain on the people of Cuba.

A concluding witness was Brenda Lopez, of the USA based “Hands off Cuba” Campaign who echoed earlier speakers’ concerns about the limitations on travel, which prevented the development of meaningful exchanges between Cuba and the USA. She detailed how Cuba was providing facilities for working class candidates from the USA to study at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba (ELAM). The make-up of the ELAM students was radically different from that of medical schools in the USA where only 6% of students were Black. In ELAM 47% of students were Black and 29% were from Latino backgrounds.

After considering all the detailed and fact-laden evidence, the panel of judges declared that the blockade at every level is in clear breach of the United Nations Charter and numerous Articles contained in it, clearly defining each countries right to self-determination and to sovereignty. It flouts the terms of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and numerous UN Conventions on sovereignty and independence.

The Tribunal concluded that “Since the numerous sanctions and the US laws on which they are based are unlawful, they must be abolished. The USA must pay compensation for the damage caused to the Cuban state, and its companies and citizens.

Following the hearings, a meeting of solidarity organisations from across Europe expressed its commitment to publicise the findings of the Tribunal and work to challenge their respective governments to turn their votes against the blockade at the UN General Assembly into actions.

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