US blockade has cost island more than $4 billion in last year

Campaign News | Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Foreign minister details how Bush has trightened the squeeze

From the International Herald Tribune

A tighter US trade embargo cost Cuba more than US$4 billion (€3.2 billion) over the last year, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday.

Cuba's losses increased from July 2005 to July of this year because the administration of US President George W. Bush has steadily tightened the embargo at the same time Cuba's economy is growing and spending more money abroad, Vice Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a news conference.

He cited tougher US scrutiny of Cuban nickel exports and of Cuban use of dollars in interna€tional transactions. The government claimed a loss of US$2.8 billion for the mid-2004-2005 period.

"This is a policy that causes suffering," he told a news conference.

US officials defend the embargo - which allows the sale of some US food and medicine to Cuba - saying unfettered trade and travel to the island would prop up the communist government led by Fidel Castro.

They say Cuba's imprisonment of dissidents and restrictions on economic and political freedoms justify the policy, aimed at pushing Castro and his associates out.

But Rodriguez called it "unilateral and criminal."

The official said that in addition to lost business with US and other companies, Cuba also misses out on revenue from American tourists, whose visits to the island fell about 15 percent last year because of travel restrictions.

About 101,000 Americans, including Cuban-Americans visiting their native country, came here last year, he said. More than 108,000 Americans visited in 2004, a dramatic decline from the 200,000 Americans who came in 2003.

Those who defy the travel ban to come to Cuba face heavy penalties. Rodriguez said that last year the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control fined 487 Americans some $530 million (€418 million) for unauthorized travel here.

"These fines are illegal ... and violate the rights of Americans," he said.

The typical fine for first-time offenders who travel to Cuba is $7,500 (€5,900) each, according to Treasury Department figures.

Ahead of an upcoming vote on the embargo at the United Nations, Rodriguez released a report outlining the damages Cuba says the policy has caused to the country's economy, foreign trade, and health, education and cultural sectors.

The UN General Assembly has condemned the embargo for 14 straight years, urging the United States to end it. Last year's UN resolution was approved by a 182-4 vote, with Micronesia abstaining and only the United States, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau opposed.

Cuba says it has lost US$86 billion (€68 billion) in trade - an average of about US$1.8 billion a year - since the first U.S. sanctions were imposed in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution thrust Castro into power.

President John F. Kennedy strengthened the sanctions during the Cold War with the aim of isolating the Cuban government economically and depriving it of US dollars.

Critics say the embargo is outdated and has not worked, given that Castro's government remains in power and the nation is still communist. They also say the United States trades with other communist countries, such as China and Vietnam.

Democrats and free-trade Republicans in the US Congress have pushed for easing the sanctions, but they have yet to make headway against an administration determined to keep up the pressure.

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