Around November 7 the United Nations general assembly will vote for the 28th consecutive year on the resolution tabled by Cuba calling for an end to the US economic, commercial and financial blockade of the island.
As usual, the world will not be surprised when the US opposes the motion, ignoring the overwhelming majority of countries who call each year for an end to this “genocidal” policy. Last year 189 countries voted to end the blockade.
Cuba’s motion is backed by a detailed 50-page report that illustrates the devastating impact of the US policy on the daily lives of the Cuban people.
At the same time it sets out a myriad of US measures designed to stop countries, companies and individuals across the globe from trading with the increasingly beleaguered island. The ongoing impact on British-Cuban relations is devastating. The full report can be read here bit.ly/UNBlockadeReport2019.
The report shows that Cuba’s economy lost $4.3 billion in the last 12 months alone, with total losses in the last six decades amounting to more than $922bn.
The report emphasises the “social impact” of the blockade, which hinders every sphere of Cuban society, including the healthcare, education, sports, cultural, and IT sectors as well as construction, the biopharmaceutical industry, tourism, communications, industrial development, the energy sector and banking.
To reinforce its blockade policies, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have intensified their threats and large fines against international financial organisations and banks. On April 9 2019 the OFAC threatened huge penalties on British bank Standard Chartered for transactions to US-sanctioned countries, including Cuba. In order to avoid the sanctions, the British company agreed to pay the US government $1.1bn.
Standard Chartered’s penalty is another in a long list of huge fines imposed by the US authorities, including $8.9bn on BNP Paribas in 2014, $787 million on France’s Credit Agricole in 2015, and $619m on Dutch-based ING Bank in 2012.
Today more than 100 foreign banks now refuse to offer any services to organisations even remotely connected to Cuba, internationally or within third nations.
The report illustrates hundreds of examples of the impact of the blockade, stating: “the plans and programmes of the ‘dirty war’ against Cuba have always included manoeuvres aimed at promoting hunger and disease among the Cuban people and thereby undermining support for the Revolution.”
One of the cruellest elements is the denial of essential medicines and health equipment to the Cuban population.
In June 2018 a patient at the “Hermanos Ameijeiras” Clinical-Surgical Hospital died due to “myocardiopathy,” which required circulatory support that would have been available through the use of Impella, a temporary ventricular support device for people with depressed heart function. However the US company Abiomed refused to sell these life-saving devices to Cuba.
The US company Zimmer Biomet was contacted for the purchase of hip, knee and dental prostheses. But the company responded that because of the blockade they were not authorised to do business with Cuba.
The report details the overarching impact of the blockade on the acquisition of technologies, raw materials, reagents, diagnostic equipment and spare parts, as well as medicines for the treatment of serious diseases such as cancer. Various examples show the increasing reach of the tentacles of the US policy.
For example, it forced the internationally recognised, independent, scientific and educational British animal welfare charity the Federation of Universities for Animal Welfare (UFAW) to stop its transfer of designated funds for a project it was supporting at the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine in Cuba. The UFAW said that “because of sanctions imposed on Cuba by the United States, they were unable to make financial transactions to the island.”
Education, sports and culture are all cruelly impeded by the blockade. Cuba spends almost a quarter of its national budget on these priority sectors. Yet it is often more costly, and sometimes impossible, to buy the basic materials needed for these services. The report shows that education is affected at every level, yet some applications are noteworthy for their direct and cruel impacts.
The University of Sancti Spiritus was unable to purchase 20 smart braille machines from the US-based Perkins company which were necessary for training students in the Special Education degree courses. It is also often expensive and difficult for Cuban specialists to participate in overseas training conferences, yet now the blockade is even restricting Cuba’s participation in online events and webinars, many of which are specifically designed to facilitate the participation of people from developing countries.
In the cultural sphere, only 24 out of 37 professional groups contracted to perform in the United States were granted visas by the US, denying income and international exposure to acclaimed artists. Cuban cultural companies such as Bis Music and EGREM are seriously impeded in their ability to license music and artists internationally.
Arts training suffers at every level due to the limitations on acquiring items such as musical instruments and accessories for the visual arts, ballet and dance. Cuba guarantees training for all children with the skills and talent, free of tuition costs, which represents an extraordinary effort for the country. For example, Cuba pays around $17,610 to make sure that every ballet student has a leotard for the school year. These could be purchased at half the amount if they could be bought on the open market, but this is restricted by the blockade.
In recent years the Cuba Solidarity Campaign itself had its bank accounts closed down by the Co-operative Bank, which cited the threat of US Treasury Department fines as justification. In a high profile campaign, CSC, working alongside MPs and trade unions, successfully overturned the Open University’s policy of banning Cuban students from studying with them. Online operators such as Ebay, Paypal and Worldpay all continue to take swift action to block any online trading or payments with anything associated with Cuba.
While the British government insists that British firms are not subject to US extraterritorial policies, Cuba’s latest report shows once again that US threats are increasingly blocking British companies from doing business with Cuba.
In November 2018 the British company Adler Manufacturing Ltd cancelled an existing order for the Cuban tourist office in Britain, citing the US blockade for no longer being able to work for organisations connected with Cuba.
In April 2019, OFAC fined the British company the Acteon Group Ltd for violations of US blockade laws. The British company was forced to pay $227,500, with a further $213,866 to follow. Acteon had sent consultants to Havana to discuss various deep sea explorations around the Cuban coast.
Halfway through its contract with Cuba, the British company Compair joined with a US group and subsequently cut off all relations. This seriously affected existing projects, using its technology, developed in Cuba, for centralised compressed air stations. Consequently, there is now no access to spare parts for all the equipment initially installed by Compair, causing a multitude of problems.
The report highlights the US government’s activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. Title III enables Cuban-Americans who were Cuban citizens at the time of the Revolution to sue international companies they accuse of trading in “trafficked property” previously owned by them or their heirs. The unleashing of potentially thousands of lawsuits, and the perceived threat of such action, will seriously affect international trade with the island.
Cuba states that the blockade policies constitute “the most unjust, severe, and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions ever levied on any country.”
Following correspondence from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC), the British government described the application of Title III, which enables US citizens to file lawsuits against foreign companies, as “extraterritorial and illegal” under international law. They stated that they would continue to work jointly with European peers to protect the interests of their companies.
The impact of the US Blockade on the people of Cuba will be a main focus at the Trades Unions for Cuba conference on Saturday November 2 where a 14 person-strong Cuban trade union delegation will share their experiences.