The Cuban Embargo

Siobhan Cropper
War & Peace: The Americas in Transition

In March of 1996, Bill Clinton became the ninth president since Eisenhower to uphold the United States Embargo on Cuba--an embargo which has lasted for over thirty-eight years. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, commonly referred to as the Helms-Burton Act, consisted of four "titles": I. Strengthening International Sanctions Against the Castro Government, II. Assistance to a Free and Independent Cuba, III. Protection of Property Rights of United States Nationals, and IV. Exclusion of Certain Allies. It was enacted despite opposition from more countries than ever before, including Canada, Mexico, France, and, especially, Russia. In fact, in April of 1997, three days after the European Union (of which fifteen countries are members) made public the suspension of the trade dispute with the United States over anti-Cuban legislation, France announced a recent trade agreement with Cuba. The agreement, which US officials strongly discredited, allowed investment guarantees, reparation of profits and a lot more.

Amidst such heated discord, it is necessary to address why the United States relentlessly pursues sanctions against this Caribbean nation; we must question the validity of both the United States' claims against Castro's government and its purpose(s) in the onslaught. Though the discussion of Cuban-American relations bears with it a dark and even mysterious past, wrought with great debate, it is evident that the United States embargo on Cuba was, and is, unjust, unfounded, and, at most, unproductive.

The downfall of Fidel Castro continues to be the most immediate specific purpose behind the imposed embargo. It was hoped that the embargo's effects--namely an economic crisis--would drive Castro from power. Nearly forty years have passed however, and Castro's presence and rule in Cuba have not yet waned. There are few who claim this method's effectiveness but many will attest to both its failures and its overwhelming drawbacks. If anything, the crisis which has indeed resulted has provided a "rallying point for Cuban people against the US policy and has forced the deepening, not loosening, of Cuban ties to Russia."1 Elizardo Sanchez, an opposer of Castro's rule, makes the argument clear: "Tightening the embargo, far from producing rapid changes in the regime, could bring even greater privations for the already suffering Cuban people.... I doubt that any government, cornered and under immobilizing pressures, would respond positively to the need to reform."2

The threat that Cuba's Communist government generally presents has been coined as a justification for the ongoing US sanctions ever since they were first implemented in 1961 by the Eisenhower administration. This reasoning is, however, greatly outdated. At present the only other significant Communist country in the world is China. Therefore, if the 'threat' of Communism is any reason for a trade embargo one will assume that this status will also be bestowed onto the People's Republic of China. However, ironically enough, China continues to enjoy the "Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN)" trade status with the US. This is the complete opposite of what has been handed out to Cuba for the last forty years. Given the relative size difference between China and Cuba, it is a also fair to say that the greater threat of Communism will come from China - a country that contains one fifth of the world's population and significantly more military and economic resources to 'spread the plague' of Communism.

Another justification of the embargo has been that of Cuba's humanrights violations. Pro-embargo activists argue that the Cuban government has tortured and murdered political prisoners. They also argue that it has persecuted homosexuals and isolated AIDS patients, and not provided enough economic benefits to its largely destitute population. It is therefore undeniable that Cuba is guilty of human rights violations. However, Saudi Arabia and China, both of which the US has undoubtedly supported for decades, are also culprits for their many human rights violations. Other

countries that have been guilty of gross human-rights violations include Guatamala, Turkey, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Rowanda, Argentina, Lebanon, North Korea, Philippines Israel, Belarus, Cambodia, Peru and even the United States.

In fact, the United States itself is also guilty of many human rights violations, including police brutality, the death penalty, life and death lottery, treating asylum seekers like animals, torturing and abuse of prisoners and not to mention racism. "The manner in which the United States has been enforcing it's immigration laws is aggravating the turbulence and friction that have characterized this region throughout this century," says an international report.3 The report, which focuses on incidents of ill-treatment and brutality by officers of the US Immigration and Natrualization Service(INS), examines the recent history of the US-Mexico border region. Allegations highlighted in the report include people being struck with batons, fists and feet~often as a punishment for attempting to run away from border patrol agents~denial of food, water, blankets and medical attention for long hours, sexual abuse or racist conduct.4 Nevertheless, we have already demonstrated that few nations can boast of never having been guilty of human rights violations. Given the US tradition of maintaining trade and diplomatic relations with numerous communist states, human rights violators, and decidedly nondemocratic governments, the policy toward Cuba is a clear exception to the rule.5

Cuba is a "clear exception to the rule" for many other reasons as well, especially those concerning the United States' refusal to provide appropriate medicinal aid to Cuba. Alicia Torres of the Cuban American Committee Research and Education Fund explained that "at a time when the international community has excluded medicines and foods from the [previous] embargo of Iraq, a country who we have been at war with, the US maintains a medical and food embargo of Cuba, a country we are not at war with."6 In June of 1997, twelve House members, including Rep. James Leach of Iowa, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, and Rep. Esteban Torres of California, asked that restrictions on the sale of food and medical supplies to Cuba be eased. Their efforts have thus far been to no avail.

So what then is the underlying reason for the ongoing embargo? It is, indeed, the "history is on our side" approach.7 Such an approach assumes that all preceding decisions made concerning Cuban-American relations were clearly the right choice and, therefore, present-day decisions must follow in their footsteps. To demonstrate that even this abstract approach is unfounded, it is pertinent to understand that "history"; although the embargo of Cuba is decades past, it is crucial to know why and how it was implemented:

Today they stand as enemies, but in the 1950's, few countries were as closely intertwined as Cuba and the United States. Thousands of Americans lived in Cuba and major league scouts searched for Cuban talent. The New York Giants even offered a contract to a young pitcher by the name of Fidel Castro. However, when Castro visited the United States in1955, it was not with the intention of playing baseball; rather, he arrived with the intention of raising funds to administer a revolution in Cuba. His goal was to overthrow the brutal dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista held power in Cuba first as President, and then later as dictator for two separate non-continuous terms. Batista staged a military coup in 1952, overthrowing the preceding president Ramon Grau. After that point Batista abandoned the Cuban constitution by allowing only staged elections in which his victory would be guaranteed. Batista offered neither health care nor education to his country's impoverished people, while he and his friends lived a wealthy lifestyle. Many people opposed Batista, but chief among these detractors was Fidel Castro and his organizations.8

On the first of January 1959 Batista fled to the Dominican Republic as Castro led rebellions against his regimes, swept the country. Only seven days later on January 8th, Fidel Castro and his rebel army marched triumphantly into the heart of Cuba. After years of struggles against impossible odds Castro's twenty sixth of July movement had finally succeeded in freeing Cuba from Batista's corrupt rule.9 It is easy to see the Cuban President Fidel Castro as a cold-war relic, clinging to his guerrilla fatigues and his anti-imperialists rants. However, if one is to begin to understand why today more than ever before, a tremendous number of the world's nations are beginning to respect, admire and view the old "tyrant" as an inspiration, it is important to understand the course of Cuban history and the improvements this "cold-war relic" has made. Castro's revolution and the guerrilla warfare that preceded it were efforts to overthrow the notoriously corrupt, violent tyranny of then Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. The heroic rebel's attempts successful, Batista fled the country on January 1, 1959. Surprisingly, the United States State Department sent a formal note to Cuba five days later proclaiming "the sincere goodwill of the Government and people of the United States toward the new Government and people of Cuba."10 Indeed, it was the US that was first to officially recognize the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and invite the Revolution's leader to their country. Within months, Castro created a new government, of which he declared himself Prime Minister, and began a series of reforms that would follow.

In May 1959, the Agrarian Reform unleashed the United States fury against Cuba. By the next year, the essential elements of the United States blockade policy had already been clearly elucidated, while preparations for military aggression were being put into effect. In February 1962, the

White House completely suspended trade and encouraged other countries to do the same, while intensifying its campaign for Cuba's diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to his Agrarian Reform and his rent reduction program, Castro further angered the United States with his open denouncement of the United States' previous support of the tyrannical Batista and, more importantly, its "paternalistic tutelage". This interfering role of the United States, had been apparent for centuries, the Pratt Amendment being a prime example.11 Employed in 1901 and again in 1904 after the Spanish-American War of 1898, this amendment (to site Clause Three) held that the Cuban Government would thereby consent that the US could exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence.... This form of intervention lent to the United States' eventual economic stake and interest in the Caribbean island.

It should not be startling, then, that Fidel Castro (or any Cuban citizen for that matter) was skeptical--if not completely distrustful--of US intentions in Cuban affairs from the start given the United States' past interests. Indeed, as early as December of 1959, the CIA, having anticipated a future covert military operation in Cuba, had begun the process of organizing the operation.12 Nevertheless, the United States harbored ethnocentric and delusional expectations that Fidel Castro would move toward democracy and "respect" US "advice." When Cuba's Prime Minister moved quite far away from the United States' "advice," CubanAmerican relations began to falter. Though Castro had associated with Communism prior to 1960, fear of his Communist intentions manifested itself in the suggestion of the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, to President Eisenhower that Castro posed a great danger to "mutual security." By mid-1960, the idea of economic sanctions loomed in the air. July 6th of that year marked the first stage of those looming sanctions: Eisenhower, in his new "get-tough-with-Cuba" program, cut America's sugar quota with Cuba by twenty-two percent. Cuban spokesmen at the UN denounced the reduction as economic warfare and illegal interference in Cuban domestic affairs; shortly afterward, Castro secured a deal with the Soviet Union in which the latter would increase its sugar importation to equalize the United States cut. Strengthening this agreement, Krhrushchev pledged to support the island militarily should the Pentagon "launch an intervention against Cuba." Yet Eisenhower contested that Krhrushchev's "support" was an intent to "establish Cuba in a role serving Soviet purposes in this hemisphere" and that the United States would not be "deterred from its responsibilities by the threats Mr. Krhrushchev [made]."13 The complete economic embargo of Cuba--the one we are so familiar with--followed suite. The US has maintained it ever since.

The embargo of Cuba was unfounded and unjust from the onset and time has shown it's inability to prove "successful" by any means. The faltering Cuban-American relations and the fear of Castro's Communist threat that resulted in such sanctions were clearly the result of unrealistic expectations by the United States, Castro's discordant goals concerning the Cuban Revolution, and, for lack of a better term, countless fatal misunderstandings. Today, the embargo is being condemned by the international community more than ever before. Italy's undersecretary for foreign affairs, Patrizia Toia, criticized the U.S. embargo against Cuba referring to it as pointless. Toia told Italian reporters, "Isolation is a myopic strategy which is fruitless and doesn't help solve problems," and, "Italy and the European Union had never recognized the basis for the U.S. embargo." The law has also angered many U.S. trading partners including the European Union, Canada and Mexico. They consider it an extraterritorial application of U.S. law. 14 The Pope, during his visit to Cuba, which was televised for all the world's nations to hear, denounced the embargo calling it "ethically unacceptable" and "deplorable." Even those critical of the Castro regime, say the embargo has helped solidify Fidel's grip on power because it enables him to blame all the islands economic difficulties on the embargo instead of on shortcomings of his own policies, proving again the embargo is indeed a failure.

It should not go so blatantly unnoticed that the Revolution has yielded progressive changes throughout the Caribbean country. Infant mortality went from over 60 per 1000 live births, to fewer than eight at the present time. The revolution opened some doors of equality, work and study for women. Before 1959, women barely made up 12 percent of the labor force, most of them in domestic service. Today, 42 percent of the country's labor force is female, as are 60 percent of the nations intermediate-level technicians and university graduates. Another progressive change is the rise in life expectancy by twenty years to over 70. These figures put Cuba in first place in the Third World and are comparable to those in highly industrialized countries.15

The progressive changes have resulted in acclaim from both Latin American and European countries alike. In fact, Fidel Castro was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961 for his valiant anti-Batista efforts and his later reform programs, the results of which include the rise of the literacy rate from 79% to 98% as of 1991.16 He was also awarded the Order of the Star of Ghana, Honarary Class, the country's highest distinction, for his battle for the poor and underprivileged. The argument for the distinction was that as Cuba' 5 leader, Castro has been a source of inspiration for the developing countries of the world and his aid to third world nations. Earlier this year Fidel accepted invitations to visit several Caribbean and Latin American countries including Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and the Dominican Republic. Grenada was pleased to honor the Cuban builders who constructed their airport. Fidel often refers to these nations as Cuba's "truly close friends who have always given their unanimous support."17

How could a country whose infant mortality rate is less than that of our nation's capital be so destructive? And how impersonal could Castro's rule be as to allow free medical care to all citizens in which preventive rather than curative measures are the source of its overwhelming success rate? Yet these are the accusations an uneducated public and a stubborn government make. Unfortunately, Cuba is in need of assistance of both money, food, and medical supplies that the United States is capable of allocating. But the country--its ruler and those ruled alike--will only grimace at US policy; this is, indeed, what the failure of the embargo is attributed to. And Cuba's recent elections, held a few months ago, were a resistant response to our country's policy. The resistance--the failure of the embargo--will only continue.

1http: / /library.advanced .org/ 18355/ fulgencio-batista.html

2 http;//'stealth/cuba.htm

3 United States-Cuban Relations: An Issues Brief Commission on US-Latin American Relations. March


4 United States-Cuban Relations: An Issues Brief and Gunn, Gillian. Cuba in Transition. Twentieth Century Fund Press: New York. 1993

5http: / / 1998/25103398.htm

6 see citation above

7 United States-Cuban Relations: An Issue Brief Commission on US-Latin American Relations. March


8 See citation above.

9 See citation above.

10 Welch, Richard E. Response to Revolution. The University of North Carolina Press: London. 1985.

11 Bender, Lynn-Darrell. Cuba vs. United States: The Politics of Hostility. Inter-American University

Press: Puerto Rico. 1981.

12 Response to Revolution.

13 See citation above.

14 http: / / 7x7x.html

15 Editora Politica: 5th Congress of the communist party of Cuba. Habana. 1997.

16 United States-Cuban Relations: An Issues Brief

17 Editoria Politica. Trinidad and Tobago. July 26, 1998.

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