The Blockade of Cuba in 2015

Are Relations ‘Normalised’ Now?

News of the release of the remaining ‘Miami 5’ reached Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign in December 2014. We learned that Presidents Obama and Castro had been in talks for 18 months with involvement of the Pope leading up to the momentous announcements. During those negotiations, prisoner releases were agreed, the classification of Cuba as a terrorist threat was lifted and some trade sanctions changed. But the blockade and occupation of Guantanamo continues.

For over half a century, the US government has tried to isolate Cuba economically in an effort to undermine its government and deprive it of resources. This directly contradicts international as well as internal US government reports concluding that Cuba poses no threat to the US, and that the blockade has been ineffectual in influencing sovereignty and Cuban policy.

The hostile actions of the US have never diminished the strength or achievements of the Cuban Revolution. Our Scottish solidarity is inspired by the progressive policies that Cuba has developed and practiced in relation to health, education, employment and equality issues. How has the embargo impacted on Cuba and why are we determined to support the call to end it?

In 2007, the UN High Commission of Human Rights reported that restrictions imposed by the embargo deprived Cuba of vital access to medicines, new scientific and medical technology, food, chemical water treatment and electricity.

UNICEF reported that Cuba was unable to import nutritional products destined for children and for consumption at schools, hospitals and day care centres. This had an adverse effect on the health and nutritional status of the population and is believed to be a contributing factor in the high prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia which in 2007 affected 37.5% of children under three.

Children’s health was also put at risk by a decision from syringe suppliers to cancel an order for 3m disposable syringes by UNICEF’s Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization when it became known that the units were destined for the implementation of the programme in Cuba. The World Health Organization reported that ‘lack of access to products manufactured by United States companies prevents the provision of proper care to seriously ill patients who need a pacemaker, St. Jude prosthetic valves or septal occluders, forcing their treatment with alternative, riskier surgical techniques’.

UN Programmes to prevent and fight HIV/AIDS suffered from the embargo. The US Treasury Department refused to renew a licence to health organization, Population Services International (PSI), to export condoms to Cuba for distribution to groups at high risk of contracting HIV infection.

These are symbolic of the many examples of inhumane consequences of the embargo, illustrated vividly by Aleida Guevara during her 2013 visit to Scotland when she described the challenge of sourcing basic health supplies and powdered milk for newborns with medical complications. Aleida was speaking both as the daughter of Che Guevara and a consultant paediatrician working in Havana today.

In 2009, Amnesty International reported that the blockade breached human rights and international protocols and that it could be lifted by the Obama administration within the current legislative framework.

The positive developments in USA-Cuba relations announced 17 December 2014 led many to think that the blockade in place since 1960 would be lifted quickly.

The US Government website updates of 17 April 2015 explain the current restrictions and spell out the true intentions of the paltry concessions:

The Cuba embargo remains in place. Most transactions between the United States, or persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and Cuba continue to be prohibited, and Office of Foreign Assets Control continues to enforce the prohibitions of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.

Travel to Cuba for tourism is not allowed. The traveller’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule.

Activities of human rights organisations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy may be supported.

Construction projects intended to benefit legitimately independent civil society groups; … projects suitable to the development of small-scale private enterprise; projects that promote independent activity; … microfinancing projects, except for loans, extensions of credit, or other financing [are] prohibited.

The emphasis from these extracts is not on what Cuba needs or wants as an equal partner, but what the US is conditionally willing to permit in order to transform Cuba and open up private enterprise under the name of ‘democratization’.

Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign continues to work robustly to end the blockade. It is good news that the US has finally taken Cuba off its list of nations that pose a terrorist threat and released the 3 remaining ‘Miami 5’ prisoners after 16 long years of mistreatment, injustice and abuse of process. Cuba has celebrated their return and welcomed them as heroes.

Local elections have just taken place in Cuba that have indicated the confidence and hope the current political system offers. Candidates of the right have been defeated and strong clear voting majorities won by all government supporting representatives.

President Raul Castro clearly stated: ;The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base’.

May Day in Havana 2015 saw over a million Cubans hear the president of its TUC reiterate the same clear position that upholds the right of Cuba to determine its future.

Vicky Grandon is Chair of the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign and Vice-Chair, UNITE Scotland Political Committee