By Anwar A. Khan*
HAVANA TIMES — Enacted in February 1962 and still in effect today, U.S. sanctions against Cuba are one of the longest-running boycotts in the world by one country against another.
The embargo against Cuba prevents US companies, and companies organized under US law or majority-owned by US citizens, from doing business with Cuban interests.
The six-decade-old trade ban…
Objective: Regime change
Executive Order 3447 signed by John F. Kennedy on February 3, 1962 proclaims “an embargo on all commerce between the United States and Cuba”, citing “the island nation’s alignment with the communist powers”.
On the eve of the entry into force of the embargo on February 7, Kennedy ordered a shipment of 1,200 Cuban cigars – a product that has since been illegal for American citizens.
John Kavulich, chairman of the Cuban-American Business and Economic Council, said the goal of such embargoes – at least publicly – is “a change in regime behavior”.
In recent years, Washington has justified the sanctions by pointing to Havana’s rights abuses and its support for Venezuelan government Nicolas Maduro.
Cuba has not budged on any of these issues.
“Not only has the justification evolved, but also the types of actions” taken against Cuba, said Alina Lopez Hernandez, a Cuban researcher and columnist.
“As long as it was bilateral, it was easier for Cuba,” she said. It was a topic “hardly mentioned (by the Cuban government) during the first three decades of the revolution” when Havana had Soviet support.
But since the Torricelli Acts and the Helms-Burton Acts of 1992 and 1996 that tightened punitive measures, foreign companies and banks operating in Cuba have faced stiff penalties for doing business there.
“With these two laws (the embargo) lost its bilateral character, it externalized and became a blockade,” Lopez said.
The Cuban government, which also uses the term blockade, estimates that its economy has been damaged by more than US$150 billion.
Since 2000, food has been excluded from sanctions, but Cuba must pay cash.
Thirty years of UN opprobrium
Every year since 1992, Cuba has presented a motion condemning the sanctions at the United Nations General Assembly. The first time, 59 countries voted for, now almost all are in favour.
Only the United States and Israel consistently vote against the motion, except in 2016 during a brief period of diplomatic détente under President Barack Obama when the United States abstained.
The Helms-Burton Act, said Ric Herrero of the Cuba Study Group, “was intended to create an international embargo against Cuba.”
But the UN’s consistent rejection shows what a “resounding failure” it has been.
US policy toward Cuba has been dictated by domestic politics since the end of the Cold War, when Cuba lost its strategic value, Herrero said.
The US blockade has contributed to making life difficult for many Cubans.
Traditionally, the electoral clout of Florida – a state that can sway US elections and has a large presence of Cuban immigrants – has stood in the way of détente.
However, “Democrats aren’t competitive right now in Florida, so there’s no real expectation for Democrats to win Florida,” Herrero said.
Instead, the pressure comes from New Jersey and its Democratic regime — shrewd or shrewd handling of public affairs.
Even Obama, who had eased some sanctions, was unable to lift them entirely due to the Helms Burton Act which prohibits any president from changing the embargo by executive order.
The inner blockade
In Cuba, it’s called an “internal blockade” – “bureaucracy, excessive centralization, lack of incentives for producers,” said economist Omar Everleny Perez.
“Economically, the (American) blockade is one of the causes of the situation in Cuba, but not the only one.”
Unable to produce what it needs, the island nation imports 80% of what it consumes.
Private sector liberalization measures have been late in coming and have been slow to change the situation on the ground, with much of the economy still in state hands.
Alina Lopez affirms that “the internal policies weigh more on the situation of Cuba than the American blockade, because the reinforcement of the embargo dates back to the 1990s but the bad policies are historical, they go back to the 1960s.
Some critics of the embargo say it helps the Cuban government more than it hurts, providing a bogeyman for all of Cuba’s woes. Hillary Clinton publicly shared the view that the embargo helps the Castros, stating that “I personally believe that the Castros don’t want to see an end to the embargo and don’t want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba for the past 50 years. Clinton said in the same interview that “we are ready to change with them”.
In a 2005 interview, George P. Shultz, who served as secretary of state under Reagan, called the embargo “crazy.” Daniel Griswold, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, criticized the embargo in a June 2009 article:
“The embargo was a failure from all points of view. This did not change the course or the nature of the Cuban government. He did not release a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a little more impoverished, without making them a little more free. At the same time, it deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and cost American farmers and other producers billions of dollars in potential exports.
In June 2009, the Venezuelan commentator Moisés Naím wrote in Newsweek: “The embargo is the perfect example used everywhere by the anti-United States to denounce the hypocrisy of a superpower which punishes a small island while getting closer to the dictators elsewhere.
Some American business leaders openly call for an end to the embargo. They argue that as long as the embargo continues, non-U.S. foreign businesses in Cuba that violate the embargo do not have to compete with U.S. businesses and will therefore have a head start when and if the embargo is lifted.
On May 15, 2002, former President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana, calling for an end to the embargo, saying, “Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of war for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship. .” The American bishops have also called for an end to the embargo on Cuba.
But the embargo was never effective in achieving its main objective: to force Cuba’s revolutionary regime out of power or bend it to Washington’s will.
It is high time for America to join the rest of the world in establishing free trade with Cuba and ending the ineffective sanctions that have cost lives and economic growth in both nations. The US government must realize that if its goal is to push for a more democratic and liberalized Cuba, what has not worked for 60 years will not work now or in the future. The United States must seek more humane diplomatic means to pursue American values and concerns.
*The author is a freelance political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who writes about politics, political and human-centric personalities, current affairs and international affairs
Learn more about Cuba here on Havana Times