Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remove that irrational blockade against Cuba
By Editor
Fri 15 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT

FOR twenty-two consecutive years, the United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted against the United States' blockade of Cuba. This year, the vote saw only one country, Israel, joining the United States in supporting the blockade. A total of 188 United Nations member states called for an end to the United States' blockade of Cuba while three others - Micronesia, the Marshal Islands and Palau - abstained from the vote as was the case last year. This vote of the United Nations General Assembly underscores the irrationality of the United States' continuation of a five-decade-old blockade.

While the blockade has been through several legal iterations in the intervening years, the general tenor of the United States position toward Cuba is a hard-line not-in-my-backyard approach to communism a la the Monroe Doctrine. This position is not only outdated but hypocritical and counter-productive.

The United States spends massive amounts of money trying to keep Cuban goods out of the United States. At least ten different agencies are said to be responsible for enforcing different provisions of the blockade, and according to the Government Accountability Office, the United States government devotes hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of man-hours to administer this blockade each year.

At Miami International Airport, visitors arriving from a Cuban airport are said to be seven times more likely to be stopped and subjected to further customs inspections than are visitors from other countries. It is said that more than 70 per cent of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control inspections each year are centered on rooting out Cuban goods even though the agency administers more than twenty other trade bans. United States' government resources could be better spent on the enforcement of other sanctions, such as illicit drug trade from Colombia, rather than the search of contraband cigars and rum from Cuba.

At present, the United States is largely alone in restricting access to Cuba. The blockade has long been a point of friction between the United States and its allies in Europe, South America and Canada. Every year since 1992, the United States has been publicly condemned in the United Nations for maintaining counter-productive and worn-out trade and migration restrictions against Cuba despite the fact that nearly all the 5,911 United States companies nationalised during the Revolution have dropped their claims.

Moreover, since Europeans, Japanese and Canadians can travel and conduct business in Cuba unimpeded, the sanctions are rather toothless. The State Department has argued that the cost of conducting business in Cuba is only negligibly higher because of the blockade.

For United States transnational corporations wishing to undertake commerce in Cuba, foreign branches find it easy to conduct exchanges.
Yet, estimates of the sanctions' annual cost to the United States economy range from US $1.2 billion to US$3.6 billion, according to the United States Chamber of Commerce. Restrictions of trade disproportionately affect United States small businesses who lack the transportation and financial infrastructure to skate the blockade. These restrictions translate into real reductions in income and employment for Americans in states like Florida.

Removing the blockade would fit into an American precedent of lifting trade and travel restrictions to countries, who according to their criteria, demonstrate progress towards democratic ideals. Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were all offered normal trade relations in the 1970s after preliminary reforms, even though they were still in clear violation of several United States resolutions condemning their human rights practices. China, a communist country and one consistently accused of human rights abuses, is the United States' second largest trading partner. And last year, trade restrictions against Myanmar were lessened, notwithstanding a 50-year history of genocide and human trafficking propagated by its military government. Cuba, although a communist country, cannot be accused of any of such things. Cuba's human rights record, when it comes to things that constitute true humanitarianism, the policy of promoting the dignity of human beings and their wellbeing, stands out.

Which, of course, begs the question: when will the United States see it fit to lift the blockade against Cuba? If Cuba is trending towards free markets, what litmus test must be passed for the embargo to be rolled back? Of course, all these economic reforms Cuba is undertaking, none of them can be said to be in pursuit of getting the blockade removed. They are being undertaken simply because Cuba, for one reason or another, needs them to improve its economy and the welfare of its people.

The cost of the blockade to the United States is high in both dollar and moral terms, but it is higher for the Cuban people, who are cut off from the supposed champion of liberty in their hemisphere because of an antiquated Cold War dispute. The progress being made in Cuba could be accelerated with the removal of the blockade.

A perpetual blockade of a developing nation that is doing the best for its people and that is assisting so many other poor countries makes little sense, especially when the United States allies are openly hostile to the blockade. It really makes no economic sense and it's time for this blockade to go.

And Cuba deserves respect and support for standing up for more than five decades, for over half a century to this blockade, to the United States' hostilities and blackmail. They are struggling and sacrificing for all of us and we should learn from them what it means to defend one's country's sovereignty, independence, dignity. So many lies have been told about Cuba and its Revolution. We have a duty to repeal the lies that are written or said about this generous and noble land. We know that there is a Spartan people in Cuba that can stand a blockade for more than half a century without capitulating, giving up their principles, dignity and revolution.

Of the Cubans can be said what the gravestone said in the Pass of Thermopylae: "Go tell the world that here there lie 300 Spartans, who preferred to die rather than surrender." They have confronted every difficulty, pressure and economic, political and other kinds of attack. But they have kept moving ahead. We have no doubt that blockade or no blockade, the Cuban Revolution will go winning new laurels and scoring new victories. And nothing and nobody can ever stop them. That irrational, outdated, hypocritical blockade is useless, counter-productive and should be removed.

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