Above photo: Protest against the U.S. blockade against Cuba, Oct. 2020. Twitter/ @AnayansiRCamejo.
The Heaviness of Imperialist Sanctions and the Lightness of the Liberal’s Lament.
For the 30th consecutive United Nations vote, the US again lost. A landslide margin of 185 to 2 condemned its blockade of Cuba on November 3. Only the apartheid state of Israel voted with the US, while Brazil and Ukraine abstained.
Since 1960, the bipartisan policy of the US has been to overthrow the Cuban Revolution by fomenting “disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” According to the US State Department, punitive economic measures are imposed to deny “money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and the overthrow of [the] government.”
The US blockade daily costs Cuba $15 million; $6.3 billion since Biden took office. Cuba’s income for the first quarter of 2022 exceeded $493 million, but imports of goods amounted to more than $2 billion. A report from Cuba admonishes: “It is a dilemma for Cubans to make ends meet. Wages are not enough to face the very high prices that the lack of offers, real inflation, and speculation bequeath to us.”
Most recently on September 26, Hurricane Ian battered Cuba temporarily shorting electricity island-wide. In August, a lightening fire incinerated 40% of the island’s fuel reserves, exacerbating an existing energy crisis. Covid had already impacted domestic commerce and international tourism. For Cuba these were natural disasters; for the imperial hegemon these were opportunities as Biden continued Trump’s maximum pressure regime-change campaign.
Given advances in technology, Joe Biden’s ability to tighten the screws makes sanctions much more effective and lethal than they were when John Kennedy first imposed an “embargo on all trade with Cuba” over sixty years ago. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez commented that the current US administration “has escalated the siege around our country, taking it to an even crueler and more inhumane dimension, with the purpose of deliberately inflicting the biggest possible damage on Cuban families.”
Incredible Lightness of the Liberal’s Lament
Onetime trenchant critic of US imperialism, the social-democratic NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America) has been “reporting on the Americas since 1967.” Though in recent years, it has increasingly degenerated into cheerleading for US-instigated regime change in Nicaragua and other countries striving to socialism.
NACLA commented on the US blockade just before the UN vote in an article by academic Louis A. Pérez. He made 22 references to “sanctions,” but never once acknowledged that these unilateral coercive measures were illegal or, because secondary measures target third parties, that they constituted a “blockade.”
Along with NACLA, author Pérez is a longtime and sincere critic of the US blockade. His article has good information, recognizing that US humanitarian aid is intended to “relieve the very conditions to which sanctions have been dedicated to creating.” But with morally bankrupt ivory-tower equanimity, he criticizes both US imperialism and the Cuban Revolution for not achieving some liberal democratic ideal.
Pérez comments: “To recognize the baneful consequences of US sanctions is not to disregard or otherwise dismiss the failures of the Cuban government [emphasis added].” He continues: “But much of what is not well in Cuba can also be attributed to official policies and practices…with ill-conceived economic policies that fail to remedy want and need.” That is, the victim bears responsibility for the economic effects of the blockade.
According to Pérez, the fundamental failure of US policy is that the Cuban people are so consumed with the daily struggle for survival that they don’t have the time (that the more enlightened souls in academia have) to address “political freedom.” He quotes the angst of a Cuban colleague: “First necessities, later democracy.” For such elevated minds, the tragedy of US imperialist domination is that the higher pursuits for democracy are sacrificed on the altar of banal survival.
This recalls the counsel of the African revolutionary Amílcar Cabral: “Always remember that the people are not fighting for ideas, nor for what is in men’s minds. The people fight and accept the sacrifices demanded by the struggle in order to gain material advantages, to live better and in peace, to benefit from progress, and for the better future of their children.”
The “irony” of Cuban migration
Pérez repeatedly laments the “tragically ironic” US blockade; irony being a favorite word of the intelligentsia. He explains, the “irony” of the current record surge of Cuban migration is “not lost on informed observers,” such as himself: “Those sectors of the population most likely to constitute themselves as a political opposition [emphasis added] are often the very people most inclined to emigrate.”
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel provides context: “…we are the only country in the world for which a law was written, called the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guarantees the automatic entry into the US anyone who declares himself politically persecuted; this psychologically conditions an attitude of denial of the real causes for emigration, fundamentally economic and conditioned by the iron blockade of the same country that forces the emigrant to declare himself persecuted.”
Pérez continues: “Ironic too…US policy serves to add to the woes of a people for whom emigration to the US offers the most immediate remedy to hardship.” However, the US policy of encouraging illegal immigration and preventing legal is not just ironic, it is deadly.
“Land of the free” compared to Cuba
For Pérez, the “most egregious failure of sanctions” is that they “encumber…legitimate political change” to some imagined liberal Shangri-La.
So, what state in this hemisphere meets his lofty liberal litmus test? Could it be that “exceptional” land of the free where he resides? There’s no free lunch in the land of free where nearly one in four households experience food insecurity. Unlike Cuba, besieged by the blockade creating genuine shortages, the US has obscene wastage of massive food surpluses; an estimated 30-40 percent of the entire US food supply.
Nor is there free higher education or medical care in the land of the free, which experienced an estimated 500,000 excess deaths during Biden’s first year in office. Despite the blockade, Cuba has not only provided these social benefits gratis, but has sent 42 medical brigades to 35 countries since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal carps: “Most poor countries put all hands on deck in this crisis. Havana exports its doctors.” The Cuban view of internationalism is that “we share what we have and not just what we have leftover.”
Nor are politicians free in the land of the free, where every candidate comes with a price tag and running for office necessitates vast sums of money. Here, buying political influence is constitutionally protected as free speech and corporations are legally considered “people.” In contrast, Cuba stands out for its experiments to eliminate access to wealth as the determining success factor in running for political office.
With its board chaired by the program director of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, NACLA has a different ideological bias on what constitutes political democracy than Cuba, where housing, health care, and education are constitutionally considered human rights.
Not a time for complacency
After over six decades of imperialist siege against Cuba, only the elderly know life without sanctions. The agonizing material deprivation caused by the blockade, the endless shortages, the interminable standing in line for basic necessities of life, all have a corrosive effect on the moral fiber of the Cuban people subverting the spirit of socialist solidarity.
Leftists worry about cascading effects to the entire region of the precarious situation in Cuba.
Cuba solidarity activist W. T. Whitney warns: “Thanks to the US blockade, Cuba’s economic situation is more desperate than ever.” TeleSUR reports, “The Cuban economy continues to be gripped by rising tensions amid the tightened US embargo.”
Political unrest is undeniably mounting as conditions deteriorate. For the first time, Cuba is facing social media penetration from the US, which has managed to mobilize certain sectors of the Cuban population against the revolution.
As the US Peace Council cautioned: “No matter how heroic a people may be, socialism must provide for their material needs. The US blockade of Cuba is designed precisely to thwart that and to discredit socialism in Cuba and anywhere else where oppressed people try to better their lot…. Cuba is being attacked precisely because that small island nation promises a humane alternative to the decaying neoliberal order of present-day capitalism and its pending crisis of legitimacy. If a critical spotlight is needed, it is not on how the Cubans with so little should have done better, but on how the imperialists with so much must be defeated.”
That Cuba has successfully not only persisted but has been an international model for the accomplishments of socialism does not mean that it will always be so. Cuba is a small resource poor island, defending socialism against a very powerful foe. The Cubans can resist, but socialist internationalist solidarity must support Cuba and compel the US to end the siege. This is not a time for complacency.
Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas, founded in 1985.