On Two Different Pandemics
Not only COVID-19, but also imposing economic blockade on another country (that too for six decades) tantamount to contracting an incurable virus. Cuba, the country of Fidel Castro, issued such a statement on February 7, while marking the 60th anniversary of the US-imposed trade embargo. In the statement, the Cuban Administration said: “The embargo is a virus too.” Havana has blamed the sanctions for all the island nation’s woes. Cuba, as well as the Global Community, are concerned about this issue. There is a single reason for this blockade… a Communist Party is in power, there!
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), the then US President, had signed a Bill, imposing a total economic blockade on Cuba, on February 3, 1962. Earlier in 1958, the US had imposed a ban on arms sales to the Batista Government. After the Cuban Revolution in 1960, Fidel Castro’s Government came to power, and nationalised oil refineries owned by the US. Sugarcane and cigar industries were also nationalised. The US imposed sanctions on Cuba, except for food and medicine, almost immediately as a punishment. The friendly nations of the US, too, followed the same path. As a result, Cuba’s trade with the US and pro-American countries came to a halt in 1962. JFK reportedly claimed that he made the decision because of Havana’s overwhelming support for Communist Ideology!
Initially, Cuba had tackled the problem with the help from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Socialist Bloc in Eastern Europe. However, the island nation started facing a serious crisis in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Socialist Camp in Europe. The UN has repeatedly urged the US to lift the embargo in the last two decades, and also passed a proposal in this regard. However, the US and Israel voted against this proposal, each time. Finally, Washington DC removed food grains from the list in 2000. Cuba is still unable to import various essentials, including medicines, from other countries, as many countries cannot help Havana only because of the US.
The Cuban Administration has claimed that the most brutal weapon of the Economic War against any country is trade embargo. The total loss of Cuba has been around USD 150 billion, as a result of this six-decade-long blockade. The country has been suffering from an acute economic crisis for the last 30 years. The rate of inflation has touched 70%, as there is a shortage of food and medicine in Cuba. The COVID-19 Pandemic, too, has hit the Cuban economy hard, as it has a negative impact on the tourism industry, one of the country’s main sources of income. The US’ Foreign Policy has changed under different presidents – from JFK to Joe Biden. However, the Cuba Policy of Washington DC has remained unchanged.
Activist Rosa Maria Paya of Cubadecide lobby group is of the opinion that the trade embargo is Counterproductive. “The real blockade was imposed by the Cuban state,” she stressed, adding that the embargo would be lifted only through “a transition to Representative Democracy”. Maria Paya has explained that the island nation heavily relies on imports for nearly 80% of its food requirements, as it has little productive capacity. President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez launched a monetary reform in 2020 in an attempt to alleviate pressures on Cubans by significantly increasing the wage of workers who are employed by the Government. Unfortunately, the inflation triggered a hike in prices of necessary commodities. Food was excluded from the US blockade in 2000, and Cuba imported around USD 1.5 billion worth of food from the neighbouring country in the next 15 years. Interestingly, the purchases had to be paid in cash and upfront. As expected, it created troubles for a country with limited reserves.
Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American and former US Secretary of Commerce, also believes that the embargo is indeed inefficacious, saying: “Absolutely nothing has been obtained from Havana in response.” In fact, the US’ move has changed the geopolitical interests of Cuba, which has sought help from China and Russia. In January 2022, President Diaz-Canel and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed various aspects of strategic partnership over phone. Later, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov said that the Kremlin would not rule out a military deployment to Cuba, if tensions with Washington DC escalated over Ukraine.
Riabkov’s announcement reminded the international community of the Cuban Missile Crisis between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, which had brought the world to the brink of nuclear warfare on October 16-28, 1962. It was a major motivation for the US blockade against Cuba. However, the conflict was averted when the Kremlin agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.
Political Scientist Rafael Hernandez has opined that the US blockade is basically a strategic and military instrument in the context of war. “Although the Cold War is over, it is still the US’ geopolitical interests that determine its stance towards Cuba,” he stressed. During the tenure of Barack Obama as President, a brief period of détente was possible. However, Washington DC strengthened sanctions on Cuba during the regime of Obama’s successor Donald Trump, who added 243 new measures. In spite of electoral promises, current President Joe Biden has done nothing so far to relieve the blockade. Instead, his administration announced new measures against Cuban leaders in response to a clampdown on historic anti-government protests in July 2021.
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