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Cuba crisis: US blockade and pandemic

Cuba crisis: US blockade and pandemic

On Sunday (July11), the largest anti-government protests in at least 27 years broke out in Cuba. Thousands of people marched in the streets chanting slogans. Others overturned police cars or looted stores.

It's far too early to make definitive pronouncements about the political character of these protests. Quite likely, the people in the streets represent a mixture of factions with very different complaints and long-term agendas.

One thing that is clear is that shortages in food, medicine, electricity, and other basic goods were the immediate spark for the protests. (The stores that have been looted are controversial because they sell expensive products to foreigners who can pay in currency that most Cubans don't possess.) American politicians who long to topple the Cuban government have been pointing to these conditions as they call for intervention.

For example, Democratic congresswoman Val Demings, who represents Florida's 10th district, has linked the protesters' calls for "freedom from disease, poverty, and corruption" to the need for "freedom from tyranny and dictatorship." To secure these freedoms, Demings argues, "The White House must move swiftly."

But what sort of swift action does she want Joe Biden to take? She can't mean that the US should impose crippling economic sanctions on Cuba or that it should support and provide sanctuary to terrorists who carry out bombings and assassinations on the island. All of that's been happening since the Kennedy administration. It's hard to see what's left on the table except direct military intervention.

Miami mayor Francis Suarez has been more explicit. "The people of Cuba," he says, need "some sort of international help," including intervention from the US in "some form or fashion, whether it's food, medicine, or militarily."

Cuba has a long and heroic track record of shipping medical aid to other nations. Sending food or medicine to the island during its own crisis would be an excellent idea - especially since US policy is one of the direct causes of the shortages. But a military intervention would be a disaster on every possible level.

Democratic socialists value free speech, multiparty elections, independent trade unions, and workplace democracy. We shouldn't deny that Cuba's society is flawed in these and other ways. Nor should we assume that every frustrated Cuban who's taken to the street is a CIA puppet or an advocate of privatising Cuba's health care system. But anyone who thinks US intervention would lead to better outcomes and not vastly worse ones has lost touch with reality.

To see what kind of government US meddling would produce, look at neighbouring Haiti, whose president the US Marines removed in 2004. Anyone who believes US intervention in Cuba would bring about stable, prosperous liberal democracy first needs to explain why Haiti is wracked by dystopian levels of poverty, inequality, corruption, and political violence.

If anything, a serious attempt to topple Cuba's government to impose a US-friendly alternative could end up looking less like America's ugly but relatively short-term interventions in Haiti and more like the war in Vietnam. Cuba's government came to power through a popular revolution that still has a significant base of support. It's preposterous to think that the United States could overthrow that government without large numbers of people taking up arms in response.

America's forever war in Afghanistan has been going on for almost two decades. The waves of bloodshed and chaos caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq are still with us. That anyone could believe, in 2021, that intervening in Cuba would make things better is a chilling testament to the blinding power of ideology.

If the US government truly wanted to help the Cuban people, there's an easy and obvious way: end the sanctions. Every single one of the shortages that protesters are talking about has at least been worsened by the US embargo. The answer isn't more intervention. It's less.

Right-wing anti-communists often want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they deny that the embargo is a significant contributing factor to hardships in Cuba - arguing that the shortages are almost entirely caused by the flaws in Cuba's system. On the other hand, they insist that it's essential the embargo stay in place. But why? If it really has no major effect on Cuba's economy, how could it be an important tool to pressure the Cuban government to meet US demands? If it really isn't exacerbating the island's economic problems, why not prove that by normalising trade relations?

Last month, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to call on the United States to lift the embargo. Only the United States and Israel voted no. (Ukraine, Colombia, and Bolsonaro's Brazil were the only abstentions.) And 184 nations voted yes.

It's time to listen to the world's condemnation. The embargo needs to end.

In another piece titled The United States Tries to Take Advantage of the Price Cubans are Paying for the Blockade and the Pandemic, Manolo De Los Santos and Vijay Prashad said: Cuba, like every other country on the planet, is struggling with the impact of Covid-19. This small island of 11 million people has created five vaccine candidates and sent its medical workers through the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade to heal people around the world. Meanwhile, the United States (US) hardens a cruel and illegal blockade of the island, a medieval siege that has been in place for six decades. In April 2020, seven United Nations special rapporteurs wrote an open letter to the United States government about the blockade. "In the pandemic emergency," they wrote, "the lack of will of the U.S. government to suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of such suffering in Cuba and other countries targeted by its sanctions." The special rapporteurs noted the "risks to the right to life, health and other critical rights of the most vulnerable sections of the Cuban population."

On July 12, 2021, Cuba's President Miguel Díaz-Canel told a press conference that Cuba is facing serious shortages of food and medicine. "What is the origin of all these issues?" he asked. The answer, he said, "is the blockade." If the U.S.-imposed blockade ended, many of the great challenges facing Cuba would lift. Of course, there are other challenges, such as the collapse of the crucial tourism sector due to the pandemic. Both problems-the pandemic and the blockade-have increased the challenges for the Cuban people. The pandemic is a problem that people all over the world now face; the U.S.-imposed blockade is a problem unique to Cuba (as well as about 30 other countries struck by unilateral U.S. sanctions).

President Díaz-Canel said of the people that most of them are "dissatisfied," but that their dissatisfaction is fuelled by "confusion, misunderstandings, lack of information and the desire to express a particular situation."

On the morning of July 12, U.S. President Joe Biden hastily put out a statement that reeked of hypocrisy. "We stand with the Cuban people," Biden said, "and their clarion call for freedom." If the U.S. government actually cared about the Cuban people, then the Biden administration would at the very least withdraw the 243 unilateral coercive measures implemented by the presidency of Donald Trump before he left office in January 2021; Biden-contrary to his own campaign promises-has not started the process to reverse Trump's designation of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism." On March 9, 2021, Biden's spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden's top priorities." Rather, the Trump "maximum pressure" policy intended to overthrow the Cuban government remains intact.

The United States has a six-decade history of trying to overthrow the Cuban government, including using assassinations and invasions as policy. In recent years, the U.S. government has increased its financial support of people inside Cuba and in the Cuban émigré community in Miami, Florida; some of this money comes directly from the National Endowment for Democracy and from USAID. Their mandate is to accelerate any dissatisfaction inside Cuba into a political challenge to the Cuban Revolution.

On June 23, 184 countries in the UN General Assembly voted to end the U.S.-imposed blockade on Cuba. During the discussion over the vote, Cuba's Foreign Minister Rodríguez reported that between April 2019 and December 2020, the government lost $9.1 billion due to the blockade ($436 million per month). "At current prices," he said, "the accumulated damages in six decades amount to over $147.8 billion, and against the price of gold, it amounts to over $1.3 trillion."

If the blockade were to be lifted, Cuba would be able to fix its great financial challenges and use the resources to pivot away from its reliance upon tourism. "We stand with the Cuban people," says Biden; in Havana, the phrase is heard differently, since it sounds like Biden is saying, "We stand on the Cuban people."

 The piece is a combination of two separate articles published in www.jacobinmag.com and





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