Photo: ANSWER Coalition.

Photo: ANSWER Coalition.

In a stunning vindication of the Cuban government’s assertions that the Cuban economy has been drastically distorted due to the aggressive foreign policy of the United States, the head of a UN agency visiting the island confirmed that the U.S. blockade of Cuba has cost the country over $130 billion in the past 56 years.

The “unjust blockade” by the U.S. has cost Cuba’s economy and its people over U.S. $130 billion in economic activity over the last five decades according to the Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The figures quoted by Barcena are similar to the economic impact the Cuban government has repeatedly cited in arguing against the blockade.

Barcena, along with UN Secretary General Antonia Gutierres, were in Havana in early May for the 37th session of ECLAC, along with the group’s 46 members states and 13 associates. The goal of this UN body is equitable economic development worldwide.

“We evaluate it every year… and we know that this blockade costs the Cuban people more than U.S. $130 billion at current prices and has left an indelible mark on its economic structure,” Barcena explained. “This country which welcomes us today .. is testing its own ways to face the brutal human costs that it has sustained during an unjust blockade.”

The U.S. blockade of Cuba was fully instituted in 1962 and has continued unabated. A stated goal of the policy is to create an environment of economic desperation to encourage the Cuban people to overthrow their revolutionary government. This manipulative strategy is a clear violation of Cuba’s sovereignty. In large part due to the blockade, Cuba’s economy has only grown at an average rate of 2.4 percent over the past decade, in spite of economic reforms introduced in 2010.

‘Trade embargo’ or genocidal blockade?

The U.S. refers to its economic policies against Cuba as a “trade embargo.” The Cuban government asserts that it is subject to a genocidal blockade. Which description is accurate?

If it were simply a matter of the U.S. not allowing American companies to trade with Cuba, the policy would be considered a trade embargo. However, the U.S. government strong-arms the rest of the world into choosing between trading with the United States and trading with Cuba. This means if Toyota wants to export cars to the United States, it cannot export a single car to Cuba. Additionally, freight ships that dock in a Cuban port cannot dock in an American port for a specified number of days.

The U.S. has the largest economy in the world and is the heart of global capitalism/imperialism. Cuba is a small, post-colonial island nation with a history of rampant economic exploitation at the hands of Spanish colonialists and American imperialists. Unsurprisingly, most major corporations choose to engage with the American economy at the expense of the Cuban economy. The end result is Cuba is economically isolated from much of the global economy, and experiences shortages. Because of the blockade, Cuba hasn’t been able to import certain life-saving drugs, technical equipment or modern automobiles for decades.

Did Obama end the blockade?

In an historic rapprochement, former U.S. President Barak Obama established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015. At the same time, however, the U.S. government’s ultimate goal of regime change and capitalist restoration in Cuba remained the driving motivator of Obama’s foreign policy.

Obama did not end the blockade of Cuba; he merely loosened travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba, and normalized diplomatic relations. He maintained the financial, economic and commercial blockade. Obama’s “reforms’”were an attempt to use soft power to bring about regime change in Cuba, recognizing that overtly aggressive policies have been a disaster and further entrenched support for the Cuban Revolution.

The restrictions to Cuba

Until last year’s temporary ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Cuba was the only country in the world subject to a travel ban by the U.S. government. The travel restrictions originate exclusively from the U.S. government. Contrary to popular misconceptions, the Cuban government welcomes international tourists, including people from the U.S..

Many think that Obama lifted the travel ban, but U.S. citizens were not allowed to freely travel to Cuba even after the Obama administration’s reforms. U.S. citizens still needed to obtain a license, otherwise it was illegal for them to spend money traveling to or within Cuba. However, the process for obtaining a license to travel to Cuba was streamlined and this allowed de facto tourism under the umbrella of people-to-people exchanges.

The rationale for this was that freer travel to Cuba would expose ordinary Cubans to “American values” and promote anti-communist attitudes on the island. Permitting travel from the U.S. to Cuba was seen as another form of imperialist penetration and destabilization. Ordinary Cubans, however, have been exposed to millions of tourists from Canada and Europe for the past two decades and have not abandoned socialism, even under the worst economic conditions during the so-called Special Period in the 90s.

Did Trump reinstate the blockade?

Trump has definitely been more hostile to Cuba, and rolled back elements of the Obama provisions. Some 60 percent of Cuba’s diplomats in Washington, D.C. were expelled, and Trump sought to reduce U.S. travel by ending individual people-to-people exchanges. This has dramatically reduced the flow of U.S. tourists to Cuba and has further hampered economic development. However, Trump did not reverse all of Obama’s reforms. U.S. citizens can still legally travel to Cuba for professional purposes and as part of missionary work, for example.

Both presidents, from a centrist Democrat to the most odiously bigoted Republican, followed the dictates of U.S. imperialist policy. Both left the blockade of Cuba intact. Both pursued policies aimed to undermine Cuba’s sovereignty and destroy the Cuban Revolution.

International solidarity trumps U.S. imperialism

How has Cuba, a small player in the global economy, survived as a sovereign, socialist state after being blockaded for over 50 years? In short, because of international solidarity and the resiliency of the Cuban people. During the Cold War, Cuba’s economy was buttressed by friendly relations with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.. Unlike the United States, which relies on hyper-exploited labor from the Global South, the Soviet Union traded with Cuba on equitable terms and sent technical advisers to help modernize and diversify Cuba’s economy. This process ended abruptly with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Cuba was on its own for much of the 1990s but received a lifeline with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998. Venezuela began exporting subsidized oil to Cuba in exchange for Cuban doctors to provide medical care for poor Venezuelans, free of charge.

Since the victory of the Cuban Revolution, international solidarity has been the cornerstone of Cuba’s foreign policy. Thousands of Cuban doctors have provided free medical care to the world’s poorest people. Thousands of Cuban volunteers fought Apartheid South Africa’s armies in Angola and Namibia. The rest of the world recognizes and appreciates Cuba’s contributions to the world.

Since 1992, virtually every nation has voted in favor of ending the blockade at the United Nations, with the noted exceptions of the United States and Israel. In the last UN General Assembly vote in November, it was 191 governments for ending the blockade, two against. It is high time for the U.S. government to listen to the rest of the world and abandon all of its aggressive and unjust policies.