: Cuba: Lift the Cuba Embargo?

Lift the Cuba Embargo?

By Humberto (Bert) Corzo*

“It is necessary to impose financial, economic and material restrictions to dictatorships, so that they will not take roots for long years….Diplomatic and morals measures do not work against dictatorships, because these make fun of the Governments and the population”. Fidel Castro
(Excerpt from the book “Fidel Castro and Human Rights”, Editora Política, Havana, Cuba, 1988)

In this article I analyze the arguments of lifting the Cuba embargo, which are more rhetorical than real, answering each one of the specific considerations of those that support the end of it.

“Fidel Castro and Human Rights”, book published by the “Editora Política” of the Cuban regime in 1988, states in the introduction that this reflected the philosophical thought of Fidel Castro. The book is without doubt an “I plead guilty”, where Castro affirms: “It is necessary to impose financial, economic and material restrictions to dictatorships, so that they will not take roots for long years….Diplomatic and morals measures do not work against dictatorships, because these make fun of the Governments and the population”. The international community must apply effective diplomatic and trade sanctions without more delays and subterfuges. What better justification of the embargo than his own words.

Economic Embargo Highlights

The Eisenhower administration imposed a partial trade embargo against Cuba on October 19, 1960, prohibiting U.S. exports, with the exclusion of food, medicines, medical supplies and allowing Cuban imports, including sugar. The full embargo (described by Castro’s regime as a “blockade”) was enacted by President Kennedy Executive Order on February 7, 1962, except for non-subsidized sale of food and medicine, in response to Castro’s regime expropation of the properties of United States citizens and corporations without compensation. Travel restricctions were imposed in February 8, 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Jimmy Carter dropped the travel ban to Cuba on March 19, 1977, and in January 1, 1979, Cuban-Americans were permitted to travel to Cuba. The President Reagan Administration reestablishes the travel ban on April 19, 1982.

The Cuban Democracy Act, enacted October 23, 1992, during President George Bush administration, prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba, nevertheless permits American companies and their subsidiaries the sale of medicines and medical equipment, and donations of food to Cuba. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton) was passed on March 12, 1966 in response to the crisis brought about by Cuban fighter jets which shot down two private planes, operated byBrothers to the Rescue, outside the Cuban aereal space. A section of the law allow to sue in U.S. those foreign companies who make use of property formerly owned by U.S. citizens confiscated by the Cuban government, and denies entry into the U.S. to representatives of such foreign companies. Since its enactment this section of the law hasn’t been enforced.

President Bill Clinton signed the “Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act” in October 2000, that allowed the sale of agricultural goods and medical products to Cuba. In 2004 President W. Bush administration policy tightened restrictions on sending cash remittances, gift parcels and Cuban-Americans travel to Cuba The congressional spending bill passed on March 10, 2009, under President Obama administration, reverse the restrictions on travel policy to Cuba imposed in 2004.

Effect of the Embargo

The United States Government has always exempted from the embargo medicine and humanitarian supplies to the Cuban people, as long as such aid is distributed by independent non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as the Catholic Church and international organizations such as Pastors for Peace.

Since 1992, the U.S. has approved 36 of 38 license requests for commercial sales of medicines and medical equipment to Cuba. During the period from 1993 to 1996, the U.S. has licensed over $150 million in humanitarian assistance, more than the total worldwide foreign aid received by Cuba in those years. This total does not include the millions of dollars in medicine and food sent to Cuba in the form of "care packages" from relatives living in the U.S. [1]

In the year 2000 the Department of Commerce approved the export to Cuba of approximately $550 million in medicines, medical equipment, cash remittances, gift parcels and food (cash remittances and gift parcels account for about 75% of the total amount).
The United States government’s embargo has had little effect on the Cuban economy, since it only represents 5 % of Cuba’s commerce with the rest of the world. The embargo only affects the American companies and their subsidiaries. The rest of the countries, 180 since the last count in 2007, are free to conduct business with Cuba and are doing so, as confirmed by imports surpassing $13.78 billions during 2007 [2]. In reality there is not such embargo since in the year 2000 the United States Congress lifted the prohibition of the sale of agricultural products and medicines to Cuba, thereby allowing Castro’s regime to buy everything it needs by paying in cash.
“Cuba will not buy even an aspirin, nor a single grain of rice. A lot of restrictions have been placed (to the lifting of the prohibition of the sale of agricultural products and medicines included in the modification of the bill) which make it humiliating for the Country and also impossible to put into practice”, said Castro during the demonstration that took place on October 18, 2000 across from the U.S. Interests Section to protest the legislation approved by the U.S. Senate lifting the prohibition of the sale of agricultural products and medicines.
From December 2001 up to December 2008, the Castro’s regime had signed contracts for more than $3.2 billions with American companies for the purchases of their products.
The Foreign Trade Statistics of the U.S. Census Bureau [3], based on the shipment of goods data, has estimated the export of U.S. products to Cuba at $447.5 millions during 2007 and $717.9 millions in 2008. These figures include only the price of the goods. Cuba's National Statistics Office placed the United States as Cuba’s fifth business partner at $581.8 million in 2007 (this figure include shipping and financial costs).[4]

How it is possible that the fifth business partner and biggest food supplier can keeps an embargo on Cuba?  The lies of Castro’s agents mimic Joseph Goebbels propaganda technique, “A lie repeated a thousand times eventually becomes truth”, or this other one “The bigger the lie, the more people will be believe it”.

The remittance of the exile community in 2007 has been estimated in $1.00 billion and in $240 million the humanitarian assistance sends through NGO. The $1.00 billion send by the exiles to Cuba, added to the $240 million in humanitarian assistance, the $3.7 billions of the island exports, the $2.24 billions in tourism, and the $5.66 billions in professional services in health care, education and sports, joint ventures abroad, pharmaceutical and training of foreign students  account for $12.84 billions revenues during 2007. The remittance and humanitarian assistance correspond to 9.7 % of Cuba annual gross revenues.
What the Castro’s tyranny really wants are loans and lines of credit guaranteed by the U.S. Treasury Department, since it doesn’t have hard currency to pay the interests on the lines of credit for the importation of merchandise. The European Union has suspended credits to Castro’s regime due to lack of payment of the $500 millions in loans. The US "bail-out" of Cuba through loans and lines of credit will not be pay back and the American taxpayers will be ones to pick up the debt, as it happens at the present time with the taxpayers of Spain, Venezuela, Argentina, Canada and other countries.
From 1961 to 1990, Cuba received an average of $4.0 billion dollars per year in subsidies from the Soviet Union. During those years the resources dedicated to the construction of houses and the infrastructure were minimal. Public transportation had not improved nor the rationing card suppressed. The standard of living of the population declined. The social and racial inequality kept growing day after day. The United Nations Development Program ranked Cuba in 2001 in the penultimate place of poverty among the countries of Latin America. All those thousands of million of dollars that arrived at the hands of Castro did not benefit the Cuban people at all. Simply they were used to reinforce the power of Fidel Castro, to pay the cost of the wars in Africa, the subversion against the democratic governments of Latin America, and the creation of the repressive apparatus of the Department of the Interior.
The infusion of loans by the United States would only replace the Soviet subsidy that Castro no longer receives, thereby delaying the transition of the Cuban people towards democracy and guaranteeing additional decades of oppression and misery. Castro’s tyranny looks forward to the day when the military apparatus and the massive repressive security service will be maintained at the expense of the United States government.
The effect of the embargo on Cuba has partially fulfilled its objectives. It prevented Castro from obtaining loans and lines of credit that would allow him to finance his permanence in power and avoiding the growth of the indebtedness of Cuba without benefit for the population. Presently the Cuban regime’s debt has risen to $22 billion with the countries of the old socialist campus, $29.7 billion with the European Union [5], plus other $8 billions to Japan, Venezuela, Argentina and other countries. This accounts for a staggering debt of $60 billions.
Since 1992 Castro hasn’t paid the external debt and therefore cannot obtain more credit from those countries. There is only one country that Castro’s brothers don’t have a debt with (except for the confiscation of American properties that is one of the main reasons for the establishment of the embargo), from which they could obtain credits, the United States.
If in the last eighteen years the infusion of thousands of millions of dollars from European Union, Latin America, Japan, Canada, etc. have not reached the hands of the Cuban people, nor the millions of tourists that have visited the Island have been able to influence a political and economic opening of Castro’s regime, who could maintain the illusion that tourism and trade with the United States can do it?
According to Castro’s own words, “There will not be change in Cuba with or without a blockade”, and in June 16, 2002, in a “no-alternative referendum”, petitioned a constitutional amendment declaring Cuba’s socialist system "untouchable" and "eternal". The rubber-stamp National Assembly passed the constitutional amendment making the one-party socialist state "irrevocable". As we can see the lifting of the embargo will not be the so1ution to the drama that the Cuban people go through.
Support for the Embargo

Among the dissidents of associations within Cuba that work for the advance of Human Rights and peaceful changes towards democracy and social justice, and support the embargo the following ones stand out:
Doctor Oscar Elías Biscet, president of the Lawton Foundation of Human Rights (FLDH), who served a prison sentence of three years for acts of protests in defense of human rights, was sentenced on April 10, 2003 to 25 years in prison for supposedly having violated law No. 88 with regard to Cuba’s protection of national independence and economy. In May 1999, after the reading of the document answering the declarations of senator Dodd [6], responding to one of the questions of the journalists said, “The embargo is one of the weapons in a nonviolent civic fight”. The reply of the FLDH to the statement of senator Dodd “The moment for lifting the sanctions against Cuba has arrived” was as follow "The lifting of the embargo must be conditioned on respect for human rights, the freeing of political prisoners, the acceptance of the multi-party system and free and democratic elections. This is a question of principles, not business." The document finish with this statement: "We know that we can be jailed for up to 20 years under Law 88, but it is preferable to suffer and maintain our decorum than to embrace injustice because of cowardice."
The economist Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello member of the “Grupo de Trabajo de la Disidencia Interna” (GTDI), has a long history of working for human rights and Cuba’s freedom. She was one of the authors of the document “The Homeland Belongs to All”, which caused her to spent 19 months in prison. Martha Beatriz, condemned to 20 years in prison for exercising her right to free speech and promotes the well being of the Cuban people, is the only woman sanctioned among the 75 opponents, intellectuals and independent journalists sentenced in summary proceedings carried out on April 2003. On 2002, she received the “Heinz R. Pagels Human Rights Award for Scientists”, given by the Academy of Science of New York.
In her excellent analysis of the Cuban economy published in Revista Hispano Cubana, No. 14 [7] she wrote “Before the demise of the URRS, in Cuba the embargo was not even talked about but now it has become a mater of live or death for the regime, since only the financial flux from the United States, opening the possibility of obtaining lines of credit, the American tourism and the increment of the remittances of relatives, will allow the regime to confront the desperate situation in which it has submerge the country. In an article on the Wall Street Journal [8] she says, “The State has failed to redistribute the resources in an equitable way and has created a very serious situation of inequality. Economic growth requires foreign investments, but the possibilities of important foreign investments are minimal due to the conditions created by the control of the state. When one understands the great impact with which the policy of the system has towards investments and commerce, it is very easy to see that the influence of the embargo in Cuba’s poverty is minimal”.
Speaking in Havana on November 2002 during the first session of Cuba's National Assembly Castro dismissed any possibility of success to the opponents of the regime. He said: "There is no opposition to speak of because the dissidents are like fish in an empty fish tank; there is no oxygen left for the counterrevolution and there will be even less in the future”
Lifting the embargo
Cuban economy’s bankruptcy is the sole responsibility of Castro’s regime. Under this system the economy will continuous to deteriorate without any hope of improvement. The economy is closely linked to the social development and standard of living of the Cuban people, which make very difficult the improvement of those under the existing regime.
Cuba’s problems are not the result of the embargo; they are due to the corruption and ineffectiveness of a system that is against private property and free enterprise. These and no others are the real reasons of the problems.
Lifting the embargo and travel ban without meaningful changes in Cuba will:
1. Guarantee the continuation of the current totalitarian structures.

2. Strengthen state enterprises, since money will flow into businesses owned by the Cuban government.

3. Lead to greater repression and control since Castro and the leadership will fear that U.S. influence will subvert the revolution.

4. Delay instead of accelerate a transition to democracy on the island.

The necessary steps required to be taken by the Cuban government to lift the ban on trade and travel between the two countries shall be:

1. Opposition parties should have the freedom to organize, assemble, and speak, with equal access to all airwaves. Political prisoners must be released and allowed to participate.

2. Human rights organizations should be free to visit Cuba to ensure that the conditions for free elections are being created.

3. Eliminate the “tourist apartheid,” where large number of hotels, resorts, beaches and  restaurants are off-limits to the average Cuban, and the “medical apartheid” in some  hospital that are adequately equipped and do not lack anything, and which are reserved for the nomenclature, the party elite and foreigners who pay in dollars.
After all it was the United States and the European Union embargo, not investments, which helped end apartheid in South Africa.
[1] “The U.S. Embargo and Health Care in Cuba: Myth Versus Reality”, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, May 14, 1997-  http://secretary.state.gov/www/briefings/statements/970514.html

[2] “Cuba says U.S. climbs to 5th leading trade partner”, REUTERS, August 14, 2008-

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics, Trade in Goods with Cuba-

[4] Cuba's National Statistics Office, Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2007, http://www.one.cu/
[5] “Paris Club of creditor discloses IOU list”,  Fox News, November 26, 2008-http://www.foxnews.com/wires/2008Nov26/0,4670,EUParisClubDebtorList,00.html
[6] “A Stern Reply to Senator Dodd”, by Angel Pablo Polanco, Cooperative of Independent Journalists, Havana, May 14, 1999 -
[7] “TRES TRISTES TRIMESTRES”, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Revista Hispano Cubana, No. 14. - http://www.revistahc.com/.
[8] “A Cuban Economist Calls For Less Official Meddling”, by Marta Beatriz Roque, Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2000. - http://www.lanuevacuba.com
*Humberto (Bert) Corzo was born in Cuba. In 1962 he graduated from University of Havana with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since coming to the United States in 1969, he established his residence in Los Angeles, California, where in 1972 he obtained the registration as a Professional Engineer. He has over forty five years of experience in the field of Structural Engineering. He is a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Cuban-American Association of Civil Engineers.





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