Cuba: US Embargo Has Cost Over $89B
By Will Weissert, Associated Press Writer. September 18, 2007.
HAVANA (AP) -- Washington's 45-year-old embargo has cost Cuba more than $89 billion to date, wreaking havoc on everything from primary education to pest control and nearly all other facets of island life, the foreign minister said Tuesday.
Havana produced a 56-page booklet laying out its latest argument against the embargo ahead of next month's meeting in New York of the U.N. General Assembly, which has voted 15 years in a row to urge the United States to lift trade sanctions against Cuba.
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the U.S. policy caused $3 billion in losses over the past year alone to the economy of Cuba -- which had a 2006 GDP estimated at $40 billion, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The embargo "has reached levels of schizophrenia and made the last year notable for the ferocious and cruel way the blockade has been applied," Perez Roque told a news conference. Washington, he said, is bent on "persecuting Cuban interests and attempting to beat our people into submission with hunger and disease."
The U.S. sanctions bar American tourists from visiting Cuba and prohibit U.S. companies from doing business with the communist-run nation, with some exceptions for exports of food and farm products, medical supplies and telecommunications equipment.
On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez called the embargo "a success," and Washington has long maintained the sanctions are designed to punish Havana for rights violations, not to hurt the island's people.
Some Democratic presidential candidates have vowed changes to the embargo if elected. Sen. Barack Obama, who recently said he would ease restrictions on Americans wanting to visit family members in Cuba. Sen. Christopher Dodd, meanwhile, has pledged to scrap the embargo entirely if he becomes president.
But Perez Roque said most proposals do not go far enough.
"The blockade should be lifted immediately and unconditionally," he said.
Havana's report said U.S. patents and other provisions of the embargo prevent it from purchasing current medical technologies, pesticides and even materials for blind children because Braille products are produced primarily in the United States.
Internet access on the island is also severely limited and expensive, because Cuba must rely on satellites instead of tapping into one of eight major fiber-optic cables that run underwater near the island but are linked to U.S. interests.
Even Cuba's dilapidated public transportation system feels the pinch. Transportation official Gladys Fernandez, who presented testimony along with other officials during the hours-long ceremony Tuesday, said Havana's decades-old bus system would be able to handle 20 million more passengers a year if it were allowed to import U.S.-made vehicles and parts.
Perez Roque said 85,000 Americans of Cuban origin visited Cuba in 2003 but that number dropped to 37,000 last year -- after the U.S. government tightened travel restrictions in 2004. He said 59,000 other U.S. visitors flaunted the embargo and visited last year, down from 115,000 in 2003.
Cuba claims as many as 5 million Americans would visit the island annually if travel ban were lifted.
Filmmakers and salsa dancers told reporters of being denied visas to travel to the U.S. for cultural events, and a Special Olympics athlete was barred from an event in Argentina because its primary sponsor was American.