Cuba and its Two Pandemics: the Coronavirus and the Blockade

By Gustavo Veiga, published on Resumen,  May 26, 2020

The government of Donald Trump found an ideal partner in the coronavirus to try to prostrate Cuba by all possible means. From the combo of economic and legal sanctions that the United States has been applying for 60 years, the consequences of the pandemic have been added. Not so much the sanitary issues – which are more than controlled on the island – but the havoc caused by the COVID-19 on tourism, its main source of income.

Not content with that, the White House again included its neighbor on the list of nations that “do not cooperate” in the fight against terrorism. It assumes the function of patrolling the planet looking for those who are not in compliance to its policy. In a press conference last Friday, Carlos Fernández de Cossio, director-general for the US of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out:

“It is an illegitimate list that has no absolute recognition by any international forum or authorized collegial body in matters about the fight against terrorism, and that seeks to discredit Cuba and to put pressure on third countries in their relations with the island”.

Last week was quite eventful because Trump took advantage of May 20 – the day in 1902 that the first formal independence of the island was signed – to send a message to the diaspora, basically from Miami: “Cuban Americans, we are extremely proud of you, and I am happy that you are on my side,” he said as if that was verifiable and already launched towards the elections on November 3. Fernandez de Cossio responded two days later from Havana:

“It is difficult to think that the majority of Cubans support a campaign committed to hindering relations with their relatives, which makes us think that the political machine, especially the Republican Party in Florida, does not take too much into account concerning the criteria or the opinion of the Cubans, but uses them.”

The escalation of attacks on Cuba is not new in pre-election times in the United States as has been revealed several times in the past. On April 30 the most serious occurred; the shooting at the island’s embassy in Washington and although Havana does not directly attribute it to the Trump government, it is noted that it was at the least keeping “complicit” silence. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla commented:

“We hope that the United States government will at least try to match its anti-terrorist rhetoric and its policy of fighting international terrorism with its responsibilities in the face of this attack.”

That the State Department on May 13 included Cuba in the list of countries that did not cooperate in 2019 against what it calls terrorism – the list is completed with Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela – meaning that they are prohibited from buying or obtaining a license to procure weapons or military services produced by the United States. Due to the validity of the blockade, the island was already affected by the measure. However, since 2015 – when the period of détente began that was carried out by former presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro – Havana has not been included on that list that Trump once again made use of. The argument he used is that Cuba protects in its territory members of the Colombian ELN and fugitives from justice in the United States such as the militant of the Black Liberation Army, Joanne Chesimard, accused of killing a policeman in New Jersey in 1973.

Rodríguez Parrilla already responded in 2017 about what his country thinks of cases like Chesimard’s:

“In use of national law, international law and Latin American tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to civil rights fighters from the United States. Of course these people will not be returned.”

The list that the State Department renews every year does not take into account the attacks that have targeted Cuba for decades. There are more than five hundred incidences, most of them financed by the United States, and perpetrated by Cuban-Americans who reside or used to reside in the United States. “I am not counting here the state terrorism practiced by the U.S. government, specifically by the Central Intelligence Agency against the people of Cuba,” Fernandez de Cossio said at his press conference on Friday 22.

The escalation of denunciations from Washington would be nothing more than pure rhetoric if it did not add to the blockade and the consequences that the pandemic is causing on tourism in Cuba. The high official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a couple of examples about the economic siege imposed by the United States on Cuba. His country wanted to contract in 2019 several mechanical ventilators for intensive care patients. It could not. Today they would be indispensable to face the coronavirus. Nor did it manage to get medical supplies from China last March. The air cargo company refused to make the trip fearing a heavy economic fine from the United States within the framework of its extraterritorial law Helms-Burton.

In his greeting to the Cuban Americans Trump is trying to seduce them on the way to the elections – although they have a symbolic weight in the electoral roll, not everyone votes, and even less so when the election is held on a working day – President Trump highlighted why he reinforced the sanctions against the island as soon as he took office:

“I took steps at the beginning of my administration to implement a strong policy towards Cuba that promotes respect for human rights, free markets and a transition to democracy.”

The blockade costs Cuba 4 billion dollars a year due to the prohibitions to acquire any and all kinds of inputs in a market so close to its cost and coercive measures against its main industry: tourism. The Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, added the COVID-19 at the end of April:

“The pandemic will have negative effects on the Cuban economy, which will add to the damages of the blockade imposed by the United States, but we are working seriously and with dedication to alleviate them”.

Although he died in 1994, Lester D. Mallory was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in 1960, his prescription still applies sixty years later. In a secret State Department memo at the time, he wrote:

“All possible means must be employed quickly to weaken Cuba’s economic life. A course of action that, being as skillful and discreet as possible, would achieve the greatest progress in depriving Cuba of money and supplies, reducing its financial resources and real wages, causing hunger, despair and the overthrow of the government”.

The formula remains in force, as does Cuba’s sovereignty.


Source: Pagina 12, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau

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