By Emile Schepers
WASHINGTON: With new sanctions just announced, the Trump administration’s effort to roll back the advances in U.S.–Cuba relations achieved toward the end of the Obama administration is going full blast. Will opponents of these policies in the United States be up to the challenge of countering this reactionary wave?
On the weekend of October 19-20, the National Network on Cuba (NNOC), a grouping of more than 50 U.S. organizations opposed to the U.S. blockade of Cuba, met here to analyze the current situation and plan strategy.
Many of the organizations, and the Cuban government, prefer to use the word “blockade” rather than “embargo” to refer to the U.S. economic pressures on Cuba, because “blockade” points to the fact that not only does the United States forbid its own citizens from engaging in commercial and financial dealings with the island nation, but it also tries to stop other countries from doing so as well.
The NNOC heard detailed reports on the impact of the blockade on the Cuban economy and the life of the Cuban people. Recent information clearly shows that the intensification of unilateral trade and financial sanctions by the Trump administration is making things harder both for the Cuban government and for ordinary Cubans. The Trump administration’s attempts at economic strangulation and regime change in Venezuela are also having an impact on Cuba, which has staunchly opposed Trump’s efforts to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and replace him with a U.S. puppet. The newest sanctions, imposed only days before the NNOC meeting, were justified by Trump on the basis of Cuba’s continued support for Venezuela.
One of the ways Cuba has supported the Venezuelan people has been to provide their country with thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses; the Trump administration makes the bizarre accusation that these are actually Cuban “soldiers.” Cuban health specialists, however, work openly not only in Venezuela but also in many poorer countries around the world and are widely credited with saving lives in areas which otherwise would have no access to trained medical care at all.
The decision by Trump not to waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act is particularly worrisome, and to date, 20 lawsuits have been filed in United States courts based on this stance. The suits target U.S. and international companies which have traded with Cuba on the grounds that they are profiting from the nationalization of former private properties of U.S. and Cuban citizens. There is also the issue of U.S. efforts to destroy Cuba’s capacity to work with the international banking and finance systems, with numerous banks and other financial entities cutting off their relationships with Cuba for fear of being punished by the United States.
Though it is still possible for U.S. citizens and residents to travel to Cuba, the limitations on such travel have been tightened under Trump. And it has been made much harder for Cuban citizens to visit the United States, leading many to not even try. This has hurt scientific, medical, and cultural cooperation between the two countries, to the detriment of the citizens of both. People in the United States, for example, cannot benefit from important Cuban advances in medical research.
But in the United States, opposition to Trump’s anti-Cuba policies is also growing. A clear majority of the people of the United States oppose the harsh policies which Trump is pursuing toward Cuba and agree with the modest steps toward normalization that began under the previous administration, in December 2014. Even among Republicans and Cuban Americans, hardline attitudes toward trade with, and travel to, Cuba are eroding.
The NNOC meeting heard a report about a national movement to get city councils, state legislatures, and other civic bodies to pass resolutions denouncing the blockade and the restrictions on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, and demanding that these things be ended. So far, two state legislatures, Alabama and California, have passed such resolutions, along with nearly a dozen city councils, including those of both Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Helena, Mont.; Sacramento and several Bay Area cities in California; and several New England cities. Efforts to get such resolutions passed are underway in New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., as well as the state of Michigan.
Most of these resolutions have passed unanimously. Naturally, the members of the Alabama state legislature, for example, did not vote for their resolution out of an ideological affinity for Cuban socialism, but because they find their inability to trade with an island of 11 million people, only 90 miles from the U.S. coast, is restricted by the continuation of the blockade. And if the Alabama state legislature can do this, there is no reason the same cannot be done by every state legislature and every city and town council in the country.
There was also discussion of legislation in Congress. In fact, there has never been a time in many years when some member of the House or Senate, or both, has not introduced a bill to end or cut back the Cuba blockade, or at least end the restrictions on travel to Cuba. This time the thinking is that twin bills aimed at ending the travel ban appear to have the most immediate traction. The Senate one, S. 2303, The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019, whose chief sponsor is Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would basically remove the vast majority of restrictions on the right of U.S. citizens and residents to visit the island. It currently has 47 co-sponsors, 41 Democrats and four Republicans. An identically named bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3960, with chief sponsor Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., is not as far along; it currently has 32 co-sponsors, including 27 Democrats and five Republicans.
To get such bills passed will require much more grassroots pressure; getting them signed will require a major change of alignments in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. It is also clear, however, that the U.S. ruling class is split on the issue of Cuba trade and that some powerful sectors are more interested in making money by trading with Cuba right now than in overthrowing the Cuban government at some time in the future.
A key date on everybody’s mind was November 7, when, once again, the United Nations General Assembly will take up Cuba’s motion denouncing the U.S. blockade. In recent years, the United States has found itself completely isolated, with only Israel joining the U.S. representative in voting “no” on the Cuban motions. This year, right-wing governments have come to power in several Latin American countries, and the Trump administration has made clear that countries which defy its wishes will also suffer from cuts in U.S. foreign aid and other punishments. There will be public actions in New York on that date in support of Cuba’s right to national sovereignty. (IPA Service)