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The US archaic and counterproductive embargo against Cuba


Trinidad and Tobago and the wider CARICOM body were clearly shocked by the imposition of the widely condemned Helms-Burton Act that forced CARICOM to relocate the Caricom – Cuba Summit from the Hilton Trinidad hotel to the National Academy for Performing Arts. The Helms-Burton Law prevents American companies from doing business with Cuba without special permission from the US States Department.{{more}} The excuse offered by the US was that the request for the use of the US Hilton World Wide hotel had not come on time. CARICOM must be congratulated for issuing a strong condemnation of what would certainly have been an embarrassment to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, a sovereign nation and not a US colony. CARICOM in its statement said that it was “affronted by the intrusion of the US against the sovereignty of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The so-called Helms-Burton Act, which was co-sponsored by North Carolina Senator Jessie Helms and Indiana Congressman Dan Burton, was introduced in 1996 following the shooting down of two planes that had violated Cuban airspace. A group of Cuban exiles going under the name “Brothers to the Rescue” had been flying planes over the Florida Straits to find refugees who had been lost at sea. Some of the flights were much more than that and were clearly political and meant to provoke the Cubans. A United Nations investigation later had found that the two planes had knowingly violated Cuban airspace. The Helms -Burton Act was a response to the shooting down of the two planes, but was really an extension of the Cuban embargo which had been imposed by the US since the 1960s.

The continuation of this embargo today has led to widespread condemnation from most members of the United Nations. Annually since 1992, the UN General Assembly had been debating the embargo and voting always overwhelmingly to condemn the United States and ask for the lifting of the embargo. The latest vote was 187- 3 with the US, Israel and Palau (have you ever heard the name?) voting against, and two abstentions from Micronesia and the Marshall islands. The Obama administration had made some very tentative moves to loosen travel and shipping restrictions. While these moves represent little movement in resolving the issue, one has to understand the position of Obama, president of a country that is trapped between its commitment to Israel, influenced by Jewish money and the Jewish lobby and the Miami exiles, with their political pull in that area, who wish to maintain and even tighten the embargo against Cuba. It is not a Republican thing because members of Obama’s own Democratic party stand fully in support of such moves.

Even those limited moves by Obama are under attack. There is currently in Congress a proposal to cut back on whatever small moves had been made to open up Cuban American travel and sending of remittances. The proposal by Mario Diaz Balart, a Republican from South Florida, aims to return to the level of restrictions that had been set by George Bush. It involves having one trip every three years for family reunification, with a tighter definition of what constitutes a family and a limit of US$1,200 per year for remittances. Although the Obama administration had pledged to veto the bill if it was passed, there are certain factors which might make it difficult for them to do so. The proposal is being tagged on to a year end Treasury Spending bill that the Obama administration might want passed even though not strongly in agreement with it.

The US is becoming a spent force. The Arab Spring might very well have reduced the power and position of the US in that part of the world. The US is bogged down in an economic morass and is likely to be overtaken soon by China as the World’s economic superpower. The US is having problems making the adjustment to the realities of a new world. Persons who follow American politics and have seen the rise of the tea party and heard the absurd references and positions of the slate of candidates that the Republican party has thrown up to contest the presidency of the country will realise that there can be no hope for the US if such persons succeed in reaching the highest political office in the land. Even if they do not, they will remain powerful enough to frustrate any efforts that might be made to carry the country in a different direction. I have always been of the view that the American electorate is among the most politically illiterate that can be found anywhere. Isn’t Joe the Plumber, the name that emerged during the last Presidential race, now seeking political office?

America has a serious problem and appears not to have the equipment to meet the challenges it is facing. The country is dropping steadily where international education standards are concerned. “In 2008, the US ranked twenty-first out of thirty OECD countries in scientific literacy…In Mathematics the US ranked twenty-fifth, with almost 30 percent unable to demonstrate the kind of skills needed to use mathematics in daily life.” (The End of Progress by Graeme Maxton) The Cuban embargo is counterproductive, has crippled the Cuban economy, and instead of hastening the end of the Castro regime as it aimed to do, is creating more harm and suffering on the Cuban people.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.