February 10 2016
The same powers used by John F. Kennedy to establish the blockade can be used today to dismantle it
President Obama can use his executive powers to substantively modify the blockade.
Fifty-four years ago, February 3, 1962, the signature of President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office was enough to order the complete blockade of Cuba, which went into effect four days later.
Executive Order 3447 was based on foreign aid laws and the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, and cut all ties with Cuba, where an unstoppable revolutionary process was underway – one which had already defeated the mercenary troops dispatched by Washington at Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs.
Kennedy authorized the Treasury Secretary to adopt measures and draft regulations to implement a ban on all imports from Cuba, and likewise ordered the Commerce Secretary to continue and intensify efforts to restrict U.S. exports to the island, including food and medicine.
Washington’s aggression toward the Revolution
Washington’s aggression toward the Revolution had begun much earlier, practically since its very beginning January 1, 1959. The country’s sugar quota was eliminated and diplomatic relations broken in 1961, with legal manoeuvring giving way to military operations, like the Bay of Pigs, and undercover efforts to undermine the government, like the so-called Operation Mongoose.
A few days before Kennedy’s executive order, meeting in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este was the Organization of American States’ Foreign Ministers Council, where the U.S. exerted pressure for the approval of a resolution to exclude Cuba from the established inter-American system.
Attempting to isolate Cuba
The U.S. made clear its strategy of attempting to isolate Cuba in the international arena, while at the same time making every effort to cause hunger and desperation internally.
Half a century later, the President himself admitted that this plan had failed.
Moreover, regional forces are now aligned in a very different way. An end to the blockade of Cuba is a unanimous demand across the region, reiterated at the most recent Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit, held in Quito.
At the same time, the entire world, especially the countries and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, celebrated, as a victory of their own, the announcements made December 17, 2014, when Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro revealed their intention to reestablish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization.
Condemned by 191 countries in the United Nations
After the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, global attention has shifted to ending the economic, financial and commercial blockade which was condemned by 191 countries in the United Nations, and supported by only two, the United States and Israel.
Although much of the legal and pseudo-legal fabric which constitutes the blockade’s framework has been codified into law over the decades, in particular with approval of the Helms-Burton law, the U.S. President still maintains broad executive powers to modify its implementation.
Just as President George W. Bush utilized his prerogatives to increase economic aggression toward Cuba during his administration, Obama has been doing the opposite, since December 17, 2014.
Following the blockade modifications announced earlier, a new series of measures was made public January 27, mainly regarding the granting of credit to Cuba for specific purchases of authorized non-agricultural U.S. made products, as well as permission for U.S. companies to establish certain commercial relations with Cuban state enterprises. (A 2000 law remains in effect requiring Cuba to purchase agricultural products with cash and in advance.)
Obama has the power to go further in dismantling the blockade
These latest changes were made by the Departments of Treasury and Commerce, which are part of the executive branch and therefore under the authority of the President, thus confirming the reality that Obama has the power to go further in dismantling the blockade.
Left intact were prohibitions on Cuba’s use of the U.S. dollar in international transactions; on exports to the United States of products made by Cuban state enterprises; and on investments by U.S. companies in other sectors beyond telecommunications (which have been approved). These elements represent the basic core of the blockade and remain in full force.
The President’s authority is limited by law in just four areas. He cannot allow travel by U.S. citizens for the purpose of tourism; permit subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries to do business with Cuba; lift the prohibition on commercial relations with former U.S. properties which were nationalized; or end the requirement that agricultural products be purchased in cash, in advance.
Beyond these issues, he has a broad field of action.
If Kennedy used his executive prerogatives in 1962 to close a door which would stay locked for more than 50 years, the current President has the key to reverse the situation, and consolidate a new chapter in his country’s relations with Cuba, making it part of the legacy he leaves of his years in the White House.