Source: The Jamaica Observer
October 30 2016
by Trevor Brown
Wide view of the recent General Assembly to consider the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the USA against Cuba. (Photo: UN)
With the attention of the world being focused on the campaigns of both the Democratic and Republican candidates and parties in matters related to the upcoming November 8, 2016 presidential election in the US, everything else seem to have taken a back seat for now.
What, however, those of us who consider ourselves part of progressive humanity will not let go unnoticed is the fact that the United Nations General Assembly will vote at its headquarters on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 on a resolution sponsored by Cuba titled, ‘The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba’. Last year, 191 countries of the 193 member states of the UN, which represented the overwhelming majority of people living on planet Earth, voted for the 24th consecutive year for the lifting of the criminal economic blockade against the republic of Cuba, while 2 voted against it — namely Israel and the USA. This year the two countries abstained.
According to Item C of Article 11 of the Geneva Convention on the Prevention of and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of December 1948, the blockade (embargo) against Cuba is considered an act of genocide and a crime under international law. Yet the political leadership of the USA has seen it fit to thumb its nose at an institution (UN) which, when it suits its purpose, invokes this august institution’s authority to bring errant countries in line.
The prospects of dismantling this 54-year-old anachronism in State-to-State relations was brought to centre stage on December 17, 2014 when — as part of behind-the-scenes discussions involving Pope Francis and a prisoner swap which included the release of the remaining three Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, internationally revered as the Cuban Five for USAID contractor Allan Goss — both US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that they would re-establish diplomatic relations as a prelude to begin the process of normalisation of relations between both countries.
This was further enhanced by the reopening of embassies in the capitals of the respective countries — Washington in July 2015 and Havana less than a month later — with the icing on the cake being President Obama’s historic visit to Havana in March of 2016, the first for a sitting US president in nearly a century, and equally important the first since the triumphant revolution in 1959 led by Fidel Castro, which deposed US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The Cuban authorities placed their priorities squarely on the table for the normalisation of relations with the US, which at the top of the list included the lifting of the then 52-year-old criminal blockade and the return of the Guantanamo territory occupied by the US against the wishes of the the Cuban people. The USA, for its part, trotted out its usual concerns regarding human rights and the opening up of the system in Cuba to include the holding of multi-party elections as part of its concerns.
To be fair, some steps have been taken to modify aspects of the blockade, but the existing restrictions impede progress in the normalisation of relations of which a case in point was President Obama, on September 14, 2016 (about six weeks ago), re-authorising the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, which was the cornerstone of the blockade when it was established in 1962.
But what has actually changed since December 17, 2014, when the world collectively warmed to the occasion of a ‘new dawn’ between neighbours separated by a mere 90 miles of sea from the province of Havana to the state of Florida?
* Joint telecommunications agreement with Cuban and US companies
* More US airline charters flying to Cuba
* Lifting of restrictions on the quantities of rum and cigars that a US citizen can take back from Cuba for personal use
* Lifting of restrictions on foreign ships that docked in Cuba being quarantined for 180 days before they can dock in a US port
* Lifting restrictions on the sale, distribution and promotion of pharmaceuticals from Cuba in the USA pending FDA approval
* Modification in categories of US citizens who can legally travel to Cuba. This restriction still bars the ordinary US citizen from travelling to Cuba as a tourist
In spite of these developments, the economic, financial and commercial blockade of Cuba remains in full force as is evidenced by the Gestapo-like actions of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which has more resources dedicated to it in dealing with Cuba than that which is assigned to al-Qaeda terrorists. Their actions, it should be pointed out, are about enforcing aspects of the Helms-Burton law, which punishes third-party countries from doing business with Cuba if they have even the most minute relationship with the USA.
An example of some of their actions since the joint announcement of Presidents Obama and Castro on December 17, 2014 can be gleaned from the following:
* February 11, 2015: A Mexican branch of Santander Bank refused to handle a small transaction of 68,290 euros for the Central Bank of Cuba; not to acquire any product, raw material, or do business, but to pay the country’s membership dues to the Center for Latin American Monetary Research.
* March 12, 2015: German financial institution Commerzbank was fined some US$1.7 million by OFAC for maintaining economic relations with Cuba, among other alleged violations.
* March 25, 2015: OFAC levied a fine of US$7,658,300 on US company PayPal for processing transactions which allegedly involved products of Cuban origin or were of Cuban interest.
* In November 2015, four months after the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, OFAC imposed a fine of US$1,116,893,585 on the French bank Credit Agricole for processing 173 electronic transfers linked to properties of interest to the Cuban Government or Cuban citizens to or through financial institutions located in the United States.
* January 20, 2016: The US design company WATG Holdings Inc was fined US$140,400 for violating blockade regulations, because in October of 2009 and May of 2010 its subsidiary in the United Kingdom, Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo, had worked with a Qatari design and architecture firm on a hotel in Cuba for which it received three payments for a total of US$356,714.
* In February 2016, French company CGG Services SA was fined US$614,250 by OFAC for providing services, replacement parts and equipment of US origin for gas and oil exploration to ships operating in Cuban territorial waters during 2010 and 2011. OFAC additionally reported that the Venezuelan branch of CGG Services made five transactions related to the processing of information from seismic studies carried out by a Cuban entity within the country’s exclusive economic zone, noting that this was prejudicial to the sanctions’ objectives, providing a substantial economic benefit to Cuba.
* At the end of February, the Treasury Department fined US company Halliburton US$304,706 for violating blockade regulations. According to an OFAC report, between February and April of 2011 the company and its subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands exported goods and services worth US$1.18 million to support oil and gas exploration and drilling in the southern block of Costa Adentro in the Angolan province of Cabinda. According to OFAC, the Cuban company Cupet had interests in the consortium undertaking the work in Angolan territory.
Financial measures against Cuba since the beginning of 2015 through February 2016 were a continuation of those implemented by Obama from the beginning of his Administration, reaffirming the maintenance of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade, despite the new context of bilateral relations following the announcements of December 17, 2014, and the subsequent opening of embassies.
Why, therefore, is this absurd policy that is morally unsustainable, and as President Barack Obama acknowledged “has not served the purpose of breaking down the decision of the Cuban people to choose their political system and control their future”?
Our experience of Cuba is that it is a beacon of hope for what a ‘brotherhood of man’ should be. It is a country that, whether it’s a natural crisis in distant Pakistan or neighbouring Haiti, the effort to turn the tide against the racist South African apartheid regime and for the liberation and independence of the frontline states, or equally when the Ebola disease threatened to overrun wide swathes of the African population, can be counted on. Our sister country placed the lives of its medical personnel on the line in the defence of humanity. The tens of thousands of people across the world who have had their sight restored through Cuba’s Miracle Eye Programme, not to mention the transformation in the lives of thousands of students across the world ( including us in Jamaica) into professionals who are now serving their countries in careers that they could only dream about, and the list goes on.
Our sister country, Cuba, in the words of former president of the United Nations General Assembly Miguel D’Escoto, who summed up very eloquently the words of the rest of humanity during his tenure in 2008: “The United States Government simply cannot tolerate the existence of a place like Cuba which rises up like a heroine of solidarity and a champion of the values that the world needs for the survival of the human species.”