Cuba is in crisis. The intensification of the United States economic, financial and commercial blockade and the downturn in tourism as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused big shortages of food, medicine, fuel and electricity.
The shortages started at the beginning of the pandemic but have increased almost exponentially ever since, largely because of the 243 additional sanctions imposed by former US president Donald Trump.
Those sanctions have for the most part been maintained by President Joe Biden, who has also imposed additional sanctions on the country.
The extra-territorial effect of the blockade, together with the Trump-era redesignation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, is leading almost all the world’s banks and financial institutions to cease facilitating or engaging in banking and financial transactions and dealings with the country for fear of US reprisals.
The Torricelli Act gives power to the US President to apply economic sanctions against countries having trade relations with Cuba, and the Helms-Burton Act punishes foreign companies having dealings simultaneously in the US and Cuba.
The US legislation is a full-frontal and unconstitutional attack on the sovereignty of other nations, but sadly it is having the desired effect of blocking Cuba from the world’s trade, business and financial dealings.
The only positive things as respects Cuba that Biden has done since becoming US president was his announcement in May that the US would resume charter flights to the Cuban provinces, lift the suspension of the US$1000 limit per trimester on remittances, resume the family reunification program and increase consular services and visas in the capital, Havana.
Biden also permitted US financing and investment directly in private small businesses on the island. Some 15‒20% of Cubans now work in small and medium-sized private businesses.
Nevertheless, the main thrust of US policy toward Cuba hasn’t changed since April 6, 1960, when the then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Lester DeWitt Mallory, wrote: “The majority of Cubans support [Fidel] Castro … [T]he only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [to the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship...
“[A]ll possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba … denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
That, for all intents and purposes, continues to be the demonstrably cruel policy and modus operandi of successive US governments. It’s simple: deny money and supplies; decrease monetary and real wages; bring about hunger and desperation; and encourage the overthrow of the government.
Opponents of the Cuban Revolution often say, quite misleadingly, that food and medicine are exempt from the US embargo. The true position is much more complex. All agricultural and medical trade between the US and Cuba requires a special licence from the US Treasury Department. It is not easy to obtain a licence and there are conditions, the main one being that Cuba must pay cash upfront for any purchases.
Sanctions imposed by the US on Venezuela in the past couple of years are impacting greatly on Cuba, mainly as respects the supply of fuel. Since 2020, the US Treasury has been sanctioning individuals and shipping and other companies for transporting Venezuelan oil in violation of US sanctions.
In recent years, tourism has been Cuba's main source of income, but the COVID-19 pandemic ripped the bottom out of its tourism business.
The main problem at present is the shortage of fuel and electricity. This is directly affecting the efficient and effective operations of the country’s otherwise commendable National Electric Power Grid. Power plants are consuming most of the small amount of fuel Cuba is able to procure.
All this is due to the combined negative effects of the pandemic and the blockade on the economies of both Cuba and Venezuela.
To save energy, there are programmed blackouts throughout the country. Havana, although largely unaffected, is engaging in “solidarity blackouts” as a gesture of solidarity with other provinces.
The government has also been forced to reduce to a minimum the number of workers in the workplace and cancel some summer recreational activities.
That being said, Cuba's problems are invariably exaggerated by Western media, which likes to say that the only blockade in Cuba is “internal” — a rallying cry continuously chanted by right-wing Cuban-Americans on social media.
The programmed blackouts, shortages of food, medicine and fuel have led to some protests throughout the country. The power cuts have been the main trigger for these demonstrations, which are smaller than the US-orchestrated protests that took place in July last year.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel told the previous session of the National Assembly of the People's Power: “There are some people who, to express their discomfort and misunderstanding, hit pots and pans, shout expressions against the leaders, some take advantage of the occasion to say some slogan against the revolution … Those who act in this way … are doing what the counterrevolution wants and what those who have us blockaded want.”
Cuba has been through crises before, in particular, the “special period” of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The silver lining is that Cuba’s economy is slowly recovering due to reopening to tourism. In the first trimester of the current financial year the gross domestic product was 10.9% higher than last year’s.
“We must get used to the idea that the blockade will last,” said Díaz-Canel in his speech to the National Assembly.
“Imperialism is not going to give up that ruthless weapon against Cuba easily. The solution to our economic problems will have to be found with our own effort and creativity, under the effects of the blockade and in spite of them. That is the immediate and long-term challenge. The duty is to denounce and fight the economic war in every corner and at every opportunity.”
Cuba survived the special period. It will survive the current crisis despite the ongoing counter-revolution orchestrated by Washington.