Growing opposition to US blockade of Cuba

Wednesday, October 16, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Soon after Mikhail Gorbachev's September announcement that remaining Soviet military personnel in Cuba would be withdrawn and bilateral trade would be placed on a "mutually advantageous" (i.e. hard currency) basis, the Western press began churning out article after article claiming Cuba was now completely isolated internationally. These "reports" parrot the US government line that Cuba's severe economic problems are due to the "failure" of Cuba's socialist system.

These stories ignore the fact that Cuba has been subjected to a 30-year economic, commercial and trade blockade by the US that gave it no choice but to rely on trade with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Also ignored is the considerable support Cuba has received over recent months against this debilitating embargo.

In May, despite determined lobbying by US delegates, Cuba was re-elected to a second term on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Cuba was backed by 38 of the 54 members of the UN Economic and Social Council, which nominates the commission's members. Cuba has submitted a resolution asking the next session of the HRC to consider the US embargo's detrimental effect on the human rights of the Cuban people.

Between July 17 and 19 in Mexico, 23 heads of state or government from 19 Latin American countries plus Spain and Portugal held the first Ibero-American Summit. Most participants urged Washington to ease its pressure on Cuba. The summit was the first time in nearly 30 years that Cuba has participated in a meeting of Latin American heads of state. The meeting was organised outside the framework of the US-dominated Organisation of American States. The US was not even invited!

The overwhelming majority of parliamentarians attending the 13th General Assembly of the Latin American Parliament, held in Colombia, on August 2 passed a resolution expressing solidarity with Cuba and demanding that the US embargo be lifted. Of the 22 national delegations represented, a majority of delegates in all but two (Nicaragua and El Salvador) voted for the motion. Cuba was unanimously elected to preside over the Standing Commission on Health, Labour and Social Security.

The foreign ministers of the non-aligned countries, meeting in Ghana September 2-8, supported Cuba's demand for an end of aggressive actions against it by the US, an end to the economic blockade and the return of Cuban territory occupied by the US military at Guantánamo Bay. The meeting supported Cuba's placing of the US economic blockade on the agenda of the UN General Assembly.

Colombia and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations on September 4. Colombia severed links in 1979. According to the September 26 edition of the Latin American Weekly Report, Colombia has offered to supply Cuba with much-needed crude oil. Cuba's request that the UN General Assembly discuss "The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba" was approved on September 18. The US representatives said the item was "not useful, appropriate or pertinent" but did not object to its addition.

Venezuela has been campaigning vigorously for an end to US pressure against Cuba. President Carlos Andres Perez, during a meeting with George Bush on September 24, appealed for an end to US-Cuban confrontation. One day earlier, speaking at a forum on US-Venezuelan relations in Washington, Perez urged the US to lift its political and economic embargo against Cuba. That same week he told the UN General Assembly that Washington should open a dialogue with Havana.

The foreign ministers of Venezuela and Cuba, meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on September 26, called for the lifting of US sanctions against Cuba. Venezuela's Armando Duran told reporters that the end of the Cold War meant the embargo is no longer justified. Earlier in the month, Duran visited Havana and signed a range of agreements that will help counteract the US blockade.

Trinidad and Tobago's minister of external affairs, Sahadeo Basdeo, added his voice to those calling for and end of the economic embargo on September 25. He called for the opening of negotiations for its removal and said Trinidad and Tobago is working towards a common Caribbean consensus on the issue. "Trinidad and Tobago has consistently opposed the imposition of economic blockades, trade embargoes or other coercive measures by large and powerful states against developing countries", Basdeo added.

Moves by the US Congress to tighten the embargo by prohibiting subsidiaries of US companies in third countries trading with Cuba have been opposed by the British government. The British secretary of state for trade and industry, Peter Lilley, told the British Financial Times that it was up to the British government to determine its trade policy with Cuba.

Britain's ambassador to Cuba, Leycester Coltman, told the Cuban newspaper Granma, "We cannot accept any attempt to apply any law from a third country in our country ... If the US Congress approves this amendment, we would have to take the necessary steps ... to guarantee that British businesses have the freedom to conduct trade relations with Cuba without barriers."

The new foreign minister of the Soviet Union, Boris Pankin, in a US television interview on September 30, called on the US to end its trade embargo against Cuba. He said the withdrawal of several thousand Soviet troops from Cuba cast doubt on the "usefulness" of the blockade. He added that Washington should also leave Guantánamo.

Pankin said Moscow will begin formal negotiations with Havana in October regarding the Soviet withdrawal and urged Washington "to promote the establishment of a climate of trust and confidence in this region around Cuba."

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