United States President Joe Biden has not only kept all of former president Donald Trump’s sanctions designed to severely harm the Cuban people, he has added two more.
His response to the July 11 protests in Cuba was to call for the overthrow of the socialist Cuban Revolution.
The protests against the Cuban government were wildly misrepresented in the US media, leading one to think they were tens of thousands strong. More sober, on-the-spot estimates put the figure at hundreds, except in Havana where 2000–3000 people protested.
According to reports from reliable sources, they were composed of three main elements: counter-revolutionaries calling for the overthrow of the Revolution; small groups of intellectuals protesting restrictions on artistic freedom; and working class people demanding that the government improve their living conditions.
The big majority of protesters were in the third category, and were not linked to the counter-revolutionary organisations (financed by the US), nor were they led by them.
The protests brought to light the severe economic hardships the Cuban people are suffering, including shortages of food and medicines, in the context of an economic crisis exacerbated by the worldwide downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The working-class protesters were driven by the deterioration in their living conditions. They were mistaken in thinking that the culprit was the government, whatever its shortcomings.
Most of the socialist and broad left in the US, including Black Lives Matter, has put its finger on the real culprit: the US economic blockade of Cuba. The sanctions imposed on the Cuban economy — especially the new ones imposed by Trump that Biden supports — are designed to starve the Cuban people into submission.
The 60-year-old blockade of Cuba was first put in place right after the Cuban Revolution began to carry out its promise of land reform, which confiscated the large landholdings of US firms like the United Fruit Company.
US imperialism had made the production of sugar the main pillar of the island’s economy, and that was controlled mostly by United Fruit.
The blockade was intensified, as the revolution soon deepened into a socialist revolution that confiscated all the companies owned by US and Cuban capitalists.
Without going into the whole history of the US blockade and resistance to it — including after the overthrow of the Soviet Union — there was an opening towards Cuba under then-president Barack Obama’s administration.
Obama initiated a shift away from sanctions and towards a normalisation of relations in 2014. These included the repeal of the designation of Cuba as a terrorist state, and restoration of diplomatic relations.
Then came an easing of restrictions on travel, trade, telecommunications, banking and financial services, especially remittances (money transfers) from Cuban-Americans to their relatives on the island.
The restoration of diplomatic relations led to more government to government engagement, with over 20 agreements and numerous dialogues between the two countries.
Trump jettisoned Obama’s opening in his first year in office, and imposed new sanctions on the Cuban economy that were tightened each year. Sanctions were imposed on shipping companies that transported oil from Venezuela to Cuba and on the Cuban oil import-export company in 2019 — a big setback.
In the same year, the US placed a cap of US$1000 per quarter on remittances. Eventually, the threat of sanctions forced Western Union to stop processing them.
Trump eliminated people-to-people educational travel, and prohibited cruise ships, private aircraft, sailing and fishing boats from visiting Cuba.
Commercial flights were suspended to cities other than Havana. US travelers to Cuba were barred from staying at 400 hotels popular with visitors, or in the private residences of Cuban officials.
This is just a partial list.
Trump’s actions effectively crippled tourism, a major source of Cuba’s income, then made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before Biden look office in January, Trump placed an additional 243 sanctions on Cuba — the full extent of which is unknown.
Cuba was put back on the list of terrorist states, and on the US’ most restrictive export-licensing list, which meant other countries were threatened with sanctions. All this had its desired effect of blocking most trade with Cuba.
These new restrictions have been so severe that medical supplies and food are now scarce. Cuba had been an international leader on dealing with COVID-19, even developing its own vaccines. But now its vaccination program has been stalled by lack of medical supplies, including syringes.
Washington is not just attempting to starve Cubans into submission but also to make them sick.
Biden had promised during his presidential campaign to lift Trump’s sanctions, but he hasn’t reversed Trump’s January 11 actions, instead adding to them.
Biden’s budget proposals now before Congress include $20 million in funding for counter revolutionary groups in Cuba and other efforts to destabilise the Cuban government. Another $13 million is authorised for broadcasting US propaganda into Cuba to shift the blame for Cuba’s economic crisis away from the blockade and sanctions.
Elementary humanity — let alone opposition to US imperialism — demands that the US blockade and sanctions be lifted now.
Let the Cuban people live!