Ahead of United States President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba on March 20 — making him the first sitting US head of state to visit the island in 88 years — Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez called for an end to the 55-year-long US blockade.
Despite important breakthroughs in relations between the two nations, and some easing of US embargo restrictions, the blockade remains a major stumbling block. Ever since the 1959 Cuban Revolution that overthrew a US-backed dictatorship and began a socialist revolution, the blockade has been a cornerstone of US attempts to overthrow Cuba's government and political system.
Welcoming Obama's visit, TeleSUR English reported that Rodriguez nonetheless emphasised that Cuba's political system “is and will continue to be the exclusive sovereignty of our people. No one should try to make us denounce any of our principles or our international political commitment to just causes.”
Rodriguez also said Cuba strongly rejects Obama's executive order that declares Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
He said that Cuba would use Obama's visit to demand the US president “immediately” reverse the decision against the people of Venezuela.
The US blockade is widely opposed around the world. It has been repeatedly condemned in yearly votes by the UN General Assembly by almost total majorities.
An open letter by dozens of US groups and individuals was also released ahead of Obama's visit calling for an end to the blockade. A full list of signatories to the letter, published below, can be read at warisacrime.org.
Open Letter to President Obama to Take Concrete Action on Ending the US Blockade on Cuba and Return Guantanamo to Cuba
We welcome President Obama's decision to travel to Cuba for talks with the Cuban government.
We the undersigned organisations and individuals call on President Obama to take concrete actions on two outstanding issues to restore normal diplomatic relations between the two countries:
1. End the 54-year-old embargo/blockade of Cuba,
2. Return the US occupied territory of Guantanamo to Cuba.
Cuba lost out on at least US$117 billion between 1960 and 2014 due to the US economic blockade on the country, according to the United Nations' Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The embargo/blockade not only hurts Cuba, but also the US. The US Chamber of Commerce, which advocates lifting the embargo, states the cost to the US economy of the 54 year sanctions range from $1.2 to $3.6 billion per year.
On the US embargo/blockade of Cuba, President Obama can exercise his authority in the following areas:
1. authorise the use of the dollar in international transactions;
2. permit Cuba to import from third countries products with more than 10% US components;
3. allow Cuban entities to open correspondent accounts in US banks;
4. end the policy of financial persecution against Cuba;
5. not impede the granting of credits or other financial facilities;
6. allow imports of Cuba's exportable products or services;
7. authorise Cuban planes and boats to carry passengers, cargo and mail between the two countries;
8. authorise direct exports of US products to Cuba;
9. authorise companies to invest in Cuba (international firms have submitted more than 400 proposals for investment in the Mariel Economic Zone);
10. remove the limit on Cuban products that can be imported by US visitors to Cuba;
11. authorise US citizens to receive medical treatment in Cuba;
12. allow the distribution of credits, loans and financing for the acquisition of products in the US market.
The US Base at Guantanamo is 113 years old as of February 23. It was the first US base in our hemisphere and is the oldest US overseas base in the world. It is the only one whose host country lacks contractual authority to unilaterally revoke it.
We call on President Obama to implement these actions to alleviate the US blockade on Cuba and to set a timetable for returning US-occupied Guantanamo to the Cuban nation.