The US Congress tightened the economic stranglehold on Cuba on September 24 when it approved legislation designed to close loopholes in the 30-year blockade. Presented by Democrat Robert Torricelli and dubbed the "Democracy for Cuba Act", the bill now requires only the approval of President George Bush to go into effect.
The bill would prevent US subsidiaries abroad trading with Cuba, turn ships away from US ports if they had docked on the island, and penalise foreign countries that give Cuba preferential trade terms. Currently, US subsidiaries in 25 countries actively trade with Cuba, including (between 1985 and 1991) General Electric, Ford, IBM, Otis Elevators and Continental Grain.
Last year, trade by overseas subsidiaries of US companies with Cuba totalled $700 million, according to a study published in April by the Cuban Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
The legislation was supported by the influential Miami-based Cuban-American foundation, while the Cuban-American committee, another exile group, opposed it. A representative of the New York-based Cuba Information Project said Torricelli's largest financial backers are the "Free Cuba" Political Action Committee, which is tied directly to the Cuban American National Foundation, the right-wing millionaire Cuban Club that actually wrote the legislation.
Democratic Party presidential candidate Bill Clinton supported the bill, which got bipartisan backing. The Democrat-dominated House of Representatives voted 276 to 135 for the bill. House Democrats were split down the middle (139 for to 110 against), while the Republicans voted for it 137 to 24. Observers say anticommunism in an election year once more shook the votes out of the trees.
Cuban authorities have taken every opportunity to denounce the new restrictions. In a September 24 speech to the United Nations, Cuban foreign minister Ricardo Alarcón warned that the new measures come at a very difficult time given the loss of trade due to the collapse of the socialist camp. "In fact", Alarcón said, "we are suffering from a double blockade".
Addressing the Mexican Senate, Cuban youth leader Roberto Robaina said the Torricelli bill affected the rights of other nations to decide their own trade policies. Mexico is one of a host of Latin American nations that have significant trade relations with Cuba. Robaina also explained the constitutional changes recently adopted in Cuba that will bring about direct parliamentary elections in 1993.
In a statement that comes on the heels of rumours circulating in Mexico City and Washington that Mexico's traditional good relations with Cuba were about to suffer a change for the worse, the Mexican Foreign Ministry publicly indicated relations with Cuba would continue on course. An editorial in the September 29 Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, said "steps of this kind will not move us even a millimeter from our revolutionary position". It said with this sort of legislation Washington acted like a sort of planetary government with extraterritorial and supranational prerogatives.
Canada, Britain and the European Community head the list of US allies who have baulked at the proposed bill. Protests from European and other countries about the violation of their sovereignty led President Bush to veto similar legislation in the form of the Mack Amendment two years ago. But this time he has pledged to sign the bill.
Canada announced it would invoke its own laws to counter what it considers Washington's attempts to step into Canadian jurisdiction, and described as "unacceptable" any legislation attempting to stop Canadian subsidiaries of US companies from trading with Cuba.
A spokesperson for the British Department of Trade and Industry declared, "US subsidiaries in Britain are British companies". France's ambassador to Cuba stated that Germany, Britain and France were "quite united in not accepting any part of the Torricelli legislation — or of the blockade in general — that does not adhere to international law".
A wide range of progressive organisations in the US and elsewhere are organising to protest against the bill. A September 29 rally was scheduled to converge on the Bush campaign headquarters followed by a march to the Clinton headquarters. Demonstrations were also scheduled for San Francisco, Detroit, Washington, New York and other cities.
Churches throughout the Americas have shown their opposition, including the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the US and the United Church of Christ in the US and Canada, Paraguayan Bishop Mario Melanio Medina, and the Disciples of Christ Division of Overseas Ministries.
Members of Congress have indicated the fight against the legislation, now attached to the Defense Authorization Bill, isn't over and it could still be removed or amended.
[Compiled from Inter Press Service, Venceremos and Radio Havana Cuba reports.]