US tightening Cuba blockade

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Cuban Consul-General Nelida Hernandez told supporters on October 24 that Cuba will again ask the United Nations General Assembly on November 8 to support a motion to lift the 45-year-long economic embargo imposed by the US government on Cuba.

For the last 14 years the General Assembly has passed resolutions, moved by Cuba demanding an end to the blockade but the US has ignored them. Last year's resolution was approved by 182 of 191 countries.

Hernandez explained how 70% of Cubans have been born during the blockade and how the 2004 "Bush Plan", which tightened the blockade, has made everything worse. Cuba has been prohibited from exporting to and importing from the US, except for some agricultural imports. As well, no third country can sell products or equipment to Cuba if they contain more than 10% of US-made components, nor can they sell any product or equipment to the US if it contains Cuban raw materials.

In 2005, the US Office for Foreign Assets Control penalised 487 US citizens a total of US$530,000 for breaching the travel ban to Cuba. Cuba could be receiving 5 million US tourists per year, and annual revenue of around $7 billion, according to recent US studies.

The Bush Plan attempts to stop businesspeople who invest in Cuba's oil, tourism, nickel, rum and tobacco sectors from entering the US, and restricts visits by Cuban-Americans to Cuba. Some 115,000 family members visited Cuba in 2003, but only 62,000 made it through in 2005. In addition, there have been increasing restrictions on remittances and packages sent.

Hernandez said that in 2004 more than 800 people were fined for traveling to Cuba illegally and 85 companies were penalised. A US "Cuban Assets Identification Group" has been set up to investigate how hard currency comes in and out of Cuba.

On July 10, Washington intensified its blockade policy with new sanctions against those involved in the transfer of remittances through third-country institutions. This includes the sale of medical equipment to foreign health-care programs, curtailing Cuba's widely acclaimed Operation Miracle health-care program, which operates in some 70 countries.

Washington has also tightened regulations on humanitarian items for Cuba, including donations from organisations such as the US Church Council.

Hernandez pointed out that Cuba received support from the 118 member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement in its efforts to have the blockade lifted. The NAM has also called on the US to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba and "put an end to the aggressive radio and TV broadcasts against Cuba".

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