News Analysis

Cuba Sets Example in Confronting Pandemic (I)

U.S. Sanctions Amid Covid Crisis Show ‘Ruthless Nature of Imperialism’


By Francisco Picado and Argiris Malapanis

July 1, 2021—Cuba has set an unparalleled example of how humanity can fight a pandemic, while the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the degree to which capitalism is incapable of protecting the vast majority from a devastating epidemic.

In glaring contrast to one blunder after another in most capitalist countries, Cuba’s socialist government has led a campaign to rally the abilities, creativity, and the mobilized power of the Caribbean nation’s people. This extraordinary effort is aimed at saving as many lives as possible in Cuba and helping developing countries confront a pandemic that has already claimed nearly 4 million lives worldwide and has disrupted production and trade around the globe. Cuba is showing the world once again what workers and farmers can do when we are in power.

Nurse administers Cuban vaccine Abdala to resident of Santiago de Cuba in May. Cuba has developed its own vaccines, which it is making available, patent-free, to developing countries. (Photo: Eduardo Palomares Calderón / Granma)

The outstanding effort by this small island nation—deploying all available resources to limit the damage to public health while selflessly offering internationalist aid, including the successful rollout of several domestically produced vaccines—is a major achievement on its own merits. But it has added significance because it is taking place under Washington’s 60-year-long and recently intensified economic war.

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden has not altered an iota of the harsh economic sanctions and draconian travel restrictions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump. While campaigning for the White House in 2020, Biden said pretentiously these sanctions “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people.” Yet the Democratic U.S. president has refused to modify even mildly this perverse chokehold on Cuba’s neck, despite worldwide condemnation and demands for lifting Washington’s inhuman embargo.

Due in large part to the asphyxiating impact of these new sanctions the Trump administration imposed starting in 2017, added to the decades-long U.S. blockade, Havana was forced to reopen its borders to tourism earlier than planned this year. It did so to get some breathing room to revive its ailing economy, as food and other shortages have mounted in the country primarily because of the U.S. embargo but also due to the pandemic-induced disruptions. Owing, in part, to this premature reopening of tourism—the country’s main source of hard currency—Cuba has recently experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases as it launches its herculean effort to inoculate its entire population against the deadly virus.

‘Ruthless nature of imperialism’

“The anti-Cuba policy unleashed by the previous U.S. government was reinforced precisely under the harsh conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Raúl Castro, the country’s former President, said on April 16 in his report to the eighth congress of Cuba’s Communist Party. He was referring to the avalanche of the most recent sanctions imposed by Washington between 2017 and 2020. “The ruthless nature of imperialism was clearly revealed,” Castro pointed out.

“Sometimes objective data describing the damage the United States has caused the Cuban economy and the real impact of the more than 240 coercive measures adopted since 2017 are not sufficiently understood, or not carefully assessed,” Castro said. “It should be understood that these are not simple actions tightening the blockade, but new methods, some unprecedented, taking the magnitude of the economic war to a qualitatively more aggressive level, which is reflected in the material shortages that accompany the daily life of every Cuban.”

Castro, who stepped down from his post as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party at this congress, elaborated further. “Among the first actions to reinforce the economic siege of Cuba was the November 2017 designation of a group of Cuban enterprises that would be subjected to additional restrictions, beyond those of the blockade already in place,” he said. “That list, which was updated several times, today includes 231 entities, many with responsibility for the country’s retail network, the system that meets the most important needs of the economy and the population, all the country’s hotel facilities, and several institutions in the financial sector.”

Former Cuban president Raúl Castro addresses eighth congress of Cuban Communist Party on April 16, 2021. An avalanche of recent U.S. sanctions against Cuba, on top of 60-year-old economic embargo, has revealed “the ruthless nature of imperialism,” Castro said. (Photo: Cuban daily Granma)

To punish Cuba and its people, as well as Cubans living abroad, “the United States first limited and then eliminated practically all means of sending remittances to Cuba,” Castro explained.

“An escalating series of measures were implemented to restrict travel to Cuba, both by air and sea, delivering a brutal blow to a considerable portion of the non-state sector of the economy dedicated to providing services,” he added.

“One of the most significant actions, given its level of cruelty, its inadmissibility according to international law, and the impunity with which the United States has behaved, is the effort, since April of 2019, to deprive Cuba of a fuel supply,” Castro emphasized. “To achieve this, measures typical of non-conventional warfare have been adopted, to prevent these supplies from reaching our national territory.”

In addition to these cruel and unusual measures, Castro noted, “in April 2019, attempting to intimidate foreign investors, companies and business people interested in an economic or commercial relationship with Cuba, the United States decided, for the first time, to activate Title III of the infamous Helms-Burton Act, allowing lawsuits to be filed in U.S. courts by alleged claimants of properties that were justly and legitimately nationalized in the early years of the Revolution.”

The U.S. Congress adopted the Helms-Burton Act, named after its original sponsors, in 1996. Then U.S. president Bill Clinton signed it into law on March 12 of that year. The legislation represented a substantial escalation of Washington’s economic war against the Cuban people.

Raúl Castro alluded to the fact that Biden, Trump’s successor, has yet to take any steps to lift or ease any of the new penalties the previous occupant of the Oval Office imposed.

Castro also underlined that even an earlier, more relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba under the Obama administration, when Biden was Vice President, did not touch the edifice on which the Trump sanctions stood. This foundation is based on Washington’s overt hostility toward the Cuban Revolution since 1958. The U.S. animosity is a result of the continued inspiration millions of oppressed and exploited around the world draw from a revolution that put in power a government of workers and farmers, instead of capitalists. A government that has mobilized the Cuban people to implement social equality at home and selfless internationalism abroad.

“When, in December 2014, we decided jointly with the government of the United States, then headed by President Barack Obama, to move toward a better understanding between our respective countries, I expressed before the National Assembly of People’s Power: ‘…an important step has been taken, but the essential remains to be resolved, which is the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, tightened in recent years, particularly in the area of financial transactions, with the levying of enormous, illegitimate fines on banks in several countries’,” Castro said.

“We have no illusions that this is something easy or simple; on the contrary, it will require sensible and respectful political will on the part of whoever governs in the United States,” the Cuban leader noted. “Cuba has maintained and continues to maintain that we do not identify the U.S. people as an enemy, that political and ideological differences are no impediment to a respectful, civilized relationship with our neighbor,” he pointed out.

“We will never forget the content of Article 16, paragraph a) of the Constitution, which reaffirms that our economic, diplomatic, and political relations with any other state are not negotiated under the threat of aggression or coercion,” Castro said, highlighting Cuba’s will to resist in face of tremendous odds.

Severe economic crisis

“Cuba’s economy shrunk 11% last year,” said a May 1 Reuters dispatch from Havana, “under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, [and the] harsh U.S. sanctions.”

Cubans line up to buy food in Havana, March 3, 2021. Washington’s economic war, along with the pandemic, have caused acute shortages of food and other basic necessities. Writing on the wall reads, “With the Cuban Communist Party, Fidel & Raúl, always,” on left, and “The Revolution Is the People,” right. (Photo: Yamil Lage / AFP)

Reuters reported that the “country has recorded more Covid-19 cases and deaths this year than in all of 2020, though the mortality rate remains among the best in the world and two homegrown vaccines are in final trials.”

Ulises Guilarte de Nascimiento, head of the Federation of Cuban Workers (CTC), said on state-run television on May Day that workers faced layoffs and inflation. Some struggled to “meet their basic needs,” he added. The CTC leader blamed U.S. sanctions and said hard work and greater efficiency would lead to better days.

According to available statistics, Cuba recorded more than 179,000 infections in the first half of this year, compared to less than 12,000 in 2020—a whopping 15-fold increase. Most people have recovered quickly, a testament to Cuba’s policy of treating medical care as a right for all. As of June 13, however, the daily average of active cases across the island topped 15,000, a tenfold increase since January 1 of this year.

At the same time, the death rate has dipped in 2021 compared to last year. A total of 146 Cubans had died of complications from Covid-19 infection as of Dec. 31, 2020, compared to 1,124 in the first half of this year. This means the mortality rate directly related to Covid-19 infections was cut in half—from 1.5% last year to 0.7% in 2021—a vivid reflection of the success of Cuba’s effort to protect public health under adverse circumstances.

The sanctions have directly impacted Cuba’s ability to produce food. “I can testify to the suffering and the anxiety caused by the shortages and instability of the supplies of basic staples and indispensable products made evident by the long lines that burden Cubans’ daily lives amid the pandemic,” Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez said in his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Cuban diplomat said the U.S. sanctions have made it harder for his country to acquire the medical equipment necessary to develop and administer Covid-19 vaccines—including millions of much-needed syringes[1]—as well as machinery and tools for food production.

“Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills, it must stop,” he urged.

Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations Bruno Rodríguez addresses UN general assembly prior to vote on lifting U.S. embargo against his country. “Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills,” he said. “It must stop.” On June 23, 2021, the UN body voted overwhelmingly to call on the United States to end its economic war on the Caribbean nation. (Photos: UN archives)

On June 23, for the 29th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly called on the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba. The vote was a lopsided 184 in favor; 2 against, as usual the U.S. and Israeli governments; and 3 abstentions, coming from the representatives of Brazil, Colombia, and the Ukraine.

Addressing the UN body, Dang Dinh Quy, Vietnam’s ambassador to the UN, aptly described the measure as the “longest unilateral sanction system imposed against a country in modern world history.”

At the same time, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN tried to cynically paint Washington’s attempted strangulation of Cuba as a benign tool of democracy. Representing the Biden administration, Rodney Hunter, political coordinator of the U.S. delegation to the world body, claimed during the debate prior to UN vote that these sanctions are “one set of tools in Washington’s broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.”

Such callous behavior from the Goliath to its north alone would be enough to make the Cuban David eligible for the unmitigated solidarity of every decent human being on planet earth. This is especially true among the millions—first and foremost African Americans and other people of color, disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as well as working people of all skin tones—treated inhumanely by a decaying capitalist system that has degraded our existence and brought us death to a degree reminiscent of the Black Death, or bubonic plague, during the Middle Ages. But Cuba’s tale of heroism and dogged determination does not end here.

(To be continued)

The second part in this two-part series can be found here.


ENDNOTES

[1] For more details, and information on the international campaign to help Cuba obtain 20 million syringes it lacks to inoculate its entire population against the Covid-19 pandemic by the end of this year see: Savings Lives Campaign Sends 4-million Syringes to Cuba published June 29, 2021, on World-Outlook.com.

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