CUBA: World demands end to US blockade

By Marce Cameron

Every year since 1992 the overwhelming majority of UN member countries have voted for Cuba’s resolution demanding an end to the US economic blockade against the Caribbean socialist state. On October 29, the UN General Assembly voted for the 17th consecutive year in favour of Cuba’s motion. This year, the resolution was approved by the highest margin ever, with 185 of 192 UN member states voting in favour, one more than last year.

As usual the US, Israel and Palau – a Pacific island micro-state that is a de facto US protectorate – voted against Cuba’s resolution. Two other Pacific island micro-state, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, both of which only became formally independent of US rule in 1986, abstained. “You are alone, isolated”, Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez told the US delegation.

The Associated Press reported that there was loud applause in the General Assembly chamber when the final vote flashed across the screen. In his speech to the assembly prior to the vote, Perez told delegates that “seven out of every 10 Cubans have spent their entire lives under this irrational and useless policy which attempts, with no success, to bring our people to their knees”. The new US president “should decide whether he will admit that the blockade is a failed policy that ... causes greater isolation and discrediting of his country”, or whether the US will continue “to try to defeat the Cuban people through hunger and disease”, said Perez.

The day before the UN vote General Assembly president Miguel d’Escoto – a former Catholic priest and the foreign minister in Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government from 1979 to 1990 – said: “The US government simply cannot tolerate the existence of a place like Cuba, which rises up like a heroine of solidarity and a champion of the values that the world needs for the survival of the human species.”

The aim of Washington’s 47-year-long economic siege is to turn Cubans against their revolutionary government by subjecting them to deprivation, hunger and disease. This aim was made explicit in a now declassified US state department document dated April 6, 1960: “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba ... to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of [the revolutionary] government.” A June 24, 1959 state department memo argued that if Washington stopped buying Cuban sugar, “the sugar industry would promptly suffer an abrupt decline, causing widespread further unemployment. The large numbers of people thus forced out of work would begin to go hungry.”

The introductory report on Cuba’s 2008 UN resolution notes that since the adoption of last year’s resolution condemning the blockade, “the main elements of the blockade ... have been maintained or intensified”. The past year, it stated, “has been the worst to date in terms of the ruthless application of Washington’s policy of sanctions against Cuba”, with “the persecution of government agencies, firms, banks and citizens in third countries” that have economic dealings with Cuba.

The report details the impact of the US blockade on the Cuban health system during the past year: “The economic damage represented by the extra costs involved in obtaining supplies and equipment in more distant markets ... is accompanied by distress among the patients and their relatives, as well as the medical personnel whose scope for providing proper care of the sick is restricted by the fact that US drug companies have exclusive rights over products and technologies that are critical to the treatment of various diseases.”

For example, the surgical treatment of Cuban children with cardiovascular disease has been hampered by Cuba’s inability to purchase the necessary medications, thanks to the blockade. The US company Boston Scientific and Amplatzer refused to sell its patented devices for repairing congenital heart defects, leading to longer waiting lists and reduced life expectancy for Cuban children with heart conditions. Cuba’s Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology was prevented from purchasing positron emission tomography (PET) diagnostic imaging equipment, which produces the highest quality medical images. There are three manufacturers of this technology in the world, and Washington has banned all three from selling their equipment to Cuba.

Meanwhile, academic exchanges between Cuba and the US have been sabotaged by US authorities denying visa applications to 30 Cuban medical professionals during the past year. The blockade also includes measures that prevent Cuban access to scientific papers and journals, and Cuban scientists were denied membership of the American Society for Microbiology. The AMS is the oldest and largest single life science membership organisation in the world, with 43,000 members, more than one-third of them located outside the US.

The Cuban education system, the report noted, “suffers severe restrictions, from the primary to the higher levels, in providing the basic educational facilities and the laboratory supplies and equipment needed, because of difficulties created by the blockade in obtaining these on the international market”. Cuba’s 16 special schools and five kindergartens for deaf children need specialised equipment manufactured in the US, unobtainable because of the blockade.

“The Cuban people will never abandon defence of the gains won by the Revolution and will continue to progress in the exercise of its freedom and independence”, the report stated. “It will do so regardless of any obstacles or restrictions that must be surmounted in the process. The will to resist among Cuba’s men and women is indomitable. The Cuban nation will continue to work in the same independent and indefatigable spirit in pursuing its aims of ever greater justice, equity and solidarity, which are the mainstay of the nation’s post-revolutionary way of life.”

[Marce Cameron is the national organiser of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and an activist in the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (Sydney).]