In an exchange with students at the University of Havana Josefina Vidal, chief of U.S. affairs for Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, discussed a presidential policy directive on Cuba and some slight trade adjustments announced by the Barack Obama administration Oct. 14.
While the policy directive “recognizes Cuba and its government as a legitimate and equal representative,” Vidal said, it “doesn’t hide the intent to promote changes in the economic, social and political system of Cuba. Nor does it hide the attempt to continue developing interventionist programs in our country.”
In clear violation of Cuba’s sovereignty, it reiterates that the U.S. government “has no intention” to withdraw from the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuban territory occupied by Washington since 1903. And the embargo is left firmly in place.
The directive spells out the course the Obama administration has followed for the last two years, which is “a change in policy, but not in the strategic objective that continues to be carried out,” Vidal told the students.
Since the Cuban workers and farmers, led by Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement, overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship and took power in 1959, Washington has sought to overturn the revolutionary government. The U.S. rulers tried diplomatic isolation, threats, sabotage, invasion and, since 1960, economic sanctions on a scale unprecedented in world history.
Recognizing that more than 50 years of this course had failed to accomplish its aims, Obama — and a substantial majority in the ruling class he represents — decided it was necessary to try something else. Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced Dec. 17, 2014, talks to restore diplomatic relations, which Washington had broken off 53 years earlier. Embassies were opened several months later. Over this time period the U.S. president has issued several executive orders slightly modifying some trade restrictions.
The latest changes issued by the Treasury and Commerce departments are “of a very limited nature,” said Vidal. “They maintain the ban on U.S. investments in Cuba except those that already had been approved in 2015 for the telecommunications sector” and “there’s no expansion of U.S. exports to Cuba beyond the limited sales that had previously been authorized.”
One of few substantive changes is allowing Cuban pharmaceutical products into the U.S., pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and joint medical research between U.S. and Cuban scientists.
A month earlier, on Sept. 13, Obama renewed for another year the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 against Cuba.
Cuba is still unable to use the dollar in its international transactions, despite statements by Obama on the removal of this restriction. Also remaining in place is “the prohibition on opening accounts of Cuban banking entities in U.S. banks,” said Vidal.
In a report prepared for the U.N. debate, the Cuban government details the deep impact of Washington’s economic warfare on Cuba’s economy and population, costing an estimated $125 billion since the early 1960s. From April 2015 to March this year, the embargo cost the island $4.68 billion.
“There is no element of our lives where the impact is not felt,” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez told the Cuban daily Granma. To cite just one example, Cuba is blocked from purchasing deep brain stimulation systems produced exclusively by the U.S. firm Medtronic, used to treat neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.
The Obama administration has imposed more fines for violating the U.S. embargo against Cuba — 49 companies charged for a total of $14.4 billion — than any previous U.S president. Since the announcement in December 2014 on opening diplomatic relations with Havana, eight entities — five of them outside the U.S. — have been fined by Washington for $2.8 billion. This includes Commerzbank from Germany for $1.7 billion and PayPal from the U.S. for $7.6 million.
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