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Vol. 74/No. 43      November 15, 2010

Washington’s 50-year
economic war on Cuba
October 19 marked the 50th anniversary of the start of Washington’s economic embargo of Cuba. Begun under the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower to punish the Cuban people for having made a revolution that overthrew a U.S.-backed dictatorship, it continues to this day.

Prior to the revolution, Cuba was little more than a sugar colony. Sixty-one of Cuba’s 165 sugar mills, the source of more than half the island’s sugar production, were owned by U.S. capitalists.

Like much of the semicolonial world, Cuba was a supplier of raw materials for U.S. imperialism and a market for its finished goods. Although it had rich agricultural land, Cuba imported most of its rice and beans from the United States; famous for its tobacco, Cuba imported U.S. cigarettes; even though it exported sugar, Cuba imported candy.

In January 1959 working people in Cuba, led by the July 26 Movement, overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Washington hoped that the changes would be cosmetic, and that whatever government replaced the old regime would continue business as usual.

Instead, the revolutionary government began an agrarian reform that distributed land to small peasants and confiscated the holdings of large landowners, outlawed racial discrimination, reduced rents and electric rates, and created militias with thousands of workers and peasants to defend these gains, opening the road to a socialist transformation.

On June 7, 1960, when U.S.-owned refineries in Cuba refused to process a shipment of crude oil from the Soviet Union, massive mobilizations of workers and peasants accompanied nationalization of the refineries.  
U.S. economic war on Cuba begins
In retaliation, Eisenhower canceled Cuba’s sugar quota for exporting to the United States for the year. The quota was permanently ended by President John Kennedy. This marked the beginning of Washington’s economic war against Cuba.

On Oct. 19, 1960, Washington banned all exports to Cuba except for some food and medicine. After the U.S.-organized invasion at the Bay of Pigs failed in April 1961, Kennedy stepped up the economic war. On Feb. 2, 1962, the U.S. government embargoed all trade with Cuba.

It wasn’t until 1988, under President Ronald Reagan, that the U.S. government ended its restrictions on the import and export of books to and from Cuba.

In the 1990s Washington further intensified the embargo, making it illegal for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba, closing U.S. ports to ships that had stopped in Cuba within six months, and declaring it would exclude from the United States officers of companies that “traffic” in property nationalized by the revolution.

For the first time since the start of the embargo, the U.S. Congress in 2000 passed a law allowing sales of some food and agricultural products to Cuba, while maintaining the almost total ban on sales of anything from Cuba in the United States. In 2005 Washington required all sales to be paid in advance.

This year, on October 26, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the 19th year in a row to call on Washington to end the embargo.

During the debate, U.S. representative Ronald Godard gave the impression that under the Barack Obama administration, the embargo has been loosened. He repeated Obama’s claim that Washington is taking measures to “overcome the decades of mistrust” and that it is in the Cuban government’s hands to respond with “political and economic freedoms.”

Godard implied Cuba can purchase medical supplies it needs, an outright falsification. Prior to the vote, the Cuban delegation presented a dozen examples of medical equipment, supplies, and medicine that Cuba has been unable to purchase due to the embargo.

In 2009 the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control levied fines of more than $340,000 on companies and individuals accused of violating the embargo. During the first half of 2010 fines reached $2.2 million.

Opponents of the revolution charge that the Cuban government blocks access to the Internet and other telecommunications. But Bloomberg News reported August 31 that Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon have complained that U.S. regulations block their ability to provide service to Cuba. Washington won’t allow companies to pay fees to Cuba of more than 19 cents a call, way below Havana’s proposal.

Because of the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba connects to the Internet via satellite, limiting the bandwidth available on the island. The U.S. government has refused to allow Cuba access to underwater Internet cables just 20 miles from Havana. Cuba hopes to complete the installation of underwater fiber optic lines with the aid of the Venezuelan government by mid-2011, greatly increasing the island’s telecommunications capacity.

Although the UN voted 187-2 calling for an end to the embargo, some governments, including members of the European Union, voted mainly in opposition to Washington’s interference in their trade policies.

Belgium’s representative to the UN General Assembly, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said, “We cannot accept that unilaterally imposed measures impede our economic and commercial relations with Cuba.”

“The blockade is an act of economic war,” Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez said at the UN. Washington would like “to install a pro-yankee government in Cuba. That is not going to happen.”  
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