International

Protests in Cuba and U.S. Challenge Decadeslong Trade Embargo

As the United States trade embargo against Cuba approaches its 60th anniversary, Cubans worldwide and their allies have intensified efforts to reverse the policy.

Reasons to end the embargo include its devastating impact on Cuba’s economy and a dearth of adequate medical resources.

One leading official, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, further credits the U.S. trade embargo with complicating Cuba’s efforts to test, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccinations.

In recent days, scores of protesting Cubans have swarmed the streets of Havana while those in support of their demands have led similar protests in several U.S. cities.

“Cuba has been forced to allocate considerable resources to urgently secure necessary equipment and materials for its national health system,” said Cuesta, who serves as Cuba’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

“The impact of the embargo on the health sector, one of the hardest hit during the reporting period, may be seen in the shortages of essential consumer products, as well as the difficulties national industries face in acquiring the necessary supplies for food preservation and drug manufacturing,” Cuesta added.

Examining the Root of Cuba’s Dilemma?

In response to food and medicine shortages, and what some describe as a lack of freedom, thousands of Cubans converged on the streets of Havana on Sunday. In a nationally-televised speech, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed U.S. sanctions for Cuba’s current economic situation and rebuffed any notion that he would leave office.

U.S. sanctions on Cuba, in effect since 1962, prevent U.S. businesses and businesses with commercial activity in the U.S. from conducting trade with Cuba. Between 2014 and 2016, the Obama administration attempted to normalize relations with Cuba.

But President Donald Trump (R) reversed the Obama-era changes that loosened business and travel restrictions. Trump also imposed a series of his own sanctions, including one limiting remittances Cubans in the diaspora could send to the island nation.

Since Biden entered the Oval Office, many have looked to him to nullify Trump’s policies and even lift the trade embargo in its entirety.

In his statement Monday, Biden did not address the issue of U.S. economic sanctions. Instead, he espoused solidarity with the Cuban masses. Republican Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mitt Romney publicly expressed similar views. Rubio, who has a strong conservative Cuban constituency in Florida, emphasized the need for a stronger rebuke of the Cuban government.

Differences of Opinion Persist 

In June, the U.N. General Assembly, for the 29th consecutive month in three decades, passed a resolution calling on the U.S to lift the economic sanctions against Cuba. The resolution garnered the support of 184 nations with both the U.S. and Israel voicing their opposition. Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine abstained from voting.

With the State Department’s decision in May to renew Cuba’s inclusion on its list of countries not in full cooperation with antiterrorism activities, there’s little doubt that the Biden administration will change course on U.S.-Cuba relations.

However, that hasn’t stopped the U.S.-based activists from pushing forward with a movement decades in the making. As an example, Cuban-American members of the Bridges of Love project remain involved in the trek from Miami to the District, scheduled to conclude on July 27. Their demands to the Biden administration include: reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana, reestablishing consular relations, reestablishing flights and allowing unlimited remittances.

In March, protesters in Havana rallied around similar objectives.

For some organizers like Medea Benjamin, it’s imperative that the Biden administration follows through on lifting the sanctions. Not doing so, Benjamin told The Informer, could cause more damage than what has already been inflicted in recent years.

“President Biden is listening more to the Cuban-American right-wing voice, and saying he’s got to punish Cuba even further for what they would say are human rights abuses instead of recognizing that people are on the streets because they need medicine and food,” said Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, a grassroots peace and social justice movement with an anti-war focus.

“It’s very dangerous because President Biden might have an all-out migration crisis on his hands,” Benjamin continued. “This type of migration is not popular with American people, even Democrats. This will be a crisis for the Biden administration.”

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