Do right by Cuba!

Work towards lifting the embargo, financial sovereignty

Jamaica Observer – By Lisa Hanna May 23, 2021

Recently, we have all been inescapably privy to the intense human suffering and loss of lives amidst the daily violence between Israel and Palestine. No doubt we all long for the day when this confrontation is replaced with conciliation towards a negotiated sustainable solution which fully respects the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and the right of Israel to exist. However, achieving peace and tolerance of different economic, religious, and political systems require more than wishful thinking. It requires unrelenting fearless political action from global leaders intent on protecting people’s human rights.

As we recognise this need for the Middle East, we must also see the same need in our own region and assist our neighbours who are being unfairly stifled by the unjustified dominion of larger countries. It has been nearly 60 years since the United States imposed an economic embargo on Cuba. No doubt, this ban on trade policy introduced by the US at a time of a bitter Cold War was a drastic show of strength in reaction to their fears that communism would spread across their ‘third border’, the Caribbean. The world has changed in profound ways over this time — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) has been dissolved; communist China continues to lend more money to the USA than any other country in the world; and the Cold War has ended. Not only has the embargo failed, but it has imposed severe hardship on the people of Cuba and deprived both the United States and Cuba of valuable trade, investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges.

In an attempt to circumvent the US embargo restrictions and cement their sovereignty, Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro committed to build a robust health sector to produce its own vaccines and medications. His Government focused investment on biotechnology and immunology. Today, Cuba is one of a few developing nations known for a number of medical breakthroughs, which include the only effective treatment for serious diabetic ulcers. Additionally, Cuba has the capabilities to produce and export its own vaccines, including the first vaccine to treat meningitis B and another to treat dengue fever that is exported to over 30 different nations.

Currently, of the 27 novel coronavirus global vaccines in final stage testing, two are Cuban. Cuba aims to manufacture one hundred million doses of their Sovereign 2 to supply their population and possess a surplus to export to assist poorer countries. ( Clinical Trials Arena, 2021).

This is why it is incomprehensible to accept that the embargo is still in place, which is the sentiment of the international community, which has, for nearly 30 years, resoundingly registered condemnation at the United Nations by voting in favour of the resolution “calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba”. Moreover, UN human rights rapporteurs last year urged the United States to lift sanctions on the island in light of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the embargo has been intensified, which has created additional burdens on the financial stability of the country and deeply affected its delivery of health-care services to Cubans due, in large part, to delayed shipping as a result of an inability to access vital medical supplies directly, especially syringes for their vaccines. Additionally, the Donald Trump Administration in the United States compounded the difficulty for the country’s banking transactions when it put Cuba on the US list of State sponsors of terrorism.

We paved the way

When it was deemed harmful to support Cuba after 1962, Michael Manley showed unrelenting support and led a united front with Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972, being the first in the western hemisphere. Since then, the policies of People’s National Party (PNP) administrations have been founded on respect for the sovereignty of nations, respect for human rights and the citizens of countries, and a non-aligned stance.

The Government and people of Cuba are well aware of our friendship and strong solidarity. Over the years Jamaica has demonstrated support, cooperation and partnership. Our two countries have shared mutually beneficial programmes, especially in sports, education, and health. However, the embargo has not allowed the full potential of our relationship with Cuba or USA to flourish. It is time to recognise that the end of the embargo is not just a US-Cuba issue, but one crucial to the national interests of Caribbean countries, many of whom have benefited from Cuba’s kindness. The collective economic development of the Caribbean has been impaired as the embargo inhibits trade, investment, and tourism with a market of over 30 million people.

Jamaica’s geographical location is ideally suited as a coordination port for supplies and business services to Cuba. We are already positioning ourselves as an international transportation hub for the operations of large ships, especially from Asia and the Far East. Cuba will be important in these trans-shipment decisions. The embargo, as embodied in a raft of different pieces of legislation at the core of which is the HelmsBurton Act, constitutes serious deterrents to both our nations expanding our economies for growth. This Act, in particular, enacted in 1996 to strengthen the embargo, applies US law — extraterritorially — to associated parties of US companies. For example, in 2006 the Bank of Nova Scotia in Jamaica decided to end banking services to Cubans living and doing business in Jamaica. In 2014 PriceSmart suspended membership accounts to Cuban non-permanent residents in Jamaica or of any other country.

Times have changed and now over 80 per cent of Cuban Americans believe the embargo has not worked, and 68 per cent are in favour of maintaining and expanding business relations by American companies in Cuba (Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University, 2016).

With new leadership in the White House, perhaps it’s time for our friends in the North to rethink their position and dismantle the embargo using the precedent consistent with their approaches of reconciliation with countries such as Vietnam.

As a matter of urgency, our Jamaican leadership should claim, as a part of its foreign affairs mission, to act as a principled interlocutor to help both proud nations negotiate a solution for the removal of this outdated, counterproductive, hostile, and oppressive embargo and restore dignity to the relationships in our region.

We are so much better situated than other countries, as we understand the history and culture of both the USA and Cuba; have contributed to the growth and development of both countries with the export of our human resources, services, and goods; and have much more of a stake in a negotiated solution. Furthermore, I would dare say that both nations trust us, given our long-standing support and mutual respect.

Let us act on the 2014 declaration of US President Barack Obama when he acknowledged that “the particular policy has failed”; by remaining resolute at the UN; by mobilising our Caricom partners in the struggle; and using our enormous influence in the Group of 77 (G77) and China, as well as with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), to ensure our Cuban brothers and sisters experience full freedom in our lifetime.

Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People’s People’s National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.

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