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Cuba, the two blockades and more...

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Thursday, 5 January 2012


I recently travelled to Havana, Cuba. I went there not as a political analyst or to practise journalism, but to get away from the difficulties of carrying out research in Caracas, Venezuela – one of Latin America's most overcrowded, violent and hostile cities, despite the efforts of its current administration to reduce poverty.

Once inside the island, I was quickly reminded that contemporary Cuba has two blockades. The first is the trade blockade imposed by the United States since 1960; the second is the policies the government has imposed, both to survive U.S. aggression and in its original pursuit of orthodox soviet socialism – i.e. complete state control of the economy.

Walk around Havana and the first blockade is evident. The capital of Cuba lacks paint, cement, lighting, plumbing, and just about everything else that is not produced in mass quantities inside the country. Washington not only restricts U.S. companies from selling goods to the Cuban state, it also penalises third parties which aim to trade with the island and, simultaneously, have other commercial dealings in the U.S.

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Many Cubans have grown weary of hearing of "el bloqueo" (the blockade) from their political leaders as an excuse for all that is wrong in the country, despite its colossal and real impacts in allowing the island to develop.

Last October 27, the United Nations General Assembly voted 186-2 in favour of lifting the blockade. Only Israel supported the U.S. while the small Pacific nations of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained. According to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the blockade has caused Cuba close to $ 1 trillion in economic damages in the last half a century.

Washington's actions against Cuba – which have only mildly improved under the Obama administration – of course have nothing to do with human rights, promoting democracy, or the fact that former leader Fidel Castro sided with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

At the core of the dispute is the United States self-appointed right to have puppet democracies or dictatorships in Latin America and the Caribbean (either is fine) while its own corporations pay few taxes, royalties or trade tariffs to local governments. And since the Cuban revolution defies Washington's self-appointed rights, the U.S. since 1959 has been committed to overthrowing the regime through just about any means, including terrorism.

At a National Security Council meeting held on January 14, 1960, State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubboton stated:

"The period from January to March might be characterized as the honeymoon period of the Castro government. In April a downward trend in US-Cuban relations had been evident. . . . In June we had reached the decision that it was not possible to achieve our objectives with Castro in power and had agreed to undertake the program referred to by Merchant. In July and August we had been busy drawing up a program to replace Castro."

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The honeymoon period which Rubboton comments on is essentially three months in 1959. But even this is misleading. Once U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and his cronies fled Havana, they left with 424 million dollars from the Republic's treasury leaving it almost bankrupt. Deposited in U.S. banks, Havana then asked Washington for the rendition and return of these funds – obviously to no avail since Batista's thugs were the very people the U.S. had once backed.

As with the Merchant program, other programs to destroy the Cuban political system have been in place since the 1960s. They included supporting Cuban-American mercenaries from Miami who would set off bombs in factories, hotels, trade ports, aeroplanes, burn-down sugar cane fields, murder teachers who were engaged in the country's literacy campaign, and even carry out acts of biological warfare. According to Cuban authorities these acts have left 3,478 civilians dead and 2,099 wounded.

Even after the Cold War ended, Washington has still supported (or turned a blind eye) to the actions of Cuban exiles in Miami. In 1997 close to a dozen bombs went off in Havana wounding 11 people and killing an Italian tourist. A year later, in an interview with the New York Times, CIA-trained Luis Posada Carriles confessed to paying a Salvadorian mercenary to carry out the attacks.

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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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