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Latin American unity forces cracks in the 50 year economic blockade of Cuba

By Tim Anderson - posted Monday, 2 June 2014

The powerful regional organisations created in Latin America, an important legacy of the late Hugo Chavez, have forced cracks in Washington's 50- year economic blockade of Cuba. Senior US regime figures have called on President Barack Obama to loosen the blockade.

Obama loosened a few of the additional measures imposed by Bush the Second (lifting some severe restrictions on family member visits) but has mostly maintained the status quo of travel bans on US citizens, 'trading with the enemy' sanctions and imposing large fines on companies (with over 10% US shareholding) which trade with Cuba.

The US economic, commercial, and financial blockade (called an 'embargo'


in the US) has tried to isolate and lay siege to Cuba since the early years of the revolution. The first version was signed into force by President John F Kennedy, just after he ordered a personal supply of 1,000 fine Cuban cigars.

However, now that Cuba has taken on a leading role in continental organisations such as the CELAC, Washington insiders have been forced to admit that it is the USA ('America') that has become 'increasingly isolated' in the Americas.

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his political mentor, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, in the early 2000s, led the movement against a proposed 'Free Trade Area of the Americas' (FTAA) and against the Washington-dominated Organization of American States (OAS).

Venezuela and Cuba created the left-bloc ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas) as a counter to the FTAA. In 2005, at a summit in Argentina, Chavez held a shovel to demonstrate that he had come to 'bury' the FTAA; and indeed he did.

Then in 2008, backed by others including President Lula of Brazil and President Kirchner of Argentina, Chavez led the creation of UNASUR, a South American bloc that has since helped defuse Washington's destabilisation plans in several countries.

The unification process peaked a little more than year before Chavez died of cancer.In Caracas, in December 2011, 33 Latin American and Caribbean heads of government confirmed the creation of CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States). The only countries of the Americas left out were the USA and Canada. With a population twice the size of the US, CELAC has become a new counter-weight to the Washington-based OAS. This new bloc moved immediately to build new direct relations, for example with the European Union.


We should see this recent letter to Obama on Cuba, from 50 US establishment figures, in this wider context. Titled 'Open letter to President Obama: support civil society in Cuba'

(, it calls for relaxation of travel to Cuba by US citizens, increased support for Cuban civil society, 'principled engagement in areas of mutual interest' and some relaxation of financial restrictions for 'authorised' relations.

This is a very long way from the liberal ideas of free movement and free trade, so often preached by Washington. But while the letter's proposals are quite modest, and there is a traditional destabilisation agenda, it is the authors that make a difference. There have been many similar proposals from what we might call US 'official dissidents', former officials who have disagreed with the bipartisan US policy on Cuba.

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About the Author

Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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