The controversial US embargo on Cuba turns six decades old

The controversial US embargo on Cuba celebrates its 60th anniversary this Thursday as one of the causes that explains the serious crisis that the island is going through, but it is not the only one, according to experts.

This network of laws, in force since President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 3447 on February 3, 1962, notably restricts and complicates Cuba’s economic, commercial and financial relations with the rest of the world.

Kennedy’s decision, a relic of the Cold War, was consummated amid tensions between the two countries – separated by only 150 kilometers – after a failed invasion of the island and the alignment of Havana with the then Soviet Union.

“There are two versions: the one from the ruling party, which says that everything is due to the embargo, and the one from Miami, which says that everything is due to the socialist system. The truth is a combination of the two, “he said in an interview with Efe Pedro Freyre, adviser to US investors on the island.

The blockade, in his opinion, is "like a cheese with many holes"because the set of restrictions does not totally prevent other countries from negotiating with Cuba, but it does make it a complicated task.

You cannot make transactions in dollars, market products that cross the US –and that have a percentage of parts made in that country– or use the US financial system.

Despite everything, Cuba has had exchanges with at least a hundred countries, according to official data.

In 2019, it imported mainly from Spain (19.2%), China (15%), Italy (6.2%), and Canada (5.4%), according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The embargo has been widely criticized internationally. US sanctions have been rejected every year since 1992 by a large majority of countries in the UN General Assembly.

One of the main criticisms is the consequences of the embargo on the daily life of ordinary Cubans.

In a statement on Thursday, the Foreign Office spoke of the sanctions as a "genocidal act" without "moral justification" neither "legitimacy", "the most complex, prolonged and inhumane act of economic warfare committed against any nation".

According to official estimates, the embargo has cost Cuba almost 148,000 million dollars (131,023 million euros) in losses in the last six decades.

In the 2019/20 academic year alone, the effects of the blockade accounted for 5,570 million dollars (4,931 million euros), according to the Cuba Reports against the Blockade published this Thursday by the official newspaper Cubadebate.

“There are already 60 (years) of resistance and we are not going to get tired of demanding the end of an atrocious and obsolete policy"Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

A STRUCTURAL PROBLEM

But the current crisis that the country is going through is not due exclusively to the blockade, according to Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.

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“There is a combination of factors, but the main one is the deficiency of the Cuban system,” the academic, who has been against the embargo since the 1960s, told EFE.

One factor in the current serious crisis, with scarcity and high inflation, are the economic reforms introduced by the Cuban Government in early 2021 and which have influenced the depreciation of the peso, the rise in prices and the partial dollarization of the economy.

Mesa-Lago, highly recognized among experts on Cuba, delved into other reasons.

Among them, the difficulties that the economy of Venezuela – the island’s main financier – is going through, the country’s inability to stabilize its trade balance, the increase in restrictions since the Presidency of the American Donald Trump (2017-2020) and, as a final blow , the pandemic.

GDP in 2020 fell by more than 10% and only recovered by 0.5% during 2021, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Trade dependence on third countries has been a constant that has boomeranged since the fall of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban economist pointed out.

In 2012, at the peak of the dependency on Venezuela, almost 16,000 million dollars in aid were reached, a figure that fell by half in 2017, he said.

Freyre, for his part, highlighted the effect of tightening Trump’s sanctions. Among the harshest measures was the impediment to send remittances to the island, which led to the closure of the more than 400 branches of the Western Union company.

“Trump threw a mud truck at the situation and greatly hindered the thing"Freyre criticized.

For her part, University of Florida historian Lillian Guerra assured Efe that "there is a tremendous hypocrisy regarding the policy of the United States, which has been greatly felt by the Cuban citizen, especially the young".

A CONTRADICTORY EMBARGO

Among the holes in the cheese, recalling Freyre’s analogy, is the shipment of food and medicine to Cuba from the United States. The best example, the analysts pointed out, is the chicken that is consumed on the island, which is mostly American.

In 2021 alone, the United States doubled its chicken exports to Cuba, which amounted to 253 million dollars, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

These paradoxes, the experts pointed out, serve as a sample of the contradictions in the policy towards the island.

“The Communist Party (of Cuba) has had to be uncreative because the United States constantly provides it with a good amount of material (to criticize),” lamented Guerra.

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