There are few other issues in international politics on which the nations of the world have been so totally united over so many years. On 29 October 2013, for the 22nd consecutive year, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) called for an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba. 188 states supported the Resolution, 2 voted against it, namely the US and Israel, while 3 (Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau) abstained.
In 1992, when the Resolution against the unjust blockade was first introduced in the UNGA, the vote was 59 against 2 (the US and Israel). 10 years later, in 2002, it was 173 against 3. The Marshall Islands joined the US and Israel. In 2012, it was 188 against 3, this time Palau teamed up with the two anti-Cuba states.
It is not just the UNGA that has condemned the blockade. Various UN agencies — The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have all at different times criticised the trade sanctions against Cuba. Religious institutions, human rights groups and prominent international figures, from Muhammad Ali to Jimmy Carter, have also pleaded with the US government to lift the blockade.
Why is the whole world against the blockade which prohibits US firms from selling or buying any product or service from Cuba? The blockade denies Cuba access to technology which would have helped to boost the efforts of the government to raise the standard of living of the people. It also prohibits trade and commerce with one of the world’s biggest markets which in turn would have increased Cuba’s national revenue and contributed to its economic growth and development. It has been estimated for instance that the blockade which began in 1960 has deprived Cuba of 1.126 trillion US dollars over the last 52 years. Governments and peoples everywhere cannot comprehend why the world’s only superpower would want to strangulate a small, poor country of 11 million people with meagre resources which — contrary to what the US elite says — poses no threat to its security! It is because the US blockade is such a travesty of justice that the human family has come together over and over again to defend Cuba. Starkly put, the blockade is an assault upon the collective conscience of humanity.
US leaders have sought to justify the blockade as a sort of punitive measure against an allegedly gross violator of human rights. While there have been transgressions against civil and political liberties, the US establishment ignores the fact that there is considerable grassroots participation in political decision-making in Cuba and a great deal of debate on public policies which includes criticisms of the political leadership. In any case, the US which is more of a plutocracy than a democracy has not been able to ensure some of the fundamental rights of its own citizens, including their right to affordable health care. Worse still, it has in the decades that the blockade has been in force, colluded and conspired with harsh, brutal dictatorships in numerous countries with a hideous reputation for suppressing their people.
The real reason why the US imposed the blockade in 1960 was because of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. It was a popular Revolution which swept aside a regime which was a mere US puppet. Since then, Cuba has been steadfast in its determination to chart its own destiny in spite of all the attempts by its huge neighbour to crush it. Apart from trade sanctions, the Cuban people have withstood a botched invasion, germ warfare, terrorist attacks and numerous plots to assassinate the leader of their Revolution, Fidel Castro.
If the resilience of the leadership and the people has incensed the US elite it is also because of Cuba’s embrace of Marxism and its close relationship with the Soviet Union in the era of the Cold War. Though the Cold War ended in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, US elite antagonism towards Cuba has not abated. The only explanation for this is because the Cuban nation insists on its independence and refuses to kow-tow to US hegemonic power.
What is even more remarkable is the progress that Cuba has made in crucial spheres of society since 1959. Its health care programme — one doctor to 159.2 persons — is universally acknowledged as an outstanding accomplishment, without precedence or parallel. It has also succeeded in ensuring full literacy, access to education from kindergarten to university for a huge section of its populace, gender equality in most areas and harmonious inter-ethnic relations in a multi-ethnic society which before the Revolution was marred by White racist attitudes. Within the Global South, Cuba is one of those countries that has established a sound scientific base and has done commendable research in medicine and biotechnology.
All this does not mean that Cuba has overcome the many challenges that confront it. It is trying hard to incorporate the strengths of the market — individual enterprise, private ownership of property in specific spheres, a notion of reasonable profits — into its economy. It is also seeking to enhance public accountability and reinforce the rule of law.
Nonetheless, there is no doubt at all that the Cuban leadership has, over the decades, looked after its people better than many other governments in the Global North and the Global South. Is that one of the reasons why the US is hell-bent on perpetuating its blockade? Is it because Cuba is an example that it does not want others to emulate? If a small nation under such enormous pressures can achieve so much what sort of message does it send to people in other countries who are also determined to resist US, or any other, hegemonic power?
If this is one of the motives behind the blockade, then it has obviously failed. In the last 10 to 15 years, Cuba has emerged as an inspiration to a number of Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador which are also keen to shape their own futures without the hegemonic dictation of the US. It suggests that the inhuman, unjust blockade of 53 years has been defeated — in accordance with the will of the people of the world!
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
13 November 2013.