Educating for a Just and Sustainable World 

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The United States' Blockade of Cuba 50 Years On

Last November, for the 20th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned the United States’ economic blockade of Cuba by a massive majority of 186 votes to just two (Israel voting with the US). Rarely has the US been so clearly isolated and diplomatically embarrassed on the international stage as nations of all political stripes have called for this anachronistic piece of legislation to be finally repealed. 

The blockade is the longest and most restrictive set of sanctions ever imposed by one country on another and has been condemned by Amnesty International for limiting Cubans’ economic and social rights ‘affecting in particular the most vulnerable sectors of society’. The blockade denies access to food, educational and medical equipment, hindering Cuba’s world renowned public health programme. For example, in 2011 the US confiscated $4.2 million awarded to Cuba from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. 

The blockade has also caused extensive damage to the Cuban economy with Havana estimating the trading and commercial penalties exacted by the US at $975 billion to the end of December 2010. This is a devastating loss of income for a small developing country of 11 million people but the blockade’s remit extends beyond Cuba through its extraterritorial provisions to penalise companies which have trading links with the island. Just last year, the Dutch ABN Bank was fined an exorbitant $500 million for making ‘unauthorized’ financial transactions in the interest of Cuba or Cuban nationals. 

The United States also limits the rights of its own citizens through the blockade by violating their constitutional rights to travel to Cuba. To date, only academic, educational, cultural and religious trips are authorized and they require a special permit. This denies many Cuban Americans the right to return to their country of origin and visit relatives and friends. 

Development Education and the Global Financial Crisis: How do we respond?

The collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in the United States in 2008 signalled what has arguably become the world’s deepest recession since the Wall Street crash of 1929.  And this has been a truly global economic downturn, with rich as well as poor countries, facing into a headwind of austerity and unemployment.   For instance, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just released a report which found that unemployment has risen in two-thirds of European countries since 2010 as growth has flat-lined and employment opportunities dried up.

The economic slowdown has arguably been most pronounced in Western economies tied to strident forms of neoliberalism that have asserted the power of markets to generate growth and ‘raise all ships’ in a general sea of prosperity.   No Western European country embraced the neo-liberal model more than Ireland, which from the late 1990s to 2007, was lauded as an economic tyro dubbed the ‘Celtic Tiger’.  The Celtic Tiger was driven by inward investment by multinational corporations, mostly from the US, engaged in production for export markets in growth sectors like information technology.  However, a combination of lax regulation of the financial sector, a low tax regime for investors, a credit bubble in the housing market and a corrupt political class in league with bankers, speculators and builders saw Ireland’s economic miracle turn to dust.  Ireland’s worst economic fears were realised when, in 2010, it agreed an €85 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank to recapitalise its banks.  What was once the ‘poster child for neo-liberalism’ was recently described by David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as the ‘poster child for austerity’.