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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stage as nations of all political stripes have called for this anachronistic piece of legislation to be finally repealed.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. 

The blockade was first introduced by President Kennedy in 1962 and, now 50 years on, President Obama is urged to follow Amnesty International’s recommendation and ‘take, without further delay, the necessary steps towards lifting the economic, financial and trade embargo against Cuba’. The international community demands nothing less.