Dumb-Bargo: UN Report Says U.S. Sanctions Cost Cuban People Food and Jobs

On October 29th, UN General Assembly will vote on a resolution to condemn the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and we can say with confidence the outcome is not in doubt.

The U.S. has lost this vote twenty-one years in a row.

Last year, as Reuters reported, the resolution was adopted by an overwhelming margin.

188 member states voted against the U.S.  Only Israel and Palau stood with us.  Micronesia and The Marshall Islands could not decide whether they supported or opposed the embargo and so they abstained.

Today, we can say with certainty the UN will pass this resolution again, and the U.S. will get its “clock cleaned” for the 22nd consecutive year.

Already, 147 member states plus the European Union, representing 28 other nations, have filed written reports with the Secretary General, indicating they oppose the embargo, and do not have rules that limit their diplomatic or economic relations with Cuba as U.S. law insists they must do.

We’ve read a compilation of the reports to the U.N. Secretary General by member states and also by UN agencies that discuss the impact of the embargo on their programs.

Year after year, certain things catch our attention.  No nation that supports the embargo – not the U.S., Israel, or Palau – publishes a word in Secretary General’s report defending the policy.

The Holy See – The Vatican – states for the record it has “never drawn up or applied economic, commercial or financial laws or measures against Cuba.”

All of Latin America is against the policy.  Brazil, joining close U.S. allies like Colombia and Mexico, discusses how it is vigorously cultivating a closer economic relationship with Cuba. El Salvador suggests the U.S. is living in the past, saying the embargo “continues to call to mind a chapter of history that we would all wish to bring to a close once and for all.”

The Russian Federation, in its report, agrees with El Salvador, faintly praising the administration for relaxing restrictions, for example, on family travel, but expresses hope it will “lift the blockade once and for all.”

All of this, of course, matters diplomatically.  But, there’s a larger truth about the U.S. embargo documented in the Secretary General’s report.

Rather than helping Cubans become “free,” the embargo is helping to keep Cubans hungry and poor. Think about that.

The U.S. has historically prided itself for being a leader in global food security.  We spend, on average, $2.2 billion providing food aid to hungry people around the world every year.

But, U.S. sanctions make it harder for Cuban farmers to get the inputs they need to make their land more productive, they make it more expensive for Cuba to import food, and they block Cuban farmers from producing agricultural exports that could reach U.S. tables, putting more money in their pockets.

These stresses were magnified last year after Hurricane Sandy, because the embargo constrained Cuba from gaining immediate access to humanitarian assistance.  Sandy wiped out 17,000 homes and affected nearly a quarter-million homes, so Cubans who suffered the greatest effects of the storm were punished by longer-than-necessary waits for emergency aid including food.

What about jobs?  Cuba is overhauling its economy, shrinking the size of the state payrolls, gradually opening its private sector, encouraging Cubans to open small businesses of their own or to work in cooperatives.

Tourist dollars are driving Cuba’s private sector and fostering the growth of small businesses.

But, the Secretary General’s report estimates that, without U.S. sanctions, 2 million more U.S. residents would visit the island and generate close to two billion dollars in receipts for Cuba’s tourism industry.

So, every minute we keep travel restrictions in place we’re costing the Cuban economy jobs, and we’re stopping every day Cubans from exercising more control over their lives.

If this is the message of the U.S. embargo – more hungry Cubans, fewer Cuban jobs – it’s no wonder that the world votes against us year after year.

Forget our image in the U.N.  Is that the kind of people we want to be?  What a dumb-bargo.


Should embargo hurt U.S. citizens with diabetes?  Rep. Joe García says no!

Rep. Joe García (FL-26) is supporting action by the U.S. Treasury Department to grant a license for a foot ulcer treatment developed in Cuba to be tested and potentially marketed in the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. According to the Herald, García’s “move splits the Cuban-American congressional delegation for the first time…and, more broadly, indicates a shift in Miami politics as the exile community’s power appears to wane amid new waves of immigrants.”

The treatment developed in Cuba has already helped some 100,000 people in 16 countries, according to a letter circulated by his office. If approved, the treatment could be used to save the limbs of thousands in the U.S. who are at high risk for amputation due to diabetic foot ulcers. Studies indicate that men and African-Americans are at the highest risk for amputation.

Because it was developed by Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, viewed as an arm of Cuba’s government, the treatment would need a U.S. Treasury Department license in order to be tested and marketed in the U.S.  Rep. García’s office and others have circulated a letter to Congress and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew urging them to support this measure.

Although Rep. García is the only Cuban-American in Congress to support this measure, he joins other members of Congress, including Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-5) as well as John Sununu, a Cuban-American and former White House Chief of Staff, and Bill Delahunt, a former congressman who is now a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.

Rep. García’s announcement has come with criticism from the expected sources. Mauricio Claver-Carone, editor of Capitol Hill Cubans and co-founder and director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, called the treatment a “commercial bio-scam.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voiced doubts about the performance capabilities of the treatment, saying that its use in the U.S. would only be helpful to Cuba’s government. In a statement to the Miami Herald, Rep. García said that his position was not a political one, adding:

“This is about something that can maybe save lives. This is about medicine. There are 70,000 amputations that happen yearly from diabetes. I’m not going to be the guy who decides that people will suffer because of the embargo.”

For more about the potential benefits of medical cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba, see Dr. Peter G. Bourne’s essay: “U.S.-Cuba Health Care Relations,” in CDA’s “9 Ways for US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to US” publication.

Congressional committee attorney appointed to oversee closure of Guantánamo prison

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, appointed Paul Lewis as the special envoy tasked with overseeing the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, reports Reuters. The special envoy position had been unfilled since its creation in May. Lewis gained experience working with Guantánamo-related issues as an attorney for the House Armed Services Committee. He previously served as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps and attorney for the Defense Department in the Office of Legislative Counsel. Lewis will represent the Pentagon in collaboration with Clifford Sloan, the State Department special envoy assigned to work on the matter. Lewis is set to begin in his new position November 1st.

U.S. jails Cuban-American who violated the embargo by selling goods to Cuba

Pedro Adriano Borges was handed a twelve-month sentence by a U.S. federal district court for violating the U.S. embargo by selling goods to Cuba, according to Miami Herald. The violation took place in the early to mid-1990s when Borges, a Cuban-American, and four other men sent 18 shipping containers full of food products, diapers, light bulbs, and other items to the island.

The value of the goods was estimated at $93,000, reports CMC. Borges was a no-show to his 1997 trial, having fled to Costa Rica in 1995, and was apparently arrested in Panama in November 2012 after requesting a passport and triggering an alert to law enforcement. In addition to paying a $1,000 fine, Borges is expected to serve six months in U.S. federal prison followed by six months of in-home detention.

Cubans discuss reconciliation

As we reported last week, the Second Conference on Reconciliation and Change was in Miami, Florida over the weekend. Approximately 150 people attended; the majority Cuban-Americans, reports Miami Herald. The conference explored the subject of reconciling Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. Using the German reunification as the theme, speakers highlighted both the advantages and disadvantages to reconciliation. They stressed the components of effective and sustainable reconciliation, emphasizing that any true reconciliation requires forgiveness and justice, and has no room for revenge. Speakers also said that economic engagement would be necessary; Dieter Dettke, a professor of German and European Studies at Georgetown University, stated that “isolation and embargo can cement the situation in place.”


Cuba seeks UN condemnation of U.S. embargo for 22nd consecutive year

Cuban officials will ask the United Nations to condemn the U.S. economic embargo against the country and to call for an end to the embargo at the end of this month, according to Reuters.

Abelardo Moreno, Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister, stated that the embargo has caused great harm to Cuba’s economy, and argued that in certain cases economic restrictions under the Obama administration have in fact increased. Moreno cited as an example that third country parties that do business with Cuba have increasingly faced U.S. fines. Since Obama took office in 2009, Moreno said, both foreign and domestic embargo violators have faced fines totaling $2.5 billion to date.

Panama officials say weapons sent from Cuba to North Korea part of “major deal”

Fernando Núñez Fabrega, Panama’s Foreign Minister, has stated that he and other Panamanian officials believe the shipment of weapons from Cuba to North Korea intercepted in Panama three months ago was part of a “major deal” between the two countries, McClatchy reports. According to the report, a senior aide to Minister Núñez Fabrega, Tomás Cabal, has stated that “friends overseas” have informed Panama that the military materials and MiG-21 fighter jets found on a North Korean vessel leaving Cuba were part of a larger deal between Cuba and North Korea. McClatchy says that this claim could not be independently verified.


New reforms OK private contractors in arts and culture, tourism sectors

Regulations published this week in the Gaceta Oficial authorize the use of private contractors in the arts and culture and tourism industries, reports EFE. The Ministries of Culture, Work and Social Security, and Finance and Prices published resolutions in the Gaceta number 28 which will allow artists, including musicians and filmmakers, to contract private labor for projects, as well as “access services offered by other self-employed creators, artists, and workers,” reports El Nuevo Herald. Regulations published by the Ministry of Tourism in the Gaceta number 29 this week will allow the state-run tourism sector to contract private services.

Maritza Cabrera, head of tax policy for the Ministry of Finance and Prices, told state newspaper Granma that the tax for contracting labor will apply to anyone who hires more than five workers, and that the tax will count as a deductible on an individual’s income taxes. Artists pay a 4% tax on cash earnings, to be accounted for separately and not included as taxable income. Cabrera stated that the goal is “not to increase the present financial burden [of artists], but to straighten out aspects such as forms of payment, Social Security systems, and taxes… as they correspond to economic capacity.” The reforms also establish a Social Security system for artists and introduce price control measures for wholesale and retail art markets. The new regulations will take effect January 1st and aim to integrate the arts and culture sector into wider tax reforms that took effect last year.

In another opening for the self-employed, travel agencies and other official tourism sector entities will now be able to contract private lodging, restaurants, tours, and excursions for their clients, as well as hire self-employed workers for 28 categories of service that include construction and repair, gardening, parking, and meal provision for other tourism sector employees. The regulations stipulate that “products offered by self-employed workers” must be purchased in Cuban pesos (CUP), but that services may be purchased in CUP or Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). These regulations follow September announcements that the Ministry of Tourism will start promoting private sector offers in its packages this season, and that private farmers will be allowed to sell directly to the sector.

Cuba has over 2,200 private restaurants, nearly 6,200 rooms for rent in private homes, and more than 950 privately-owned homes entirely available for occupancy for tourists, reports EFE. The number of those licensed for self-employment is quickly approaching 437,000, according to official figures.

New directors installed at Granma and Juventud Rebelde

Cuba’s government has appointed new directors to the country’s two major newspapers: Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party, and Juventud Rebelde, the paper of the Young Communist League, reports the Associated Press. Pelayo Terry, formerly the editor of the Juventud Rebelde, will move to Granma, replacing Lazaro Barredo. Marina Menéndez Quintero, former deputy director of Juventud Rebelde, will be promoted to director. The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports that Terry is seen as “less of a hardliner” and has spoken in favor of using social media to promote dialogue. This July, Cuba’s Journalists’ Union held a congress, presided over by Miguel Díaz Canel, who is second-in-line to the presidency, where many journalists called for changes in the institutions and mechanisms presiding over journalism on the island.

Small retailers defying law banning the sale of imported clothing

In Cuba, some small retailers are defying a new law that prohibits the sale of imported clothing, reports AFP. Although the law went into effect immediately after its publication at the end of September, the article reports that no vendors have been arrested for continuing to sell imported clothing. Foreign apparel in Cuba is obtained when Cubans or their families bring clothes into the country from other countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, Spain and the U.S. Imported clothing is often in high demand, because it is less expensive and of a higher quality than most of the apparel sold in state-run stores. The law stipulates that those who continue to sell imported clothing will face strict fines.

This week, Yohandry Fontana, known as a pro-government blogger, sent out a series of tweets criticizing the measure, reports Reuters. “Bad news…I ask/wonder if it would not be much easier to approve the self-employed entrepreneurs that sell imported clothing than launching this activity onto the black market.” Whether or how the government will begin to enforce this law remains to be seen.

More information on new laws prohibiting the sale of imported clothing and other goods is available in last week’s Cuba Central’s News Blast.

Cuba will conduct audits, looks to improve state and private sector

As a continuation of President Raúl Castro’s ongoing efforts against corruption, Cuba’s Comptroller General will audit over 300 state-operated businesses from October 21st – November 22nd, reports EFE. More than 70% of the businesses belong to the food sector; other sectors to face audits include construction materials distribution, programs to distribute land, and production for export and import substitutes.

Audits conducted earlier in 2013 produced a 75% “poor or bad” rate, the Comptroller General reported. The investigation also produced evidence of a dozen alleged crimes and 7 counts of corruption, triggering nearly 600 administrative disciplinary measures. The Office of the Comptroller General was established in 2009 by President Castro and has since undertaken hundreds of audits. It is headed by Gladys Bejerano, who also serves as a Vice President of the Council of State.

In a move to create consistency in the growing private sector, the National Bureau of Standards has begun establishing the first national set of quality standards to be applied starting in December, reports Diario de Cuba. The new norms will primarily focus on restaurants, rented rooms, and taxis — businesses that often attract tourist clientele, — as well as a variety of cooperatives.

Cubans commemorate 36th anniversary of Cuban airliner bombing

Family members along with athletes and government officials commemorated the 36th anniversary of the Cubana de Aviación airliner bombing at a cemetery in Havana, reports Solovisión. The majority of the victims killed in the terrorist attack perpetrated by Cuban exiles Orlando Bosch and Luís Posada Carriles, were young athletes that had just participated in the Central American and Caribbean fencing championships held in Caracas. In all, 73 passengers lost their lives when the plane was downed.

A May 2005 report by the National Security Archives based on declassified CIA and FBI records identified Posada Carriles as a former CIA agent and one of the engineers behind the 1976 bombing. It was first act of airliner terrorism in the hemisphere.

Around the Region

El Salvador Catholic Church faces pressure for closing of human rights office

The Archbishop of San Salvador has faced an outcry over his decision to close Tutela Legal, a historic human rights office established to monitor and document human rights abuses, reports El Faro. Under scrutiny over the closure, the office of the Archbishop has changed its account of why Tutela Legal was closed three times.

When the Archbishop first announced the closure, a Catholic Church official stated that, “officially there is no violation of human rights anymore; therefore Tutela Legal, just like its mother office, Justice and Peace, does not have a purpose anymore.” A day later the Church released another statement laying out other – contradictory – reasons, including that the Church in fact planned to “create a new body that would advocate for the rightful application of justice.”

On October 4th, the Archbishop accused staff members of Tutela Legal of “having committed irregularities in economic, judicial, and administrative ways in order to individually favor themselves.” The timing has been questioned by many, as it comes just after the country’s Supreme Court accepted the first challenge to the country’s amnesty laws, and the Attorney General’s office has begun taking steps to investigate the El Mozote massacre.

Caracas Connect, September-October Report: U.S. Diplomats Expelled, Power Outages, Election Discontent, Coup Talk, Dan Hellinger, Center for Democracy in the Americas

This edition of the Caracas Connect, written by Dr. Daniel Hellinger, CDA Advisory Board member and professor at Webster University, covers the latest news on Venezuela, and provides analysis on the recent deteriorations in U.S.-Venezuela relations, the country’s own political and economic landscape, as well as growing relations with China. If you would like to receive Caracas Connect via email, please contact: CaracasConnect@democracyinamericas.org.

U.S. Senate passes resolution “condemning violence” against opposition in Venezuela

The U.S. Senate passed a non-binding resolution condemning intimidation and violence against opposition legislators in Venezuela, reports El Universal. The resolution was sponsored by Senator Robert Menéndez (NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was introduced at the beginning of August. The resolution supports the Venezuelan people in “their pursuit of the free exercise of representative democracy,” and calls for an open dialogue between all parties. The resolution also commended countries and organizations for acknowledging alleged irregularities in the election results.

Recommended Reading

Exodus from Cuba fuels clash between the generations, Christine Armario, The Associated Press

This article highlights the contrast between Cubans who left Cuba for the U.S. after the Revolution and Cubans who leave the island today. While older generations of migrants cited political persecution as their reason for leaving, now many instead cite economic reasons, often resulting in tension and differences in opinion between generations of immigrants. Fernando Ravsberg provides a different angle in his article, Cuba-Miami, Rapprochement in the Works? He argues that the easing of travel restrictions by both President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro is beginning to bring Cubans together.

Cuba’s Stroll toward Change: A View from the Streets, Ted Piccone, Brookings Institution

Ted Piccone frames his analysis of Cuba’s political economy in a trip report recounting a recent visit to the island. “We are witnessing today the unfolding of a transitional hybrid economy that has one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake,” he writes. Delineating the trajectory of Raúl Castro’s reforms, he concludes: “the United States would be smart to move beyond the confines of its Cold War policy and let Americans see what they can do to support the Cuban people.”

The Cuban Five were fighting terrorism. Why did we put them in jail?, Stephen Kimber, The Washington Post

Stephen Kimber, author of What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, argues that the trial of the Cuban Five in the United States was based upon double standards, and decided by an “unreasonable” jury. He provides detailed but concise background on the case of the Cuban Five, and discusses why they are considered national heroes in their homeland.

Road to the major leagues from Cuba still a dizzying one, Ray Glier, Al Jazeera America

Al Jazeera America profiles Yasiel Puig and other emerging baseball stars from Cuba who landed in the U.S. playing major league baseball, illustrating that despite new Cuban reforms allowing players to sign contracts abroad, Cubans still face significant political and economic barriers to playing in the U.S.

Recommended Viewing

The End of the Road: On Cuba’s Elderly, Matraka Producciones

The End of the Road is a documentary that chronicles the lives and struggles of senior citizens living in Cuba. Through personal interviews, tours of homes and video footage around the country, the documentary is able to capture the day-to-day lives of senior citizens and their decisions to be proactive in improving their lives.

Cuban Americans split on diplomatic relations with Cuba, Natasha Ghoneim, Al Jazeera America

Natasha Ghoneim reports from Miami, where she interviews a Cuban-American family. The interviews highlight the diverging politics of the two generations that now comprise many Miami families; the parents, who left the island as children and “grew up hating Communism,” and their two daughters interested in bridging the gap with their ancestral homeland over political barriers. Ghoneim conveys that this shift is also reflected quantitatively in data that shows support for the embargo and “isolationism” is now almost 50-50 among Cuban-Americans.

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