Tag Archives: Embargo

U. S. – CUBA RELATIONS I N T H E BIDEN ERA: A Case for Making Engagement Resilient as a Means of Providing Long-Term Support for the Cuban People

Complete Article: U. S. – Cuba Relations in the Biden Era  


This paper makes a renewed case for engagement with Cuba as the best way for the United States to advance its national interests, reassert its regional leadership, reduce resistance to reform within the Cuban government, and promote a freer, more prosperous future for the Cuban people. It also argues that the United States should continue to highlight Cuba’s democratic failings and support actors across the spectrum of Cuban society who work to ensure that greater economic and civic
freedoms are guaranteed on the island.

The United States and Cuba must learn from both the successes and missed
opportunities of their last period of détente. As President Joseph R. Biden Jr. looks to fulfill his pledge to return to a policy of engagement with Cuba, both countries must strive to make the normalization of relations resilient in order to insulate progress from unpredictable political cycles. Getting there will require both governments to negotiate cooperation agreements and facilitate private sector economic arrangements that can sufficiently cement diplomatic relations and socio-economic integration between the two countries. In many instances, progress may only be achieved through individual but parallel policies that both reduce exposure to codified
U.S. embargo sanctions and generate the political space necessary for the U.S. Congress to lift them. For Cuba, this means taking advantage of the next four years to advance meaningful economic liberalization and guarantee greater rights for Cubans both at home and abroad. For the United States, it means abandoning its centerpiece policy of regime change and allowing Cuba’s future to be determined by and among Cubans themselves.

This may seem like a daunting task, but circumstances are still conducive for meaningful diplomatic breakthroughs between the historic Cold War adversaries. The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have prodded Cuba to finally overhaul its dual-currency system and commit to further market liberalization. Cuban authorities have an opportunity to signal to their citizens, the Cuban diaspora, and Washington that they are finally willing to bring their country into the 21st century. But effective follow-through is less likely if the United States continues to be seen as
attempting to exploit the crisis by maintaining blanket sanctions under the illusion that further pressure will cause the Cuban government to break.

Thus, we recommend that the Biden administration pursue a multi-pronged approach to get bilateral relations immediately back on a more constructive track, regain control of the narrative, and incentivize further reforms in Cuba. Prioritizing early moves that have a clear and visible impact on the lives of Cubans on the island and abroad will help restore public support for engagement among Cuban-Americans. The new administration should also place equal emphasis on addressing some of the more intractable issues that divide both governments early on.

Track 1: Restore Support for the Cuban People as a Policy Priority and Rebuild Trust
a. Reverse policies that have unduly harmed the Cuban people. This includes, but is not limited to, lifting restrictions on commercial and charter flights, ending remittance caps, restoring consular services in Cuba, restarting the Cuban Family Reunification Program, reinstituting the five-year multiple-entry visa for Cuban nationals, and revising banking and finance regulations to ensure the continuity of formal remittance transfers and correspondent banking in Cuba.
b. Restore support for the Cuban private sector as a policy priority.
c. Resume and bolster public health cooperation with Cuba to combat Covid-19.
d. Restore and strengthen working-level diplomatic ties by appointing an
ambassador to lead U.S. Embassy Havana (or a chargé d’affaires with
ambassadorial rank if the Senate is unlikely to confirm an ambassadorial
appointment), initiating bilateral talks to fully re-staff the U.S. and Cuban
embassies with security guarantees, and resuming bilateral cooperation on
national security issues.
e. Implement additional confidence-building measures—like ordering an
immediate apolitical review of Cuba’s re-designation as a State Sponsor of
Terror, updating and restoring the 2016 Presidential Policy Directive “United States-Cuba Normalization”, and once again waiving Title III of the Helms- Burton Act—that improve the climate for success on higher-profile, longer- term impediments to normalization, such as those identified under Track 2.
f. Create, through recurring public events, private consultations and official visits to South Florida, feedback mechanisms whereby the Biden administration can engage the Cuban American community on Cuba policy and gain input from a diversity of Cuban American community leaders and members in return.

Track 2: Tackle the “Tough Stuff” and Make Normalization Stick Through High-Level, Direct Diplomacy
a. Designate a Special Representative for Cuba or other high-level
administration official(s) to negotiate cooperation agreements, private sector economic arrangements, and roadmaps for resolving long-standing disputes between the United States and Cuba, with the aim of deepening socio- economic ties between both countries. Breakthroughs in negotiations on U.S. property claims, the Venezuelan crisis, and private sector trade can build momentum and shift the calculus for normalization on Capitol Hill.

Track 3: Respond to Openness with Openness
a. As the Cuban government moves to recognize greater rights for its
citizens and nationals, and opens opportunities for U.S. and diaspora direct
investment, respond with U.S. economic openings allowed by executive
b. In tandem with progress made under Track 2 and/or Track 3(a), seek
congressional support for repealing counterproductive codified Cuba
sanctions, as well as for other targeted initiatives that broaden forms of U.S. assistance and support to the Cuban people beyond democracy promotion alone.

Cuba, for its part, must overcome internal resistance to a more open relationship with the United States and be willing to make changes that will safeguard bilateral relations regardless of which U.S. political party is in power. The Cuban government has long opposed demands for concessions involving their internal affairs or foreign policy. Yet normalization would benefit from less emphasis on process and more emphasis on results. Whether Cuba takes steps toward guaranteeing greater economic and civic
freedoms as a result of bilateral negotiations or internal reforms, the fact remains it must take them if it wishes to free itself from the vicissitudes of U.S. politics.

Meaningful progress in state-diaspora relations, legal investment in the island’s private sector, and guaranteeing greater rights for all Cubans to participate in their county’s economic, political, and public affairs would materially reduce Cuba’s exposure to the dynamics of the Helms-Burton Act and other embargo laws. It would also help to generate the political momentum needed for the U.S. Congress to repeal these statutes once and for all. While standing on principle that it will not compromise its sovereignty, Cuba can and should make internal reforms that are in the interest of the Cuban people and have the corollary benefit of paving a sustainable road to full normalization with the United States. Reality requires movement and energy on both sides to achieve a more lasting rapprochement that can withstand further stress tests in the relationship that are bound to emerge along the way.

After 2020, the window for achieving significant progress toward full normalization may be finite, and the costs of not doing so could be severe. Failure to make relations stick this time around could entrench another generation of Cubans and Cuban Americans on both sides of the Florida Straits in prolonged patterns of mutual suspicion and hostility.

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The U.S. should stop punishing the people of Cuba for their government’s crimes.

Note: Even US conservatives recognize the absolute failure and stupidity of the embargo on Cuba. A.R.

February 17, 2022

Doug Bandow

Six decades ago the Kennedy administration imposed an embargo on Cuba. A dozen American presidents have enforced the island’s economic isolation, substantially tightening controls in recent years. For a time Washington even cited Havana as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. campaign, observed Mauricio Vicent of El Pais, is “without doubt the longest punitive measure ever imposed on a country in modern history.”

Washington’s efforts were reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended outside subsidies for the island. Cuba’s GDP shrank by more than a third during what was called the “Special Period.” Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez later stepped in, but Caracas’s economic collapse ended its bountiful subsidies as well. Through it all U.S. policymakers, Florida Cuban expatriates, and vote-seeking Republican politicians collaborated to wage economic war on the island.

Now, finally, the communist government has fallen. Political prisoners have been released. Castro family and friends have fled. Elections have brought to power officials promising to dismantle the socialist economy. The incoming government even proposed expanding Guantanamo Bay for the U.S.

Only kidding!

Washington’s policy has completely and utterly failed.

Fidel Castro has died and Raúl Castro has retired, but the communist government remains and includes several Castro family members. The jails are bulging after protests in July, with hundreds arrested and many simply disappeared without notice to their families. Trump administration sanctions, left in place by President Joe Biden, continue to cripple the private economy, which had been expanding and undermining government authority.

While it was expected to at least roll back the Trump administration’s measures, which hurt private entrepreneurs in Cuba more than government apparatchiks, the Biden administration has done nothing. Some Democrats speculate that the administration is waiting for the midterm elections to pass, or perhaps even for Biden’s reelection, just as President Barack Obama held off until his second term to act. Of course, Biden may not get a second chance.

The embargo may be the most complete, longest, and most enduring policy failure in American history. In 1959 Fidel Castro led a revolution against a U.S.-backed strongman, Fulgencio Batista. Castro proved to be even more despotic and turned to the Soviet Union for support. Washington imposed an embargo, which has metastasized through subsequent regulations and laws. The embargo was proposed, the outgoing Eisenhower administration admitted, to impoverish the Cuban people. The State Department’s Lester Mallory urged action that “while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Decades later, Fidel Castro is dead and brother Raúl is formally retired. The presidency and party leadership have devolved upon the colorless functionary Miguel Díaz-Canel, who retains the founders’ willingness to suppress dissent and enforce obedience. Alas, the reality of Cuban communism does not reflect the rosy assessments of the happy lefty tourists who wander the island in search of a collectivist paradise.

Ever since Lincoln Steffens proclaimed of the Soviet Union, “I’ve seen the future, and it works,” progressives have visited new dictatorships hoping to spy the long-awaited utopia. Fidel Castro eventually became an enduring revolutionary hero. Where better for lefty intellectuals to vacation than Cuba for a guided tour?

Even today, many on the left excuse the repression of Castro’s regime. Cuban officials might occasionally make a mistake, they say, but most blame can be reliably placed upon the U.S. Last July Cuban demonstrators turned out shouting libertad! and were promptly dispatched in the usual communist fashion. Yet left-wing commentators were uncomfortable that the Cuban people desire what most people elsewhere desire: liberty.

Despite its remarkably good public relations, Cuba remains a dictatorship. Last year Freedom House rated Cuba toward the bottom of its global freedom rankings, deeming the country “not free” and giving it just 13 of 100 available points for its political and civil liberties. Explained Freedom House: “Cuba’s one-party communist state outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.”

The latest report from Human Rights Watch covered last year’s events, including the dramatic summer protests:

The Cuban government continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism. At the same time, Cubans continue to endure a dire economic crisis, which impacts their social and economic rights. … The government employs arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics, independent activists, political opponents, and others. Security officers rarely present arrest warrants to justify detaining critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors may use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of what they call “delinquent” behavior.

All this despite six decades of the U.S. generally increasing economic sanctions. Only President Barack Obama broke that pattern, rolling back some penalties and reestablishing full diplomatic relations. The Cuban people loved him for it. When I visited in 2017, cars still sported decals with Obama’s picture from his visit the previous year. The government underestimated his popularity. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez complained about Obama’s “deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture, and our symbols” and desire to use economic appeals to force political change.

However, President Donald Trump cared more about Cuban-American votes than Cuban lives and imposed additional sanctions, even adding a new twist, allowing U.S. lawsuits against foreign investors in Cuba. Human-rights activists long had criticized the embargo as counterproductive, used by the regime to excuse its failings and justify its crimes. Cuba’s small businesspeople and their employees, who invested or worked in tourist-friendly industries—restaurants, Airbnbs, and taxis—were even more critical. By discouraging U.S. visitors, Trump wrecked the nascent public sector, which at its height provided 40 percent of the island’s jobs.

Airbnb owner Julia de la Rosa complained to me that “So many people opened businesses for American tourists” who then were prohibited from coming. Workers had to return to unproductive state employment, strengthening the Castro regime’s control. In short, sanctions worked no better in Cuba than in Venezuela, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, whose governments refused to abandon their most important political objectives despite U.S. economic pressure.

Cubans expected Biden to return to the reform path. After all, he had pledged to “try to reverse the failed Trump policies that inflicted harm on Cubans.” Instead, after the July protests, he added new sanctions “to bolster the cause of the Cuban people.” And that was just a start, he warned: “There will be more, unless there’s some drastic change in Cuba, which I don’t anticipate.” Biden matched Trump in pious hypocrisy, announcing “we hear the cries of freedom coming from the island. We’re holding the regime accountable.”

Alas, the Díaz-Canel government did not fold. In fact, the invincibly ignorant Cuba hawks—most notably Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Robert Menendez—did the communist regime a favor by discouraging contact with America. Collin Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel, which develops trips to conform with U.S. law (and organized my second visit), observed: “If you want to create more space for debate, expanding the entrepreneurial class is one way.” Indeed, after encouraging the development of private business in a desperate attempt to spur the economy, the regime came to fear the rapid increase in private sector firms and cracked down.

Some on the left agree. Antoni Kapcia, who has written sympathetically of the Cuban revolution, noted:

I’ve always argued that if an American president really wanted to destabilize the Cuban system, they would get rid of the embargo, or promise to get rid of the embargo. To some extent, this is what Barack Obama did, at least in the sense of saying the established policy had failed and slightly easing some restrictions, although he certainly didn’t lift the embargo altogether. But most of the US presidents have done precisely the opposite, and tightened it, or at least continued the involvement. That gives the system and the leadership an alibi in Cuba. But it also plays into nationalism.

John F. Kennedy might be excused for not knowing any better when he embargoed the new revolutionary state. Joe Biden has no such excuse. Cuba’s continuing oppression of its people is a tragedy. However, after six decades of futile economic warfare, the U.S. should stop punishing the Cuban people for the sins of their government. Biden should live up to his campaign promise to empower “the Cuban people to freely determine their own outcome, their own future.”

Early morning 2011: Cuban emigration applicants awaiting entrance to the US “Interest Section”
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Fidel Castro once called it ‘a tangled ball of yarn,’ and after six decades, Washington’s keystone regime change policy still hasn’t worked.

RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT. https://responsiblestatecraft.org/ February 3, 2022
William LeoGrande

February 3, 1962, marks the sixtieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Proclamation 3447 imposing an “embargo on all trade with Cuba” to punish Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government for its “alignment with the communist powers,” the Soviet Union and China. Despite having failed to bend Havana to Washington’s will over the past six decades, the embargo remains the centerpiece of the U.S. policy of “regime change.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester D. Mallory explained the strategy in 1960: “Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The anniversary of the embargo offers an occasion to delve into its complexities in order to better understand what Fidel Castro once called “a tangled ball of yarn.” 

What exactly is the embargo against Cuba?

“The embargo” is shorthand for a complex patchwork of laws and regulations that comprise the oldest and most comprehensive U.S. economic sanctions against any country in the world. Although President Eisenhower imposed some economic sanctions on Cuba in 1960, the current embargo began when President Kennedy proclaimed a ban on all trade with Cuba in 1962, and a year later invoked the Trading with the Enemy Act to extend the embargo to prohibit all transactions (trade, travel, and financial) unless licensed by the Secretary of the Treasury (at the president’s direction). Regulations governing implementation of the embargo and the licensed exceptions are codified in the Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR).

Several other statutes govern elements of the embargo:

—  The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 authorizes humanitarian donations of food and medicine, and the sale of telecommunications services and medical supplies, albeit subject to detailed restrictions. It also prohibits trade between the subsidiaries of U.S. companies abroad and Cuba.

— The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 inscribed the embargo into law until Cuba becomes a multi-party free-market democracy and pays compensation for property nationalized by the revolutionary government. It also gives U.S. citizens, including naturalized Cuban Americans, the right to sue in federal court anyone, in the United States or abroad, who is “trafficking in” (benefiting from) nationalized property, and blocks the officers of foreign trafficking companies from entering the United States. 

— The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TWEA) legalized the sale of agricultural commodities to Cuba, but only for cash in advance. It also prohibits travel to Cuba for tourism, defined as any travel not already licensed at that time. 

— The so-called “Berman amendment” (named for sponsor Rep. Howard Berman) exempts artistic works and informational materials from the embargo.

— The Trump administration’s designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of international terrorism under the Export Administration Act of 1979 triggered a variety of economic sanctions, although most are already in place under the broader embargo. 

— Both the Trump and Biden administrations have imposed sanctions on Cuban individuals under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012, which freezes the U.S. assets and denies entry to the United States of persons guilty of corruption or serious human rights abuse. 

Why did the United States impose the embargo?

The embargo is sometimes justified as a response to Cuba’s nationalization of U.S. property in 1960, which amounted to over $1 billion in investment. However, the embargo was not imposed until 1962 as part of President Kennedy’s policy to destabilize the Cuban government through a combination of economic sanctions and covert paramilitary attacks. Since then, U.S. presidents have cited various rationales for continuing the embargo, ranging from Cuba’s partnership with the Soviet Union, to its support for revolutionary movements in Latin America and Africa, its human rights record, and its socialist system.

How has the embargo changed over time?

Every president has modified the embargo by using his licensing authority to loosen or tighten aspects of it. Take travel, for example. President Jimmy Carter lifted all limits on travel to Cuba in 1977. President Ronald Reagan reimposed a ban on most types of travel in 1982.  President Bill Clinton loosened travel restrictions by creating the people-to-people educational travel category in 1999. President George W. Bush eliminated people-to-people travel, President Barack Obama restored it, and President Trump abolished it again. Congress has also modified the embargo by statute. The most important change was the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act which inscribed the embargo into law. At present, the embargo’s impact is especially severe because President Trump added a series of new, expanded sanctions and President Biden has left those additional sanctions in place.

Why does Cuba call it a “blockade” rather than an embargo?

The Cuban government calls the embargo a blockade (el bloqueo) because its extraterritorial provisions restrict Cuban commerce with other countries. The United States tried to make the embargo multilateral from the beginning. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson pressured the OAS into formally adopting a commercial and diplomatic embargo against Cuba, which lasted until the mid-1970s. Most European countries also limited their commercial ties with Cuba in response to U.S. pressure. Although the embargo cannot prevent other countries from trading with Cuba, it makes such commerce difficult: 

— The embargo prohibits the subsidiaries of U.S. companies that operate in other countries from trading with Cuba. 

— It prohibits other countries from exporting to Cuba any product with more than 10 percent U.S. content. 

— It prohibits foreign financial institutions from handling any U.S. dollar transactions that involve Cuba (so-called U-turn transactions). 

— It allows U.S. citizens who lost property after the Cuban revolution to sue in U.S. federal court anyone, including foreign companies, who do business with Cuba involving that property.

— It prohibits entry into the United States of any officers of foreign companies and their family members if those companies are doing business with Cuba that involves property previously owned by U.S. citizens.

— International financial institutions are required to conduct costly “enhanced due diligence” before engaging in transactions involving countries designated as state sponsors of international terrorism, which currently includes Cuba.  

— Multilateral international financial institutions cannot provide assistance to Cuba without losing a portion of their U.S. funding.

Is the embargo legal under international law?

Supporters argue that the embargo is legal because the United States has the right to decide whether or not it wants to trade with another country, and the embargo is justified by Cuba’s nationalization of U.S. property without compensation. Opponents argue that the embargo constitutes coercion intended to force regime change in violation of the OAS Charter and the UN Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States. The UN Declaration recognizes “the sovereign and inalienable right of a State freely to determine its own political, economic, cultural and social systems,” and imposes on all states the duty “to refrain from any action or attempt in whatever form or under whatever pretext to destabilize or to undermine the stability of another State.” The consensus of international opinion is that the embargo is not consistent with international law, as reflected by the fact that last year,  for 29th time, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of an annual resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo. In 2021, the vote was 184 in favor, 2 opposed (the United States and Israel), with 3 abstentions.

How can the embargo override U.S. citizens’ constitutional right to travel?

Although the Supreme Court has recognized a right to travel in Kent v. Dulles (1958), it is not absolute. In two cases, Zemel v. Rusk (1965) and  Regan v. Wald (1984), the Court rejected challenges to the embargo’s restrictions on travel to Cuba, holding that the president has the authority to limit travel on grounds of national security. If you are a “person subject to U.S. jurisdiction” (i.e., a U.S. citizen, resident, or other person within the United States regardless of your nationality) you can only travel to Cuba under one of the 12 categories of travel licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

Can Cuba buy food and medicine under the embargo?

Yes, but not freely or easily. U.S companies can export agricultural commodities to Cuba only if the Cuban government pays cash up front. No credit-based sales are allowed, which is not the way international trade normally works. U.S. companies can sell medical supplies to Cuba “only for the use and benefit of the Cuban people,” only if they are not used for biopharmaceutical purposes (for example, manufacturing vaccines), and only if the U.S. government certifies these requirements are met. These requirements are so onerous that many companies decide not to sell to Cuba rather than comply with them—a recent example being the company that decided to cancel a contract to sell Cuba ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Is the embargo responsible for Cuba’s economic problems?

In part, yes. The Cuban economy suffers from a number of chronic structural problems stemming from its adoption of a Soviet-style central planning model in the 1970s. Although it is pursuing market-oriented reforms, its structural weaknesses persist. They make Cuba especially vulnerable to external economic shocks and pressures, of which the embargo is the most significant and persistent. The Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs it over $3 billion annually in extra expenses it incurs trading with other partners. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America estimated that the embargo has cost $130 billion (in current prices) since it was imposed, or roughly $2 billion annually on average. 

Would the embargo end automatically if the president failed to renew it every year?

No. The statutory authority for the embargo under the Trading with the Enemy Act would lapse if the president failed to extend it every September as required by law, but the codification of the embargo under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act would still remain in place.

Can the president lift the embargo unilaterally?

Legally, he probably could. Politically, he probably wouldn’t. Attorney Robert Muse and others have argued that because there are no limitations on the president’s licensing authority specified in either Trading with the Enemy Act or the CACR, the President could license the embargo out of existence in its entirety by simply authorizing a general license for all transactions with Cuba. The argument against this interpretation is that such an exercise of authority would violate the clear intent of the law since the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act places specific conditions on lifting the embargo. Muse responds that the law is an unconstitutional infringement on the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy, which President Clinton suggested in his signing statement. Politically, a president would have to be willing to risk a confrontation with Congress to take this step and thus far, every president has accepted the interpretation that the embargo can only be lifted under the terms of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act or after its repeal.

How long will the embargo last?

As the embargo’s longevity suggests, there is no sunshine provision that would automatically end it. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act prohibits lifting it until the Cuban government has become a multi-party, free-market democracy, and until all the property of U.S. citizens, including Cuban Americans, nationalized after 1959 is either returned or compensated. The continuing influence of conservative Cuban Americans in the Republican Party and their electoral strength in Florida has transformed the embargo from a foreign policy issue into a matter of domestic politics. Consequently, Congress is unlikely to repeal the embargo in the foreseeable future.

But a realist president willing to declare openly what most foreign policy analysts acknowledge—that the embargo is a counterproductive failure—could use his (or her) executive authority to license broad categories of commerce and exchange, leaving the statutory embargo an empty shell.

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Pavel Vidal Alejandro


Este estudio evalúa la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento del PIB cubano y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones estadounidenses en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas e indicadores financieros del período 1994-2020. Si bien se evidencia que un endurecimiento de las sanciones reduce el crecimiento del PIB cubano, también se ve que los impactos afectan significativamente el consumo de las familias y las dinámicas de las ventas y el empleo del sector privado, sin apreciarse un efecto significativo en los indicadores de la economía estatal. Las remesas son el fujo de mayor peso dentro del intercambio económico total Cuba-EEUU (el 8,3% del PIB cubano), con un impacto estadísticamente significativo en la trayectoria del consumo de hogares y mercados privados.


Las sanciones económicas se definen como acciones que uno o más países toman para limitar o poner fin a sus relaciones económicas con un país objetivo en un esfuerzo por persuadirlo de que cambie sus políticas. Las sanciones pueden adoptar muchas formas: aranceles, controles de exportación, embargos, prohibiciones de importación, prohibiciones de viaje, congelación de activos, ayudas, cortes y bloqueos (Morgan, Bapat y Krustev, 2009).

La literatura sobre el impacto económico de las sanciones es amplia y heterogénea, tanto en metodología, presupuestos teóricos, estrategias empíricas y bases de datos empleadas como en resultados y conclusiones (Özdamar y Shahin, 2021). Si bien la mayoría de los estudios encuentra que las sanciones tienen un impacto negativo sobre la tasa de crecimiento del PIB del país sancionado, los flujos de inversión extranjera y sus finanzas internacionales, los efectos varían dependiendo del tamaño y dependencia entre los países involucrados, de la naturaleza unilateral o multilateral de las sanciones, de la participación de EEUU y/o de Naciones Unidas, entre otros factores. Algunos ejemplos recientes de esta literatura son Caruso (2003), Neuenkirch y Neumeier (2015), Besedeš, Goldbach y Nitsch (2017), Gurvich y Prilepskiy (2015), Hatipoglu y Peksen, (2018), y Bayramov, Rustamli y Abbas (2020).

Los países que imponen sanciones también incurren en costes económicos, al restringir sus transacciones, aunque pueden ser relativamente pequeños, especialmente en casos de sanciones unilaterales para economías grandes como la de EEUU (Farmer, 2000). Otra literatura intenta entender la probabilidad de permanencia de las sanciones (McGillivray y Stam, 2004) y encuentra que los cambios de liderazgo en los países involucrados son el mejor predictor de la duración de una política de sanciones. En cuanto a su naturaleza multilateral o unilateral, Miers y Morgan (2002) concluyen que el primero no es más efectivo que el segundo, como usualmente tiende a pensarse, sobre todo por lo difícil que resulta la coordinación entre varios implicados. Özdamar y Shahin (2021) llaman la atención que algunos temas como las criptomonedas y el flujo de emigrantes todavía no han sido debidamente estudiados dentro de la literatura sobre el impacto económico de las sanciones.

Cuando se menciona a Cuba en los estudios internacionales sobre sanciones, casi siempre se la usa como ejemplo de fracaso de estas políticas. El mismo consenso existe en la mayoría de la literatura que aborda el caso cubano detenidamente (LeoGrande, 2015; Von Burgsdorff, 2009; Lopez-Levy, 2011; Dominguez, Hernandez y Barbería, 2017; Alzugaray, 2017; Zimbalist, 2021; Mesa-Lago, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021).

Zimbalist (2021) concluye que: “el embargo y el esfuerzo de Estados Unidos para derrocar al gobierno de Castro han estado vigentes desde 1960 y han fracasado en todas las formas posibles. Obligaron a Cuba a arrojarse en brazos de la URSS, proporcionaron una excusa para los fracasos económicos de su revolución y para su control político estricto de la población, elevaron la reputación de Castro como nacionalista y líder de los países del tercer mundo que buscan una relación más justa e independiente con las superpotencias. Y fracasaron, por supuesto, en deshacerse de él. Si ha tenido éxito en algo, ha sido en hacer más difíciles las vidas de los cubanos. Y es aborrecible decir que tal resultado es un éxito, aunque muchos políticos norteamericanos parecen pensar de esa manera”.

Lopez-Levy (2011) destaca que, históricamente, dos argumentos principales han justificado la política de sanciones contra Cuba. Durante la Guerra Fría, Washington afirmó que la alianza del gobierno de La Habana con Moscú y su comportamiento internacional constituían una amenaza para su seguridad nacional. Tras la caída del Muro de Berlín el argumento principal ha sido que el régimen cubano viola los derechos humanos de sus ciudadanos, si bien ello no siempre ha coincidido con la política exterior hacia China, Rusia o Arabia Saudí. El embargo refleja en gran medida la influencia de una facción del exilio en apoyo a esta política para lograr un cambio de régimen.

Rodríguez (2021) señala sobre el controvertido tema de las indemnizaciones cuyo monto, de acuerdo con el valor en libro de las propiedades norteamericanas nacionalizadas, ascendía a 1.800 millones de dólares, pero que el cálculo del gobierno cubano sobre el perjuicio económico causado por el bloqueo a la isla se calculó hasta 2018 en unos 134.499 millones de dólares. El gobierno de La Habana reconoce las reclamaciones de EEUU por las propiedades nacionalizadas, pero no las de los cubanos emigrados.

Por su parte, Mesa-Lago (2021) apunta que “el embargo, aunque importante, no es el mayor problema que sufre Cuba, ya que posee relaciones comerciales con al menos 70 países e inversiones de muchos de ellos, en especial de Canadá (en los sectores turísticos o minero: explotación de níquel y petróleo), España (turismo también), China (diversos campos) y Venezuela (crecientes hasta 2014). Indudablemente tiene efectos negativos, como los requisitos que ha de cumplir la banca extranjera en sus transacciones para evitar sanciones de EEUU, el sobreprecio en la compra de mercancías de ese país, que se realiza a través de terceros, y los mayores costes de flete. El mayor problema que afronta Cuba es su “ineficiente sistema económico e incapacidad de generar bastantes exportaciones para pagar sus importaciones”.

A pesar del esquema de sanciones, un cierto flujo de comercio, remesas y visitantes se ha venido produciendo entre EEUU y Cuba, sobre todo desde los años 90, con mayor presencia en las dos décadas siguientes, con diferentes intensidades dependiendo del momento político. En relación a las remesas, Duany (2021) refiere que los cubanos residentes en EEUU han financiado buena parte de la modesta recuperación de la economía cubana desde la década de 1990. Los datos disponibles sugieren que éstas constituyen una fuente de ingresos fundamental en Cuba, quizá tan importante como en la República Dominicana, México, El Salvador y otras naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas. En cuanto al sector turismo y viajes, Perez y Perelló (2021) resaltan que la reducción de las prohibiciones a los viajes de norteamericanos en el período de Barack Obama permitió mostrar el posible escenario de las visitas y turismo desde EEUU hacia Cuba en un clima de distensión política.

Esta información sobre la trayectoria cambiante de los flujos de comercio, visitantes, remesas y finanzas son el punto de partida del presente estudio para aproximar el impacto económico de las sanciones sobre el crecimiento económico cubano y sobre otros agregados macroeconómicos. Con las estimaciones no se busca aproximar el coste total de las sanciones. Tampoco se intenta valorar todo el beneficio que pudiera traer a la economía cubana el levantamiento futuro de todas las sanciones.

La estrategia empírica busca examinar la sensibilidad de las series históricas del crecimiento económico y de otros indicadores macroeconómicos a los giros (flexibilizaciones/endurecimiento) del esquema de sanciones en las últimas tres décadas, empleando como fuente de información las variaciones en los flujos de comercio de bienes, visitantes y remesas y de indicadores financieros. Además de estimar el efecto sobre el crecimiento del PIB, se desagregan los impactos específicos a través del canal comercial, de visitantes y de remesas, y se separan los impactos para indicadores de la economía estatal y del sector privado. Este último resultado contribuye al debate en cuanto a la posibilidad de diseñar acciones de sanciones económicas que sólo impacten al gobierno sin dañar el sector privado y las familias o, en cambio, diseñar acciones que beneficien al sector privado sin beneficiar al gobierno.La segunda sección de este trabajo resume los principales eventos políticos y legislativos que han implicado giros en el esquema de sanciones desde los años 90. La tercera sección examina los acontecimientos e indicadores más relevantes de la coyuntura económica actual. La cuarta sección describe los datos usados para las estimaciones y examina la trayectoria del valor del intercambio económico entre ambos países, presentes a pesar de las sanciones. La quinta sección explica los modelos econométricos y su especificación bajo la lógica de restricciones de balanza de pagos. La sexta sección discute los resultados relacionados con el impacto de las sanciones en el crecimiento del PIB, los canales de transmisión y el impacto diferenciado entre el sector estatal y el sector privado de la economía cubana. La séptima sección evalúa la robustez estadística de los resultados, empleando como alternativa a los modelos de vectores autorregresivos (VAR). Las conclusiones comentan las implicaciones fundamentales de los resultados econométricos para el debate actual sobre la política de sanciones estadounidenses contra la economía cubana.

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Cuba Study Group, October 28, 2021
Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Original Article:  A “Third Way” Cuba Policy?

As noted in the introduction written by the Council on International Relations to Charles A. Kupchan’s book How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace, in his 2008 inaugural address, Barack Obama promised nations “on the wrong side of history” that the U.S. would “extend a hand if they were willing to open their fists.”

Thus began an intellectual presidency, which certainly constitutes a strategic presidency. With its impressive historical documentation, Kupchan’s book provided Obama with a set of assumptions and theses that helped guide his policy towards Cuba.

Two assumptions in this book are worth summarizing. The first is that the stability of international relations is not decided by the type of regime a country has. The second is that economic relations are not as important as diplomacy when reducing tensions and seeking geopolitical accommodations with countries in conflict.

Obama’s policy towards Cuba was designed from these two assumptions. That a policy of unilateral concessions appeased the enemy, and that a strong investment in a friendly narrative, respect for sovereignty, and offers of cooperation would be more productive to achieve the goals of democratization, which Obama left in the most effective hands: that of the Cubans.

Isolation, combined with a policy of harassment and attrition, had not led to the stated goal of U.S. foreign policy toward the Island. This was the strongest argument against the critics of a policy shift that began with the exchange of prisoners, the removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

To be fair, Obama actually modified his message, bringing it closer to Kupchan’s intellectual vision. He did not wait for the Cuban government to open its fist, instead introducing changes without the latter modifying its internal and external policy one iota.

In my view, and in the case of Cuba, the Obama policy’s greatest strategic success was to overwhelm the Cuban government on three fundamental levels: in that of its intentions, in that of its will to change, and in that of its language. Its impact on Cuban society has been irreversible.

The policy that preceded it lacked vision; confident that the harsh exercise of power would put an end to the regime. For 62 years, the Cuban government has been ostensibly on the verge of crumbling every four years. Obama’s policy focused on the medium and long term, and for that very reason it was strategic.

Did he fail? No. Although the type of regime does matter in any conception of foreign policy—a necessary correction to Kupchan’s postulates—a consequence perhaps not foreseen by the author, but which I assume was intuited by Obama, is that such a policy could put an end both rhetorically and practically to the identification and perception of the Cuban people and government as enemies of the United States. If the Cuban government continued (continues) to place itself in the convenient role of the enemy, this was no longer true with its people. And this is the most important result in terms of the US’s strategic goals, which not even the return to tough policy under Donald Trump could reinstate: the possibility of masking the conflict between the Cuban state and Cuban society behind the conflict between countries reached its limit with this formulation of foreign policy. Cuba opened up, and society took the lead.

The hard exercise of power continues with the logic inherited from the times of John F. Kennedy: instant democracy, hence the idea of ​​restoring the past, and the United States playing a leading role in this transcript. Quid pro quo demands on Obama’s policy are born out of this logic, just as his policy sought to break with it. Obama inaugurated another era. Cubans were the ones who must advance the changes, and the United States can only be there for what it can and should do: to assist and support the process. The pace of change depends on factors that the United States cannot and should not try to control. There are constraints that the North American power must abide by based on the structural limitations of its system; this is what the hard-liners recognize to their chagrin every four years. After every electoral cycle, they always conclude that its up to the Cubans. They see abandonment “a lo Kennedy” when in reality it is the best invitation to assume control of our destiny.

Obama’s approach recognized that quid pro quo policies as a diplomatic game or foreign policy go beyond the limits imposed by a given time period, especially when it comes to regime change. He later demonstrated this with his policy towards the Arab Spring, mainly in Egypt. However, hardliners demand results within a fixed period from a policy that was repeatedly repurposed over time.

It is on this enduring and far-reaching foundation, which was put to the test here in July, that the Joe Biden administration could and should build a revised “third way” with Cuba, with an approach that connects its foreign policy with the nature of governing regimes. The Cuban government is an actor and factor of regional destabilization, with new formulas that can be confused with the mechanisms of democracies and at the same time uses them. Democratic regimes are the key to stable peace, the most salvageable of Francis Fukuyama’s thinking. This cannot be ignored.

Alongside a dialogue on security issues in the region—including immigration, combating drug trafficking, and climate change—blanket sanctions should be replaced by individual sanctions at the beginning of this new post-Donald Trump political term, which are already being applied in some cases. This would continuously weaken strong identities in Cuba, like the ones between the country and nation, and the state and government, which in turn strengthens the citizenry. Miguel Díaz-Canel will have a very difficult time identifying as, or confusing himself with, the nation.

Re-establishing and invigorating people-to-people diplomacy is another imperative. Soft power, a policy applied by all Chinese administrations toward Cuba, was revealed as the best option to undo an artificially constructed enmity between the two countries. One cannot forget that the United States and Cuba have been historical enemies for at least three generations, a rooted narrative that served as propitious terrain for an unvoluntary war.

A third step in this new matrix should raise political recognition for the opposition and civic recognition for civil society. From backroom conversations, which is the usual diplomatic style that gives place to democratic alternatives, it is important to move to a more public and formal stage of dialogue. I think this is more important than resource aid, and takes advantage of the regime’s growing legitimacy and legitimization vacuum, which was accelerated after July 11. There should be no doubt that the Cuban government is a government of the minority.

A fourth element involves the empowerment of the private sector, both in terms of training and connections, which is essential for the creation of the middle classes. I am not so optimistic to think that the middle classes themselves will lead to democracy. What does seem evident is that they promote economic and social pluralism and ease the necessary tension between the State and autonomous economic agents.

A fifth angle to de-bilateralize the democratization agenda. What Obama started can be updated today with the North American proposal for a global democratic alliance to curb the global spread of autocracies. In this sense, a commitment to, and aid for, the democratization of Cuba is part of the proposal to re-democratize all societies. On a different scale and in different dimensions, democracies need to re-democratize. The issue of Cuba could be rethought within this new framework.

As a sixth point, it is convenient to consider the vision of change in Cuba as a process. Cuba has been closer to democracy in the last six years, despite Donald Trump, than at any time in the previous 56 years. Cuba’s prolonged dystopia is related to two interconnected and mutually reinforcing factors: the supposed invasion by the American superpower on the island’s southern and Caribbean border, which thankfully never came, but in turn fueled the Revolution’s infallibility as a peripheral power. This had a paralyzing effect on both global diplomacy and internal debate. The exportation of conflicts, their causes, and many potential suggestions for change obtained its raw material in each U.S. electoral cycle.

The Cuban regime has always had an added strategic advantage with this logic: selling the diplomatic narrative that the debate for democracy in Cuba is a debate for sovereignty between two states with equal recognition in the United Nations. With this, it has managed at times to denationalize the democratic discussion and halt not only democratic action, but also threats of reform within the regime.

A process mindset, on the other hand, accelerates democratization, paradoxical as it may seem, and authenticates change. This is because only one process is capable of involving its recipients, which are the Cuban people. This eliminates the paralyzing obstacles caused by harsh nationalist takes on diversity and plurality. The social outbreak on June 11 (11J), which exposed the deep rifts between society and the government, can now be channeled through an intelligent strategy of democratic change that fuses an inclusive movement with a broad social base.

Seventh. It is crucial that political language gradually appropriate what in Colombia they call the “mechanism of disarming words.” Harsh rhetoric almost always serves to hide conceptual and strategic weaknesses in political designs. I would say more: soft rhetoric is more accurate, goes deeper, and avoids the defensive psychological distractions generated by toxic insults between and within countries. Most importantly, insults are not practical for resolving conflicts. Soft rhetoric could fill in many absences. The case of Venezuela comes to mind, where strong, binary, and radical discourse has drowned out more than one possibility for concrete advances. As an old international relations professor told me: you only get to the root through moderation.

This change in language is essential to interact from abroad with a more diverse and plural Cuban society, with dissimilar interests, with a new generation that has risen rapidly to the public stage, and with an elite whose sometimes visible tensions and fragmentation reflect the underlying currents of change. Like never before, words must be actions.

Finally, how to approach the embargo issue in this dual scenario with post-Castroism on one side and a Democratic administration in the White House on the other? The discussion about the embargo is still relevant. My opposition of it dates back to 1991. It is part of my political and ideological identity. Beyond this, the conversation must be calibrated and balanced for several reasons.

There is a logical asymmetry between the campaign against the embargo led by the Cuban government and the complex political process that can lead to its elimination. If control over the embargo were in the hands of the U.S. executive branch, such a campaign would have political coherence and consistency because the embargo’s elimination would be viable. This is well known, but what is lost is that the Cuban government is also aware of it and uses it for reasons other than the ostensible interest of removing the embargo. The embargo works perfectly as a political and diplomatic distraction to hide the government’s own responsibilities and freeze democratic diplomacy within multilateral organizations such as the United Nations. Does the Cuban government have a group of lawyers in Washington that works systematically with Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to pass legislation that removes the embargo? If it does, they are not doing their job well. If it is trying but not succeeding that means they are not doing their job well either. And if it hasn’t tried, it means that it prefers to spend more money on propaganda than on achieving specific political goals.

In that narrative, the embargo also serves the government by clouding its structural insufficiencies in areas as important as meeting the basic needs of the economy. And the fact is that the embargo has not prevented, nor does it prevent, the importation of basic goods from the United States, the dynamics of which are well hidden in public discussion. The questions that constantly arise are: is the Cuban government really interested in lifting the embargo? Does it really help it? I have my doubts. Hence the calibrated analysis, independent of the ethics of the policy, which requires us to look at through a political lens.

Calling for the democratization of Cuba should not be linked to the elimination of the embargo. If Obama’s policy demonstrated something, which in principle must be maintained by Biden, it is that reforms in Cuba have no obstacles other than the political will of the government. If the July protests left any clarity, it is that an already open Cuban society wants and understands that change is possible regardless of the United States. If we say and assume that the solution to the Cuban problem corresponds to and is the exclusive business of Cubans, we should not confuse facilitating conditions with necessary ones. In my perspective, there are only two reasons to oppose the embargo. One responds to the multilateralism of the international order and the other is ethical. And granted, the latter is a political arena par excellence. Or it should be.

For the rest, a coalition from an active political center is what we are lacking. It must be diverse and plural like Cuba but focused on rational and mature solutions for our multiple challenges, as well as inclusive enough to accommodate various currents, which are fewer or at least less visible, but with the capacity, knowledge, and disposition for a realistic exercise of political imagination. We deserve it.

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THE HILL,  09/03/21

Original Article.

By Rafael Bernal

More Americans favor engaging Cuba diplomatically than any other approach to the island, according to a new poll by the online political platform Moxy.

The survey found that 41 percent of respondents favored diplomatic engagement, followed by 35 percent saying it should be easier for Cubans to migrate to the United States, 34 percent wanting to sanction Cuban human rights abuses in international courts, and 33 percent favoring ratcheting up sanctions on the communist regime.

“We presented 10 different policy measures, and the respondents can choose as many as they want,” said Cesar Melgoza, CEO of Moxy.

“The one that was chosen most often, overall as well as by Republicans and Democrats, was diplomacy,” added Melgoza.

The polling results come as the Biden administration is expanding its diplomatic footprint in Cuba. The State Department last month allowed diplomats on the island to be accompanied by adult relatives, but the White House has stopped short of the policy of rapprochement from the Obama era.

Meanwhile, Cuba remains in the political spotlight, particularly in Florida after protests on the island renewed interest in supporting the Cuban opposition among some U.S. groups.

But according to Moxy’s poll, Americans overall don’t see Cuba as a top issue.

On a scale of 1 to 5, Cuba received a score of 2.74 as a policy that affects how respondents vote.  Among Democrats, the average score was 3.01 and among Republicans it was 2.67.  Cuban-American voters were most likely to have their vote swayed by Cuba policy, with an average score of 3.75.

Former Rep. Joe García (D), a South Florida political veteran, said the poll results indicate a need for President Biden to engage more in Cuba policy.  “I’ll go so far as to say that if he does not, he will have missed a premium opportunity to endear himself to the Cuban people in South Florida, perhaps to impact the next election,” said García.

“I don’t know what his advisors are thinking. From my point of view, it’s the perfect opportunity, and it’s harmonic with democracy. It’s harmonic with human rights, it’s harmonic with the best political strategy. So there’s no reason not to pay more attention,” he added.

According to the poll, 24 percent of respondents think Biden proactively represents the interests of the Cuban people.  That puts the president behind Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), at 29 percent. But Biden is ahead of Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), at 17 percent, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), with 15 percent.

Although Republican politicians dominate the list of individuals who represent the interests of the Cuban people, almost 37 percent of voters said Democrats best represent Cuban Americans, and nearly 27 percent of voters said Republicans do.

García interpreted the poll results as an invitation for Biden to engage Cuba with a “carrot and stick” approach.

“And frankly, invite those Republicans who are most outspoken on the issue into the dialogue, because otherwise they’ll criticize probably anything he proposes anyway. But bring them in into it, make them part of the team, come up with a plan. And more importantly, do something about it,” he added.

The poll was conducted online Aug. 2-9, with 1,014 completed responses and an oversampling of Cuban-origin voters.

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As much as the US embargo contributes to its problems, Cuba’s historic protests show that the government can’t ignore citizens’ legitimate demands

International Politics and Society, 23.08.2021 |

Carlos Alzugaray

Original Article: “Not Just the Us Embargo” 

After protests swept the whole country in July, the Cuban government has started taking measures to contain the fallout. While this response goes beyond the regime’s initial repression, it hasn’t yet entirely left that path. If the country’s leadership wants to survive this test, it has no choice but to respond to citizens’ legitimate demands.

Whether one may like it or not, the events of 11 July 2021 will have an effect on how Cubans themselves and their country. For most of the population, it was a sad day – and most people would rather not remember the sad days. But it cannot be ignored. At present, information about what actually happened is still patchy; it is difficult to navigate between fake news and the official versions of events.

What has been established is that, on Sunday 11July, there were widespread anti-government protests, some of which ended in violence – and this had never happened before in Cuba. As such, many observers and indeed the authorities themselves were surprised. The result was images of violence and a situation which had escalated out of control. Whatever the details, this is objectively damaging for the Cuban government: and even if, as looks unlikely, the situation settles back down, the reputational damage will last.


Actually, the Cuban government shouldn’t have been surprised by the course of events – this being the same government that had for months been talking up the possibility of a ‘soft coup’ or a ‘colour revolution’ planned across the water by its arch-enemy, the US. Perhaps it was the surprise of something actually happening that led the government to clamp down so repressively, while pursuing the same endless propaganda communication strategy as ever despite its demonstrably diminishing returns.

It’s equally surprising that this unrest did not surface much earlier, considering the privations to which the Cuban population has long been subject and which have been further worsened by the pandemic.

Thanks to the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile, unrest in the country was staved off.

Now, the unrest is here – and its effect is palpable. Just three months after the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party and two years after establishing a new constitution, the new Cuban leadership finds itself in crisis. A crisis that, in many ways, evokes the situation in the socialist countries of eastern Europe just prior to their collapse.


There are, however, several differences. Cuba is a third-world country which, after years of neo-colonial suppression, liberated itself by means of a national revolution. As the result of an aggressive confrontation with Washington, this revolution became increasingly radical – and was initially successful, too, in its goal of halting the advance of US imperialism. The result was a socialist model that because of an alliance with the Soviet Union offered considerable advantages for at least the next three decades.

Thanks to the social progress of the early years and Cuba’s international high profile, unrest in the country was staved off. Essentially, the fact that the socialist regime not only survived a direct confrontation with the US but went on to become a unique actor on the world stage – not only during the Cold War, but beyond – conferred considerable credit on the government and allowed it freedom of manoeuvre in domestic issues.

These achievements and successes are without doubt the foundation of Cuban regime’s resilience and its people’s stoicism in the face of lasting and quite extraordinary difficulties. Yet while these difficulties certainly are caused by the US embargo, they are in no small part also the result of governmental inadequacy and poor policy. When it comes to the role of the country’s political opposition, the situation is similar. Certainly, some groups are being supported from the US with a view to subverting the Cuban regime.


Yet during the unrest, the activists with US support were less visible than those of the country’s domestic Movimiento San Isidro and 27N groupings. Then again, there is no doubt about the fact that protests were encouraged on social media – to no small degree by political influencers who do not live in Cuba, but rather mainly in Miami, where militant anti-Castro activism remains an important local industry financed from a range of state and non-state sources. In Cuban national reality, social media has become a toxic element as millions of dollars are pumped into fake-news campaigns aiming to destabilise the regime.

Even if, however, the trigger came from outside, unrest would not have flared up if it had, inside Cuba, not found fertile ground prepared by numerous political mistakes on the part of the government. Here, a range of factors played a role: in the poorest urban areas, conditions had worsened considerably; overall, food supply had become increasingly erratic; and after a successful start in combating the pandemic, the situation in healthcare was becoming unstable.

The government reacted by proclaiming that ‘the embargo is the problem’ and talking down the protests as ‘interference from outside’ in an effort to cover up its own errors. What the regime has underestimated is the dissatisfaction that this mantra now provokes. Certainly, the sanctions upheld against Cuba by the US for almost 60 years now represent, to paraphrase US historian Peter Beinart, a kind of economic war against a country under siege. Beinart is right to criticise the embargo as a non-military act of war – and one which, given that the stated aim has always been regime change, has never had much prospect of success. And while Washington refutes Cuban accusations, it is a simple matter of fact that Joe Biden has maintained sanctions imposed by Donald Trump even as the pandemic has continued to rage.

Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake.

Yes, for more than six months now, the Biden Administration has failed to make good on its manifesto promise and remains locked in the Trumpian version of Republican Party logic vis-à-vis Cuba policy – the illusion that ever more extreme sanctions will eventually succeed in dislodging the regime which came to power in 1959. So this much seems likely: sanctions against Cuba will remain in place for the next three years; Cubans will get even poorer; the Cuban government will continue to be bullied.


In view of this, Havana is currently trying to contain the fallout. Yet the regime needs to examine the political and social situation – and grasp that only economic policy focusing on efficiency and activating domestic productive capacity can get the country out of the current crisis. Continuing to place all the blame on external factors without any real introspection in respect of home-grown issues would be a grave mistake. The reforms the government has promised, especially in respect of food distribution, need to be enacted – fast.

The issue of how to deal with the figureheads of the protests adds another layer of complexity to the situation. The government cannot allow the impression to develop that, either at home or abroad, it is cracking down hard on peaceful demonstrations. Yet currently, there are rumours about summary justice and questionable court proceedings leading to sentences of ten to twelve months for people who, in many cases, do not seem to have been involved in any acts of violence. This comes for Cubans who have only recently had the important experience of debating and then approving a new constitution in which the importance of fair trials is underscored. Now more than ever, citizens are demanding nothing more – and nothing less – than that the police act within the law.

The Cuban government, too, needs to rethink how it works. As its population is increasingly deaf to the argument that the embargo is the root of all evil, it needs to make a serious attempt to overcome two key political-ideological obstacles in its way. Firstly, there is the outdated approach to socialism as a system primarily steered from central planning bureaus; this dogmatic dirigisme reduces the role of the market in distributing resources to a minimum – with all the attendant problems. Secondly, the regime needs to distance itself from an idea of socialism as an authoritarian model that can ignore or even criminalise those whose criticism is intended to make the country’s economy more efficient and its society more democratic, to see its 2019 constitution enacted and establish the rule of law.


Yet the regime’s reaction to the events of 11 July as communicated official media channels showed no signs of overcoming this tendency. Those who took part in the protests have been discredited and decried as criminal elements – overlooking the specific and legitimate demands made by many in a peaceful manner. This may come back to haunt the regime.

These demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just what difficulties the country’s society is facing.

Furthermore, official announcements have sought to justify the use of repressive violence – a message with which many Cubans who, while not directly involved, have observed (and been shocked by) events, strongly disagree. Internationally, Cuba’s image has taken a hit. There is still no clarity about the number of demonstrations or how they played out, how many took part, and how many participants have been placed under arrest. Meanwhile, intellectuals and artists have publicly denounced the regime’s repressive course, with many demanding the release of all peaceful protestors – including such figures as songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, who enjoys a great deal of respect among many in government.

The lack of genuine information is leaving space for disinformation to circulate around both external actors and the country’s population – disinformation spread with the aim of undermining the government. At the same time, Cuban citizens have broadly accepted the precept that peaceful protests are legitimate and should be protected under law. This is a precept with which the government, however, in clear contravention of the principal of a socialist country under the rule of law, does not agree. This is not sending the right message – neither on a domestic nor international level.

These demonstrations represent a wholly new development for Cuba and make clear just what difficulties the country’s society is facing. These difficulties have been further aggravated by a US embargo which continues to impoverish the Cuban population and exert pressure on the country’s government. The current situation represents a stress-test for the Cuban regime, which would do well to remember that, when faced with similar situations, like-minded politicians had more success when they decided to pursue a path of generosity and listen to citizens’ legitimate concerns rather than leaving demands to fall on deaf ears.

The Spanish version of this article appeared in Nueva Sociedad.

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WHY CUBANS PROTESTED ON JULY 11. Is this the beginning of the end of fear in Cuba?

Samuel Farber July 27, 2021

Original Article

he street demonstrations that broke out all over Cuba on July 11 are an unprecedented event in the more than 60 years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. But why now? This essay explores the historic, economic and political factors that help to clarify the causes of Cuba’s July 11, considers the role of the United States, and briefly reflects on Cuba’s future.

On Sunday, July 11, Cuba erupted in street protests. Unlike the major street protest that took place in 1994 and was limited to the Malecón, the long multi-lane Havana road facing the Gulf of Mexico, the July 11 outbreak of protest was national in scope. There were protests in many towns and cities, including Santiago de Cuba in the east, Trinidad in the center of the island, as well as Havana in the west. The growing access to social media in the island played an important role in the rapid spread of the protests; no wonder the government immediately suspended access to certain social media sites and brought all telephone calls from abroad to a halt. 

The street presence and participation of Black women and men was notable everywhere. This should not be surprising since Black Cubans are far less likely to receive hard currency remittances from abroad even though over 50% of the population receive some degree of financial support through that channel. These remittances have become the key to survival in Cuba, particularly in light of the ever-diminishing number of goods available in the peso-denominated subsidized ration book. Cuban Blacks have also been the victims of institutional racism in the growing tourist industry where ​“front line” visible jobs are mostly reserved for conventionally attractive white and light skinned women and men. 

The demonstrators did not endorse or support any political program or ideology, aside from the general demand for political freedom. The official Cuban press claims that the demonstrations were organized from abroad by right-wing Cubans. But none of the demands associated with the Cuban right-wing were echoed by the demonstrators, like the support for Trump often heard in South Florida and among some dissident circles in Cuba. And no one called for ​“humanitarian intervention” espoused by Plattistas (Platt Amendment, approved by Congress in 1901and abolished in 1934, gave the United States the right to militarily intervene in Cuba), such as biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, himself a victim of government repression for his independent ecological activism. The demonstrators did speak about the scarcity of food, medicine and essential consumer items, repudiated President Díaz-Canel as singao—a phrase that in Cuba translates as ​“fucked” but means a wicked, evil person, and chanted patria y vida (fatherland and life). ​“Patria y Vida” is the title of a very popular and highly polished rap song by a group of Cuban Black rappers (available on YouTube.) I have seen and heard the song more than a dozen times to enjoy it as well as to search for its explicit and implied meanings including in its silences and ambiguities.

“Patria y Vida” counterposes itself to the old Cuban government slogan of ​“Patria o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”). While that slogan may have made sense in the 1960s when Cuba was faced with actual invasions, it borders on the obscene when voiced by second generation bureaucrats. It is certainly high time that the regime’s macho cult of violence and death be challenged, and this song does it very well.

But what does it mean to implicitly repudiate the year 1959, the first year of the successful revolution, as the song does? There was no Soviet style system in Cuba at the time and the year 1959 is not equivalent to the Castro brothers. Many people of a wide variety of political beliefs fought and died to bring about the revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship. The song does express many important democratic sentiments against the present Cuban dictatorship, but it is unfortunately silent about the desirable alternative, which leaves room for the worst right-wing, pro-Trump elements in South Florida to rally behind it as if it was theirs. 

True to form, President Díaz-Canel called on the ​“revolutionaries” to be ready for combat and go out and reclaim the streets away from the demonstrators. In fact, it was the uniformed police, Seguridad del Estado (the secret police), and Boinas Negras (black berets, the special forces) that responded with tear gas, beatings and hundreds of arrests, including several leftist critics of the government. According to a July 21 Reuters report, the authorities had confirmed that they had started the trials of the demonstrators accused of a variety of charges, but denied it according to another press report on July 25. These are summary trials without the benefit of defense counsel, a format generally used for minor violations in Cuba but which in this case involves the possibility of years in prison for those found guilty. 

Most of the demonstrations were angry but usually peaceful and only in a few instances did the demonstrators behave violently, as in the case of some looting and a police car that was overturned. This was in clear contrast with the violence frequently displayed by the forces of order. It is worth noting that in calling his followers to take to the streets to combat the demonstrators, Díaz-Canel invoked the more than 60-year-old notion that ​“the streets belong to the revolutionaries.” Just as the government has always proclaimed that ​“the universities belong to the revolutionaries” in order to expel students and professors that don’t toe the government’s line. One example is René Fidel González García, a law professor expelled from the University of Oriente. He is a strong critic of government policies, who, far from giving up on his revolutionary ideals, has reaffirmed them on numerous occasions.

But Why Now?

Cuba is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the 1990s, when, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cubans suffered innumerable and lengthy blackouts due to the severe shortage of oil, along with endemic malnutrition with its accompanying health problems.

The present economic crisis is due to the pandemic-related decline of tourism, combined with the government’s long term capital disinvestment and inability to maintain production, even at the lower levels of the last five years. Cuba’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell by 11% in 2020 and only rose by 0.5% in 2019, the year before the pandemic broke out. The annual sugar crop that ended this spring did not even reach 1 million tons, which is below the 1.4 million average of recent years and very far below the 8 million tons in 1989. The recent government attempt to unify the various currencies circulating in Cuba — primarily the CUC, a proxy for the dollar, and the peso — has backfired resulting in serious inflation that was predicted among others by the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. While the CUC is indeed disappearing, the Cuban economy has been virtually dollarized with the constant decline of the value of the peso. While the official exchange rate is 24 pesos to the dollar, the prevailing black market rate is 60 pesos to the dollar, and it is going to get worse due to the lack of tourist dollars. This turn to an ever more expensive dollar, may be somewhat restrained in light of the government’s recent shift to the euro as its preferred hard currency. 

Worst of all, is the generalized shortage of food, even for those who have divisas, the generic term for hard currencies. The agricultural reforms of the last years aimed at increasing domestic production have not worked because they are inadequate and insufficient, making it impossible for the private farmers and for the usufructuarios (farmers who lease land from the government for 20 year terms renewable for another 20 years) to feed the country. Thus, for example, the government arbitrarily gives bank credits to the farmers for some things but not for others, like for clearing the marabú, an invasive weed that is costly to remove, but an essential task if crops are to grow. Acopio, the state agency in charge of collecting the substantial proportion of the crop that farmers have to sell to the state at prices fixed by the government is notoriously inefficient and wasteful, because the Acopio trucks do not arrive in time to collect their share, or because of the systemic indifference and carelessness that pervade the processes of shipping and storage. This creates huge spoilage and waste that have reduced the quality and quantity of goods available to consumers. It is for reasons such as these that Cuba imports 70% of the food it consumes from various countries including the United States (an exemption to the blockade was carved out in 2001 for the unlimited export of food and medicines to Cuba but with the serious limitation that Cuba has to pay in cash before the goods are shipped to the island.)

The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has called attention to the overwhelming millions of pesos that the government has dedicated to the construction of tourist hotels (mostly in joint ventures with foreign capital) that even before the pandemic were filled to well below their capacity, while agriculture is starved of government investments. This unilateral choice of priorities by the one-party state is an example of what results from profoundly undemocratic practices. This is not a ​“flaw” of the Cuban system any more than the relentless pursuit of profit is a ​“flaw” of American capitalism. Both bureaucracy and the absence of democracy in Cuba and the relentless pursuit of profit in the United States are not defects of but constitutive elements of both systems.

Similarly, oil has become increasingly scarce as Venezuelan oil shipments in exchange for Cuban medical services have declined. There is no doubt that Trump’s strengthening of the criminal blockade, which went beyond merely reversing Obama’s liberalization during his second period in the White House, has also gravely hurt the island, among other reasons because it has made it more difficult for the Cuban government to use banks abroad, whether American or not, to finance its operations. This is because the U.S. government will punish enterprises who do business with Cuba by blocking them from doing business with the United States. Until the events of July 11,the Biden administration had left almost all of Trump’s sanctions untouched. Since then, it has promised to allow for larger remittances and to provide staff for the American consulate in Havana. 

While the criminal blockade has been very real and seriously damaging, it has been relatively less important in creating economic havoc than what lies at the very heart of the Cuban economic system: the bureaucratic, inefficient and irrational control and management of the economy by the Cuban government. It is the Cuban government and its ​“left” allies in the Global North, not the Cuban people, who continue, as they have for decades, to blame only the blockade. 

At the same time, the working class in the urban and rural areas have neither economic incentives nor political incentives in the form of democratic control of their workplaces and society to invest themselves in their work, thus reducing the quantity and quality of production. 

Health Situation in Cuba 

After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the early spring of 2020, Cuba did relatively well during the first year of the pandemic in comparison with other countries in the region. But in the last few months the situation in Cuba, for what are still unclear reasons except for the entry of the Delta variant in the island, made a sharp turn for the worse, and in doing so seriously aggravated the economic and political problems of the country. Thus, as Jessica Domínguez Delgado noted in the Cuban blog El Toque (July 13), until April 12, a little more than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, 467 persons had died among the 87,385 cases that had been diagnosticated as having Covid-19. But only three months later, on July 12, the number of the deceased had reached 1,579 with 224, 914 diagnosed cases (2.5 times as many as in the much longer previous period).

The province of Matanzas and its capital city of the same name located 100 kilometers east of Havana became the epicenter of the pandemic’s sudden expansion in Cuba. According to the provincial governor, Matanzas province was 3,000 beds short of the number of patients that needed them. On July 6, a personal friend who lives in the city of Matanzas wrote to me about the dire health situation in the city with a lack of doctors, tests, and oxygen in the midst of collapsing hospitals. My friend wrote that the national government had shown itself incapable of controlling the situation until that very day when it finally formulated a plan of action for the city. The government did finally take a number of measures including sending a substantial number of additional medical personnel, although it is too early to tell at the time of this writing with what results.

Cuban scientists and research institutions deserve a lot of credit for the development of several anti-Covid vaccines. However, the government was responsible for the excessive and unnecessary delay in immunizing people on the island, made worse by its decision to neither procure donations of vaccines from abroad nor join the 190-nation strong COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) sponsored by several international organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), an organization with which the Cuban government has good relations. Currently only 16% of the population has been fully vaccinated and 30% has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The medical crisis in the province and capital city of Matanzas fits into a more general pattern of medical scarcity and abandonment as the Cuban government has accelerated its export of medical personnel abroad to strengthen what has been for some time its number one export. This is why the valuable family doctor program introduced in the 1980s has seriously deteriorated. While the Cuban government uses a sliding scale (including some pro bono work) in what it charges its foreign government clients, Cuban doctors get an average of 10 – 25% of what the foreign clients pay the Cuban government. Needless to add, Cuban medical personnel cannot organize independent unions to bargain with the government about the terms of their employment. Nevertheless, going abroad is a desired assignment for most Cuban doctors because they earn a significant amount of hard currency and can purchase foreign goods. However, if they fail to return to Cuba after their assignments are over, they are administratively (i.e., not judicially) punished with a forced exile of 8 years duration. 

The Political Context 

Earlier this year, the leadership old guard, who fought the Batista regime and are in their late eighties and early nineties, retired from their government positions to give way to the new leadership of Miguel Díaz-Canel (born in 1960) as president and Manuel Marrero Cruz (born in 1963) as prime minister. This new leadership is continuing Raúl Castro’s policy of economic and social liberalization without democratization. For example, in 2013 the government liberalized the regulations that controlled the movement of people to make it easier for most Cubans to travel abroad. However, at the same time, the government made it virtually impossible for many dissidents to leave the country, by for example delaying their departure so they could not make it on time to conferences held abroad, and by creating a list of some 200 ​“regulados” (people subject to regulatory rules) that are not allowed to leave the country at all. It is important to point out that as in the case of other measures adopted by the Cuban government mentioned earlier, these actions continue the policies of Fidel and Raúl Castro, in which political and administrative decisions are made outside of the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the hundreds of relatively brief detentions that the government of Raúl Castro carried out every year, especially to try to impede public demonstrations not controlled by the government (a police method that only works for previously planned political protests, unlike the ones that took place on July 11). 

The One-Party State

The one-party state continues to function as under Fidel and Raúl Castro’s rule. In reality, however, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not really a party — that would imply the existence of other parties. Neither is the PCC primarily an electoral party although it does firmly control from the top the periodic so-called elections that always result in the unanimous approval of the political course followed by the authorities.

Sometimes people disillusioned with the existing corrupt parties in Latin America and even in the United States itself, react with indifference if not approval to the Cuban one-party state because they perceive elections as reinforcing corrupt systems. Thus such people think that is better to have one honest political party that works than a corrupt multi-party system that doesn’t work. The problem with this type of thinking is that one-party bureaucratic systems do not work well at all, except perhaps to thoroughly repress any opposition. Moreover, corruption sooner or later works its way into the single party system as history has repeatedly shown. In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro himself warned in a famous speech on November 17, 2005, that the revolution was in greater danger to perish because of endemic corruption than because of the actions of counterrevolutionaries.

The organizational monopoly of the PCC — explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban constitution — affects far more than elections. It extends its power in a highly authoritarian manner to control Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC’s Political Bureau. For example, the CTC, the official trade union, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Beyond enforcing the prohibition of strikes, the CTC is not an organization for the defense of working class interests as determined by the workers themselves. Rather, it was established to advance what the ruling PCC leadership determines are the workers’ best interests.

The same control mechanisms apply to other ​“mass organizations” such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and to other institutions such as editorial houses, universities and the rest of the educational system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continue to be under the control of the government, guided in their coverage by the ​“orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC. There are however, two important exceptions to the state’s control of media organs: one, is the internal publications of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Cuban Catholic hierarchy is extremely cautious, and the circulation of its publications is in any case limited to its parishes and other Catholic institutions. A far more important exception is the Internet, which the government has yet been unable to place under its absolute control and remains as the principal vehicle for critical and dissident voices. It was precisely this less than full control of the Internet that made the nationwide politically explosive outbreaks of July 11 possible. 

Where is Cuba Going?

Without the benefit of Fidel Castro’s presence and the degree of legitimacy retained by the historic leadership, Díaz-Canel and the other new government leaders were politically hit hard by the events of July 11, even though they received the shameful support of most of the broad international Left. The fact that people no longer seem to be afraid may be the single largest threat for the government emerging from the events on July 11. In spite of that blow, the new leadership is on course to continue Raúl Castro’s orientation to develop a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which combine a high degree of political authoritarianism with concessions to private and especially foreign capital.

At the same time, the Cuban government leaders will continue to follow inconsistent and even contradictory economic reform policies for fear of losing control to Cuban private capital. The government recently authorized the creation of private PYMES (small and medium private enterprises), but it would not be at all surprising if many of the newly created PYMES end up in the hands of important state functionaries turned private capitalists. There is an important government stratum composed of business managers and technicians with ample experience in such sectors as tourism, particularly in the military. The most important among them is the 61-year-old Gen. Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son-in-law of Raúl Castro, who is the director of GAESA, the huge military business conglomerate, which includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in the island. It is significant that he recently became a member of the Political Bureau of the PCC. 

Perhaps this younger generation of business military and civilian bureaucrats may try to overcome the rentier mentality that 30 years of ample Soviet assistance created among the Cuban leadership as witnessed the failure to modernize and diversify the sugar industry (as Brazil did) during those relatively prosperous years that ended in 1990. To be sure, the U.S. economic blockade contributed to the rentier mentality by encouraging a day-to-day economic survival attitude rather than of increasing the productivity of the Cuban economy to allow for a more prosperous future. 

Finally, what about the United States? Biden is unlikely to do much in his first term to change the United States’ imperialist policies towards Cuba that were significantly aggravated by Trump. Whether a possible second Democratic administration in Washington beginning in 2025 will do anything different remains an open question.

There is, however, a paradox underlying the U.S. government’s Cuba policy. While U.S. policy is not at present primarily driven by ruling class interests but, rather, by electoral considerations, particularly in the highly contested state of Florida, it is not for that reason necessarily less harsh or, what is more alarming, less durable. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, probably the most politically active business institution in the United States has advocated the resumption of normal business relations with Cuba for many years. Thomas J. Donohue, its long-time director who retired earlier this year, visited Cuba in numerous occasions and met with government leaders there. Big agribusiness concerns are also interested in doing business with Cuba as are agricultural and other business interests in the South, Southwest and Mountain States represented by both Republican and Democratic politicians. However, it is doubtful that they are inclined to expend a lot of political capital in achieving that goal.

This places a heavy extra burden on the U.S. Left to overcome the deadlock, which clearly favors the indefinite continuation of the blockade, through a new type of campaign that both zeroes in on the grave aggression and injustice committed against the Cuban people without at the same time becoming apologists for the political leadership of the Cuban state. 

Be that as it may, people on the Left in the United States have two key tasks. First, they should firmly oppose the criminal economic blockade of Cuba. Second, they should support the democratic rights of the Cuban people rather than an ossified police state, in the same way that they have supported the struggle for human rights, democracy, and radical social and economic change in Colombia and Chile in Latin America as well as Myanmar and Hong Kong in Asia.

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The Jacobin, July 24, 2021

Original Article.

Cubans confront a host of problems amid a national health emergency — and the Biden administrative is only adding to punitive sanctions with the intent to make everything worse.

Fidel Castro holds up a newspaper headlining a plot to kill him in 1959. (Bettmann via Getty)

After months of casual indifference to conditions in Cuba, the Biden administration reacted with purposeful swiftness to support street protests on the island. “We stand with the Cuban people,” President Biden pronounced. A talking point was born.

“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people,” secretary of state Antony Blinken followed. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menéndez also joined to emphasize “the need for the United States to continue to stand with the Cuban people.”

For more than a hundred and twenty years, the United States has “stood with the Cuban people” — or, perhaps more correctly, has stood over the Cuban people. Cuba seems always to be at the receiving end of American history. To stand with the Cuban people has meant armed intervention, military occupation, regime change, and political meddling — all normal events in US-Cuba relations in the sixty years before the triumph of the Cuban revolution. In the sixty years after the revolution, standing with the Cuban people has meant diplomatic isolation, armed invasion, covert operations, and economic sanctions.

It is the policy of economic sanctions — the embargo — officially designated as an “economic denial program,” that gives the lie to US claims of beneficent concern for the Cuban people. Sanctions developed early into a full-blown policy protocol in pursuit of regime change, designed to deprive Cubans of needed goods and services, to induce scarcity and foment shortages, to inflict hardship and deepen adversity.

Nor should it be supposed that the Cuban people were the unintended “collateral damage” of the embargo. On the contrary, the Cuban people have been the target. Sanctions were designed from the outset to produce economic havoc as a way to foment popular discontent, to politicize hunger in the hope that, driven by despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up to topple the government.

The declassification of government records provides insight into the calculus of sanctions as a means of regime change. The “economic denial program” was planned to “weaken [the Cuban government] economically,” a State Department briefing paper explained, to “promote internal dissension; erode its internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion.” Sanctions promised to create “the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research predicted, thereupon to produce the downfall of the Cuban government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.”

The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” the Department of State offered, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . [to deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

The embargo has remained in place for more than sixty years. At times expanded, at other times contracted. But never lifted. The degree to which US sanctions are implicated in current protest demonstrations in Cuba is a matter of debate, of course. But that the embargo has contributed — to a greater or lesser extent — to hardship in Cuba can hardly be gainsaid; that has been its intent. And now that hardship has produced popular protests and demonstrations. That, too, is in the “playbook” of the embargo.

But the embargo has had a far more insidious impact on the political culture of Cuba. The Cuban government is not unaware of the United States’ desired policy outcomes from the sanctions. They understand well its subversive reach and interventionist thrust, and have responded accordingly, if not always consistently.

Such a nakedly hostile US policy, which has been ongoing and periodically reaffirmed over such a lengthy period of time, designed purposely to sow chaos, has in fact served Cuban authorities well, providing a readily available target that can be blamed for homegrown economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. The embargo provides a refuge for blamelessness and immunity from accountability. The tendency to attribute the consequences of ill-conceived policies to the embargo has developed into a standing master narrative of Cuban government.

But it is more complicated still. Not a few within the Cuban government view popular protests warily, seeing them as a function of US policy and its intended outcomes. It is no small irony, in fact, that the embargo has so often served to compromise the “authenticity” of popular protest, to ensure that protests are seen as acts in the service of regime change and depicted as a threat to national security.

The degree to which the political intent of the embargo is imputed to popular protest often serves to drive the official narrative. That is, protests are depicted less as an expression of domestic discontent than as an act of US subversion, instantly discrediting the legitimacy of protest and the credibility of protesters. The embargo serves to plunge Cuban politics at all levels into a Kafkaesque netherworld, where the authenticity of domestic actors is challenged and transformed into the duplicity of foreign agents. In Cuba, the popular adage warns, nothing appears to be what it seems.

Few dispute the validity of Cuban grievances. A long-suffering people often subject to capricious policies and arbitrary practices, an officialdom often appearing oblivious and unresponsive to the needs of a population confronting deepening hardship. Shortages of food. Lack of medicines. Scarcity of basic goods. Soaring prices. Widening social inequalities. Deepening racial disparities.

Difficulties have mounted, compounding continuously over many years, for which there are few readily available remedies. An economy that reorganized itself during the late 1990s and early 2000s around tourist receipts has collapsed as a result of the pandemic. A loss of foreign exchange with ominous implications for a country that imports 70 percent of its food supplies.

The Trump administration revived the most punitive elements of US sanctions, limiting family remittances to $1,000 per quarter per person, prohibiting remittances to family members of government officials and members of the Communist Party, and prohibiting remittances in the form of donations to Cuban nationals. The Trump administration prohibited the processing of remittances through any entities on a “Cuba restricted list,” an action that resulted in Western Union ceasing its operations in Cuba in November 2020.

And as a final spiteful, gratuitous gesture, the outgoing Trump administration returned Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the precise moment the Cuban people were reeling from greater shortages, increased rationing, and declining services, the United States imposed a new series of sanctions. It is impossible to react in any way other than with blank incredulity to State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s comment that Cuban humanitarian needs “are profound because of not anything the United States has done.”

Cubans confront all at once a collapsing economy, diminished remittances, restricted emigration opportunities, inflation, shortages of food, scarcity of medicines, all in a time of a national health emergency — and with the United States applying punitive sanctions with the intent of making everything worse. Of course, the Cuban people have the right to peaceful protest. Of course, the Cuban government must redress Cuban grievances.

Of course, the United States must end its deadly and destructive policy of subversion.

Fidel Castro in New York, 1959

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What does a recent survey tell us?

by Guillermo J. Grenier

OnCuba News,  May 28, 2021

Original Article C

The French philosophe and essayist Michel Montaigne often used the phrase “What do I know?” to express the subjective limits of knowledge. What can any individual really know about the world? About others who inhabit it? I pose this question to myself often. It’s part of the job description for being a critical sociologist. I scratch my head in puzzlement each time that I gather data to analyze my compatriots in South Florida. What do I really know about Cuban Americans? Many will jump to answer, “You know nothing. You are clueless,” and they might be right. But you would think that after nearly thirty years of writing about and studying Cubans in the United States I would know something about what makes our “moral community” tick.  But when faced with the question Que sais-je?, which translates into a very Cuban, “Qué sé yo?” I have to admit that many of the moving parts of the community remain a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a pastelito. 

Take, for example, the resurgence of pro-embargo sentiments among South Florida Cuban American. It’s a grim turn even if not totally surprising given the Jarabe de Trump that many have savored in recent years. 

What is driving this macabre enthusiasm to endorse an archaic, cold war policy designed in 1962 to isolate Cuba and bring about regime change because, as stated in Kennedy’s infamous Proclamation 3447, the country is “incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned?” Seriously? There is still support for a policy designed to “protect” the Americas from the threat of “Sino-Soviet Communism?” Directed at Cuba? Does this policy remain a vital element in the foreign policy of the United States? The world has changed so much but we seem to have changed so little.

Maybe there is more behind this seeming callous attitude of “que se jodan” exhibited by my fellow denizen of the Cuban diaspora than sheer opportunism. After all, we are not all YouTube mavens making a nice living peddling fear and disinformation. Most of us care about our friends and relatives on the island. About half of us send money when we can afford it and sending food via Katapulk is becoming a thing. Many on the island depend on us, if not for survival, for support, especially during this horrific pandemic period. 

Maybe championing the embargo, in the minds of those who do, is part of a larger plan. Maybe supporters see in the embargo a part of a broader strategy to improve the lives of Cubans throughout the island. Qué sé yo?

I want to understand why so many of us insist on supporting a foreign policy implemented to punish and isolate when we know that change in this globalized world is brought about by contact and negotiation. Why do people support the embargo? Why do they support lifting the embargo? 

With the help of the colleagues at OnCuba News, I floated a questionnaire on their platform and various social media streams (FB, Twitter) to try to understand why Cuban Americans either support or oppose the nearly sixty-year-old sanction. This is not a scientific sample, but the 361 responses (as of May 19) allow us to create broad categories to describe the types of reasons shaping opinions. 

Continue Reading



To be honest, I harbor no illusions that the Cuban American vox populi will raise in an exilic chorus supporting the end to the embargo. I see no sign that we are willing, as a community to come to terms with our Big Lie. To recognize that the embargo, as a policy to motivate change in Cuba, has been a resounding failure and has not met the expectations of its supporters. It is a zombie policy which should have been killed by years of evidence verifying its failure but stays alive, eating the brains of Cuban Americans. Supporting the embargo is evidence that our community has been successfully recruited to brutalize the Cuban people by assisting the U.S. in its feeble attempt to project American power. I worry about the history we are helping to shape.

The only hope that I hold for seeing the lifting of the embargo in my lifetime is for the U.S. government to act in its best interest. In this unique case, the best interests of the United States are aligned with the best interests of Cuba, its people and government. 

Accepting this might not be easy for those who have developed an identity based on opposition to the Cuban government, but it is the reality we face. Let’s give in to a moment of clarity. We cannot, with any credibility, demand changes in others when we, as a community, remain so unwilling, or unable, to change. 

But, I could be wrong. What do I know?

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