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US-imposed austerity in Cuba

Wednesday 3 April 2024, 6:29AM

By Mike Treen

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Over the last few weeks, the Western news media has been full of stories of “unrest” in Cuba including protests over food and fuel shortages.

From Western media reports, you would think that the Government of Cuba was neglectful and unresponsive to the needs of its people. Very few articles mentioned that the fundamental reason for the shortages of the basic needs of the population is as a result of the scandalous blockade of Cuba by the United States. This blockade in turn is enforced by other countries through the U.S. domination of the global financial and trade systems that it is using to strangle Cuba and its people.

In New Zealand, for example, it is impossible for the Cuban ambassador to even access a credit card from the Australian and Kiwi-owned banks despite our governments' officially condemning the blockade of Cuba.

On 18 March, the US-based National Network on Cuba issued the following statement. This is a coalition of 70+ organizations across the U.S. working to normalise U.S.-Cuba relations and lift the blockade. It is a useful summary explanation of what is behind recent protests in Santiago de Cuba. I was in Cuba on a fact-finding mission in January and can attest to the statement's validity and I will add a few observations of my own.

 

The economic crisis and unrest in Santiago de Cuba underscores the devastating impact of over 6 decades of illegal U.S. sanctions, the no-evidence-based designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and the inflationary financial manipulation which have led to shortages of fuel, electricity, and basic goods.

Yesterday, people took to the streets in Santiago de Cuba expressing their frustration at the recent power outages. Miami regime-changers and U.S. government-funded propaganda outlets were quick to exploit these genuine frustrations into calls for the overthrow of the Cuban government, but this does not match the reality of the situation on the ground in Santiago, where the protests were completely peaceful and citizens engaged in dialogue with local leaders and law enforcement.

In the words of the State Department itself, the goal of the U.S. blockade is to bring about “hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government” in Cuba (see the Mallory memo). We are seeing this policy play out in real time, and as people in the U.S., we have every responsibility to fight against U.S. attacks on Cuba’s sovereignty. True solidarity with the Cuban people necessitates respecting their right to self-determination, and demanding an end to external U.S. interventions which deny Cuba this right and aim to return Cuba to being a U.S. neo-colony like Haiti (which the U.S. and its comprador states are preparing to invade yet again).

We call for the US to take Cuba off the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” List and lift all sanctions – measures that would immediately help alleviate Cuba’s economic crisis.

 

I was in Cuba for most of January this year and it was obvious that the Cuban people were suffering a terrible economic crisis. There were shortages of almost everything. Rubbish littered the streets because there was not enough fuel for trucks to collect it. Power cuts happened regularly.

In the course of our time in Cuba we visited schools, medical clinics, poorly resourced villages and city suburbs, communal kitchens, gay bars, community cultural centres, religious charities making free lunches in Havana, private and cooperative enterprises in agriculture and small manufacturing, schools for kids with mental or physical disabilities, homes for children with no family carers and medical research centres.

We saw not despair and despondency but a determination to overcome whatever difficulties have been imposed on them.

I visited Cuba 20 years ago during what was dubbed the “special period” when the economy dropped by about a quarter following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Times were tough then but Cuba survived and began to grow again despite the sanctions. It looked like Cuba might finally get some relief when President Obama (with current President Biden as his vice-president) normalised some relationships and visited Cuba.

However, once gaining office, President Trump reversed course and radically increased sanctions by designating Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”. He stopped most flights from the US and remittances from Cubans living in the U.S. to Cuba. This has made the crisis this time that much worse. For example, lack of access to U.S. dollars means that drugs that Cuba would normally be able to produce themselves cannot be made because of the lack of raw materials. US-owned drug companies are banned from selling to or importing from Cuba. U.S. President Biden has failed to follow through on his election promise to normalise relations with Cuba.

It remains a truism that in Cuba everyone has access to public education and health care as of right. But it is no longer true that Cubans have easy access to all the medicines they need. But this is completely due to the intensified blockade under Trump which continues to this day.

Across Cuba, we saw many communities building homes for no cost that gave priority for access to sole-parents with three children – the opposite of New Zealand's punitive approach to sole-parent families.

Because of the existence of shortages rationing is needed for basic commodities. But what is clear is that in Cuba being a “leader” in their communities – whether that is being an elected member of the institutions of people's power, or a member or official of the Communist Party, brings no privileges. The opposite is the case. When I asked one of the elected representatives in a local community we visited if he was paid for his work he replied that he got no privileges and that he was following the example of Che Guevara who taught that sacrifice was a duty for genuine communists.

The difficulties Cuba faces mean there will, at times, be examples of bureaucratic thinking, unnecessary authoritarianism, and even corruption of a few of those in power who have lost the will to fight. But in my view, that is not the norm for the majority of the Cuban people and their leaders who daily go about their lives. These lives involve sacrifice and struggle but also a determination to be free and independent of the dictates of the U.S. empire. This Cuba I deeply hope will survive and deserves our help in their struggle to do so.

You can join our solidarity network here https://www.facebook.com/groups/963813067645423

Mike Treen, Spokesperson for the Auckland Cuba Friendship Society