November 5, 2014
The Economic War Against Cuba by Salim Lamrani (Monthly Review Press NY, 2013) is a valuable resource on the 53-year-old U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. Through an objective description of documented facts, Professor Lamrani explains how an obsolete policy that ignores “just cause” has led eleven consecutive residents of the White House to continue a program doomed to fail.
U.S. policy toward Cuba originates from an expansionist desire to possess Cuba. The Helms-Burton Act passed by Congress in March 1996 reflects U.S. contempt for international law.
Lamrani’s Chapter 5, “Extraterritorial Applications of the Economic Sanctions,” provides an understanding of the complex relations involved with 3rd countries as a result of such an anachronistic law. Foreign businesses and financial institutions are forbidden to engage in transactions with direct or indirect connection to Cuba.
Helms-Burton’s primary objective was to consolidate all previous U.S. regulatory codes, amendments, laws and Executive orders “on the books,” in order to strengthen the U.S. position against Cuba. To accomplish this, one strategy was to remove discretionary power from the President to conduct certain foreign policy.
This enabled self-interest groups to manipulate the Cuban-American community -- and to pressure Congress -- for their own narrow purposes. Although hostility had existed many years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, “Strengthening International Sanctions against the Castro government” was the focus of Helms-Burton Title I.
Helms-Burton has often been referred to as the modern day equivalent of the Platt Amendment (1901). This was an appendix to the Cuban Constitution that, among other stipulations, allowed U.S. military intervention in Cuba’s internal affairs whenever a U.S. “governor” deemed that popular rebellion threatened U.S. corporate interests on the island.
Helms-Burton further provided codification that allowed the Florida-based anti-Cuban old guard to obstruct normalization of relations through Congressional roadblocks. Not until codification of the blockade did U.S. foreign policy move from being an international issue to a domestic cause, thereby damaging U.S./Cuba relations.
When Radio Marti moved from Washington DC to Miami in 1996, U.S. hostility toward Cuba intensified, resulting ultimately in the conviction of five Cuban antiterrorists (the Cuban Five).
The right of a sovereign, independent nation to conduct its own affairs free from external interference by foreign powers is a fundamental assertion of international law. Lamrani points out: “Numerous United Nations resolutions condemn the use of unilateral and arbitrary economic sanctions and extraterritorial measures… Not all of these principles are respected by the United States.”
Helms-Burton is controversial because it violates these very principles.
Title II makes demands on Cuba that would result only in a collision course with their revolutionary government; it purports to define the type of government most desirable for Cubans. The cynicism does not stop here. In an attempt to twist the meaning of democracy and solidarity that are contained in the official name, The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, the law is perversely worded.
Section 204 describes steps to “terminate the economic embargo of Cuba” pending the destruction of the revolution, i.e. once “a transition government is in power,” while Sections 205 and 206 list requirements for a Cuban government subservient to U.S. interests.
Finally, Section 207 establishes that the essential condition for full resumption of economic and diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba remains the return of all land and property [legally] nationalized by the Cuban government after January 1, 1959. In this regard, U.S. refusal to accept a Cuban offer for compensation, authorized by the Agrarian Reform Law of May 17, 1959, precipitated the breaking of diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961.
Obviously, the complexity of economic and political relations makes lifting the blockade a lengthy and formidable task. It may indeed be impossible to negotiate terms using an incremental approach.
However, one imagines that taking Cuba off the State Department list of nations supporting terrorist organizations would be a priority. Furthermore, the U.S. President must be willing to “relinquish the exercise of authorities” under the Trading with the Enemy Act , in order to use his constitutional prerogative to influence a change of direction in foreign policy.
And, Congress could reverse travel sanctions and arrange financial credit approval for U.S. banking institutions to do business with Cuba. In this way, the Executive Order 3447 “Embargo on all trade with Cuba,” imposed by President Kennedy in February 1962, would be lifted.
Resolving the case of five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, three of whom still remain unjustly incarcerated in U.S. prisons, is another challenge. Cuba is a signatory to the Montreal Convention, January 26, 1973, that commits governments to prosecute any act of air piracy or bombing related to commercial airliners.
U.S. officials fail to exonerate innocent men, calling them “bad terrorists” for exposing violent criminal
plots against Cuba. Yet Luis Posada Carriles, who is responsible for the bombing of a Cuban plane in 1976 among other crimes, and an international fugitive from Venezuelan justice, walks the streets of Miami in freedom and is called a “good terrorist”.
The secret to dialogue with Cuba does not require “back channels” if discussions are done in public. What is keeping President Obama from discussing issues with the Castro government, when 188 nations repeatedly vote YES for the Cuban resolution to condemn the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade?