United States embargo against Cuba

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The United States embargo against Cuba (known in Cuba as el bloqueo) is a commercial, economic, and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. It began on 19 October 1960 (almost two years after the Batista regime was deposed by the Cuban Revolution) when the US placed an embargo on exports to Cuba (except for food and medicine), and on 7 February 1962 was extended to include almost all imports.[1]

Currently, the Cuban embargo is enforced mainly with six statutes: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 1963, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Helms–Burton Act of 1996, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.[2] The Cuban Democracy Act was signed into law in 1992 with the stated purpose of maintaining sanctions on Cuba so long as the Cuban government continues to refuse to move toward "democratization and greater respect for human rights".[3] In 1996, Congress passed the Helms–Burton Act, which further restricted United States citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any successor government in Havana unless and until certain claims against the Cuban government are met. In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo even further by also disallowing foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba. In 2000, Clinton authorized the sale of certain "humanitarian" U.S. products to Cuba.

Despite the Spanish term bloqueo (blockade), there has been no physical, naval blockade of the country by the United States since the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.[4] The United States does not block Cuba's trade with third-party countries: other countries are not under the jurisdiction of U.S. domestic laws, such as the Cuban Democracy Act (although, in theory, foreign countries that trade with Cuba could be penalised by the U.S., which has been condemned as an "extraterritorial" measure that contravenes "the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention in their internal affairs and freedom of trade and navigation as paramount to the conduct of international affairs."[5]). Cuba can, and does, conduct international trade with many third-party countries;[6] Cuba has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995.[7]

President Barack Obama has outlined a series of steps that Cuba could take to demonstrate a willingness to open its closed society, including releasing political prisoners, allowing United States telecommunications companies to operate on the island and ending government fees on U.S. dollars sent by relatives in the United States. In confirmation hearings for the position of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said that she believed that the ban on Cuban-American family travel should be lifted.[8] Many saw this as an opportunity for Cubans and Americans to engage in viable businesses together.[9] The process toward larger diplomatic and commercial openings with Cuba was derailed when Cuban authorities arrested USAID contractor Alan Gross in December 2009, sentencing him to 15 years in prison in 2011. While maintaining limited economic exchanges with Cuba, President Obama stated that, without improved human rights and freedoms by Cuba, the embargo remains "in the national interest of the United States."[10] As of November 2011, U.S.–Cuba relations remain frozen and Cuba also remains one of the four countries (Iran, Sudan, and Syria) in the world designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the United States Department of State [11]

Beyond Cuba's human rights violations and its state sponsored terrorism designation, the United States holds $6 billion worth of financial claims against the Cuban government.[12] The Cuban-American position is that the U.S. embargo is, in part, an appropriate response to these unaddressed claims.[13] The Latin America Working Group argues that pro-embargo Cuban-American exiles, whose votes are crucial in Florida, have swayed many politicians to also adopt similar views.[14] The Cuban-American views have been opposed by some business leaders who argue that trading freely would be good for Cuba and the United States.[15]

At present, the embargo, which limits American businesses from conducting business with Cuban interests, is still in effect and is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history. Despite the existence of the embargo, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (6.6% of Cuba's imports are from the US).[16] However, Cuba must pay cash for all imports, as credit is not allowed.[17]

The UN General Assembly has, since 1992, passed a resolution every year condemning the ongoing impact of the embargo and declaring it to be in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.[2] Human rights groups including Amnesty International,[2] Human Rights Watch,[18] and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights[19] have also been critical of the embargo.

History[edit]

Fidel Castro at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly

The U.S. arms embargo had been in force since March 1958 when armed conflict broke out in Cuba between rebels and the Fulgencio Batista regime. In July 1960, in response to Cuba's new revolutionary government's seizure of U.S. properties, the United States reduced the Cuban import quota of brown sugar to 700,000 tons, under the Sugar Act of 1948;[20] the Soviet Union responded by agreeing to purchase the sugar instead, as Cuba's new government continued to take further actions to nationalize American businesses and privately owned properties.

Kennedy-era embargo[edit]

In response to the Cuban alignment with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, President John F. Kennedy extended measures by Executive Order, first widening the scope of the trade restrictions on February 8 (announced on February 3 and again on March 23, 1962). According to his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, Kennedy asked Salinger to purchase 1,200 Cuban cigars for his future use immediately before the extended embargo was to come into effect. Salinger succeeded, returning in the morning with 1,201 Petit H. Upmann cigars, Kennedy's favorite cigar size and brand.[21] Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy imposed travel restrictions on February 8, 1963, and the Cuban Assets Control Regulations were issued on July 8, 1963, under the Trading with the Enemy Act in response to Cubans hosting Soviet nuclear weapons. Under these restrictions, Cuban assets in the U.S. were frozen and the existing restrictions were consolidated.

In 1962, Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS) "by a vote of 14 in favor, one (Cuba) against with six abstentions. Mexico and Ecuador, two abstaining members argued that the expulsion was not authorized in the OAS Charter."[22] Multilateral sanctions were imposed by the OAS on July 26, 1964, which were later rescinded on July 29, 1975. Cuban relations with the Organization of American States have since improved, and as of 3 June 2009, membership suspension was lifted.

The restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba lapsed on March 19, 1977;[23] the regulation was renewable every six months, but President Jimmy Carter did not renew it and the regulation on spending U.S. dollars in Cuba was lifted shortly afterwards. President Ronald Reagan reinstated the trade embargo on April 19, 1982. This has been modified subsequently with the present regulation, effective June 30, 2004,[24] being the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515.[25] The current regulation does not limit travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba per se, but it makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under most circumstances without a US government Office of Foreign Assets Control issued license.[26] Since even paying unavoidable airfare ticket taxes into a Cuban airport would violate this transaction law, it is effectively impossible for ordinary tourists to visit Cuba without breaking the monetary transaction rule.

Helms–Burton Act[edit]

The 1963 U.S. embargo was reinforced in October 1992 by the Cuban Democracy Act (the "Torricelli Law") and in 1996 by the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act (known as the Helms–Burton Act) which penalizes foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S. Justification provided for these restrictions was that these companies were trafficking in stolen U.S. properties, and should, thus, be excluded from the United States.[citation needed]

The European Union resented the Helms Burton Act because it felt that the U.S. was dictating how other nations ought to conduct their trade and challenged it on that basis. The EU eventually dropped its challenge in favor of negotiating a solution.[27]

After Cuba shot down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, killing three Americans and a U.S. resident, a bi-partisan coalition in the United States Congress approved the Helms-Burton Act.[citation needed] The Title III of this law also states that any non-U.S. company that "knowingly trafficks in property in Cuba confiscated without compensation from a U.S. person" can be subjected to litigation and that company's leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may also be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. This restriction also applies to maritime shipping, as ships docking at Cuban ports are not allowed to dock at U.S. ports for six months. It's important to note that this title includes waiver authority, so that the President might suspend its application. This waiver must be renewed every six months and traditionally it has been.[citation needed]

In response to pressure from some American farmers and agribusiness, the embargo was relaxed by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Congress in October 2000 and signed by President Bill Clinton. The relaxation allowed the sale of agricultural goods and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian reasons. Although Cuba initially declined to engage in such trade (having even refused U.S. food aid in the past,[28] seeing it as a half-measure serving U.S. interests), the Cuban government began to allow the purchase of food from the U.S. as a result of Hurricane Michelle in November 2001. These purchases have grown since then, even though all sales are made in cash. In 2007, the U.S. was the largest food supplier of Cuba, which nevertheless is largely self-sufficient,[29] and its fifth largest trading partner.

In some touristic spots across the island, American brands such as Coca-Cola can be purchased. Ford tankers refuel planes in airports and some computers use Microsoft software.[30] However, the origin of the financing behind such goods is not always clear. The goods often come from third parties based in countries outside the U.S., even if the product being dealt originally has U.S. shareholders or investors.[31] This can be seen, for example, with Nestle products (which have a 10% US ownership) that can be bought in Cuba with Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs). These CUC pesos are hard currency that are traded in foreign exchange against the US dollar, Euro and other currencies.

On 16 July 2012, the Ana Cecilia became the first officially sanctioned direct ship to sail from the United States to Cuba after leaving the port of Miami for the island.[32] It carried food, medicine and personal hygiene goods sent by Cuban-Americans to family members.[33]

Details of embargo[edit]

Restrictions on tourism by U.S. citizens and residents[edit]

Cuba is 90 miles (145 kilometres) south of Florida

According to the U.S. Department of State:

"Cuban Assets Control Regulations are enforced by the U.S. Treasury Department and affect all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, all people and organizations physically located in the United States, and all branches and subsidiaries of U.S. organizations throughout the world. Regulation does not limit travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba per se, but it makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba, under most circumstances. Since even paying unavoidable airfare ticket taxes into a Cuban airport would violate the transaction law, it is impossible for ordinary tourists to visit Cuba without breaking the monetary transaction rule. The regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed in order to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related solely to tourist travel are not licensable."[34]

Spurred by a burgeoning interest in the assumed untapped product demand in Cuba, a growing number of free-marketers in Congress, backed by Western and Great Plains lawmakers who represent agribusiness, have tried each year since 2000 to water down or completely erase regulations preventing Americans from traveling to Cuba. Four times over that time period the United States House of Representatives has adopted language lifting the travel ban, and in 2003 the U.S. Senate followed suit for the first time. However, each time President George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill. Faced with a veto threat, each year Congress dropped its attempt to lift the travel ban. Some United States nationals circumvent the ban by traveling to Cuba from a different country (such as Mexico, The Bahamas, Canada or Costa Rica), as Cuban immigration authorities do not routinely stamp passports, but instead stamp a Cuban visa page which is provided, and not permanently affixed to the passport. In doing so, however, U.S. citizens still risk prosecution and fines, by the U.S. government, if discovered. There is no U.S. Embassy or consulate in Cuba and United States representation is limited to a United States Interests Section.

The United States Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) considers any visit of more than one day to be prima facie proof of violation. Furthermore, OFAC also holds that U.S. citizens may not receive goods or services for free from any Cuban national, eliminating any attempts to circumvent the regulation based on that premise. On July 25, 2011, OFAC declared that the “people to people” relaxation of restrictions on travel conceded by the Obama administration should not be mistakenly interpreted as promoting tourism.[citation needed]

On October 10, 2006, the United States announced the creation of a task force made up of officials from several U.S. agencies that will pursue more aggressively violators of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, with severe penalties.[35] The regulations are still in force and are administered by the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control. Criminal penalties for violating the embargo range up to ten years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines; civil penalties up to $55,000 per violation.[citation needed]

Cuban-Americans[edit]

The Obama administration made slight changes to the restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. On April 13, 2009, President Barack Obama eased the travel ban, now allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba;[36] and on January 14, 2011 he further eased the ban, by allowing students and religious missionaries to travel to Cuba if they meet certain restrictions.[37]

Socio-economic effects of the embargo[edit]

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs the island itself $685 million annually.[38] The United States has spent over $500 million broadcasting Radio Marti and TV Marti, even though the transmission signals of the latter are effectively blocked by the Cuban government.[39] The self-proclaimed non-partisan Cuba Policy Foundation estimates that the embargo costs the U.S. economy $3.6 billion per year in economic output.[40]

The 1998 U.S. State Department report Zenith and Eclipse: A Comparative Look at Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro and Present Day Cuba[41] argued that the U.S. embargo has added, at most, relatively small increases in transportation costs. It claims that the main problem is not the embargo but the lack of foreign currency due to the unwillingness of Cuba to liberalize its economy and diversify its export base during the years of abundant Soviet aid. Cuba also amassed substantial debts owed to its Japanese, European, and Latin American trading partners during the years of abundant Soviet aid.

Critiques of embargo laws and rules[edit]

The UN General Assembly has, from 1992, passed a resolution each year criticizing the ongoing impact of the embargo.

"Future students of American history will be scratching their heads about this case for decades to come. Our embargo and refusal to normalize diplomatic relations has nothing to do with communism. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, with China since Nixon, and with Vietnam despite our bitter war there. No, Cuba was pure politics. Though it started out to be a measure of an administration's resistance to Castro's politics, it very soon became a straight-jacket whereby first-generation Cuban-Americans wielded inordinate political power over both parties and constructed a veto over rational, mature diplomacy."

Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator, March 2011 [42]

The embargo has been criticized for its effects on food, clean water,[43] medicine, and other economic needs of the Cuban population. Criticism has come from both Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro, citizens and groups from within Cuba, and international organizations and leaders including Barack Obama.[citation needed] Some academic critics, outside Cuba, have also linked the embargo to shortages of medical supplies and soap which have resulted in a series of medical crises and heightened levels of infectious diseases.[44][45] It has also been linked to epidemics of specific diseases, including neurological disorders and blindness caused by poor nutrition.[44][46] Travel restrictions embedded in the embargo have also been shown to limit the amount of medical information that flows into Cuba from the United States.[43] An article written in 1997 suggests malnutrition and disease resulting from increased food and medicine prices have affected men and the elderly, in particular, due to Cuba's rationing system which gives preferential treatment to women and children.[45]

On May 1, 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez voiced his concern over the continued embargo. While speaking about his meeting U.S. President Barack Obama at a summit days earlier, Chávez stated "if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce and the U.S. empire will be alive and well, threatening us."[47]

"The embargo is the perfect example used by anti-Americans everywhere to expose the hypocrisy of a superpower that punishes a small island while cozying to dictators elsewhere."

The Helms-Burton Act has been the target of criticism from Canadian and European governments in particular, who object to what they say is the extraterritorial pretensions of a piece of legislation aimed at punishing non-U.S. corporations and non-U.S. investors who have economic interests in Cuba. In the Canadian House of Commons, Helms-Burton was mocked by the introduction of the Godfrey-Milliken Bill, which called for the return of property of United Empire Loyalists seized by the American government as a result of the American Revolution (the bill never became law). The European Council has stated that it:

while reaffirming its concern to promote democratic reform in Cuba, recalled the deep concern expressed by the European Council over the extraterritorial effects of the "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act" adopted by the United States and similar pending legislation regarding Iran and Libya. It noted the widespread international objections to this legislation. It called upon President Clinton to waive the provisions of Title III and expressed serious concern at the measures already taken to implement Title IV of the Act. The Council identified a range of measures which could be deployed by the EU in response to the damage to the interests of EU companies resulting from the implementation of the Act. Among these are the following:

  1. a move to a WTO dispute settlement panel;
  2. changes in the procedures governing entry by representatives of US companies to EU Member States;
  3. the use/introduction of legislation within the EU to neutralize the extraterritorial effects of the US legislation;
  4. the establishment of a watch list of US companies filing Title III actions.[citation needed]

Some critics[who?] argue that the embargo actually helps Fidel and Raul Castro more than it hurts them, by providing a scapegoat to blame for all of Cuba's problems. Hillary Clinton has publicly shared the view that the embargo helps the Castros, noting that "It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do no want to see normalization with the United States." Clinton said in the same interview that "we're open to changing with them,"[citation needed] though the US government maintains its strong stance in support of the embargo while the Castros continue to oppose it.

George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, has gone as far as to call the continued embargo "insane".[49] Daniel Griswold, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies, criticized the current policy in June 2009 by stating:

"The embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free. At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers billions of dollars of potential exports." [50]

Some American business leaders openly call for an end to the embargo. They argue, as long as the embargo continues, non-U.S. foreign businesses in Cuba that violate the embargo, do not have to compete with U.S. businesses, and thus, will have a head start when and if the embargo is lifted.[51]

José Azel, a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the recently published book, Mañana in Cuba (Tomorrow in Cuba) presents an opposing perspective:

"Currently over 190 nations engage economically and politically with Cuba while the United States remains alone in enforcing its economic sanctions policy. If indeed U.S. policy is deemed as one case of failure to change the nature of the Cuban government, there are 190 cases of failure on the same grounds. By a preponderance of evidence (190 to 1) the case can be made that engagement with that regime has been a dismal failure."[13]

Some religious leaders oppose the embargo for a variety of reasons, including humanitarian and economic hardships the embargo imposes on Cubans. Pope John Paul II called for the end to the embargo during his 1979 pastoral visit to Mexico. However, during his January 1998 visit to Cuba, Pope John Paul II delivered his most powerful attack against President Fidel Castro's government, urging the Roman Catholic Church to take "courageous and prophetic stands in the face of the corruption of political or economic power" and to promote human rights within Cuba.[52] Patriarch Bartholomew I called the embargo a "historic mistake" while visiting the island on January 25, 2004.[53] A joint letter in 1998 from the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ to the U.S. Senate called for the easing of economic restrictions against Cuba. While also opposing the embargo, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches stated, "We did not understand the depth of the suffering of Christians under communism. And we failed to really cry out under the communist oppression."[54] Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Minister Louis Farrakhan have also publicly opposed the embargo. On May 15, 2002 former President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana, calling for an end to the embargo, saying "Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship." The US bishops called for an end to the embargo on Cuba, after Pope Benedict XVI's 2012 visit to the island.[55]

The United Nations General Assembly has condemned the embargo as a violation of international law every year since 1992. Israel is the only country that routinely joins the U.S. in voting against the resolution[56] as has Palau every year from 2004 to 2008. On October 26, 2010, for the 19th time, the General Assembly condemned the embargo, 187 to 2 with 3 abstentions. Israel sided with the U.S., while Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia abstained.[57]

The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cuba, Perez Roque called the embargo "an act of genocide". Cuba has also denounced as "theft" the use of frozen Cuban assets to pay for lawsuits filed in the US against the Republic of Cuba.[58]

In addition to the Cuban authorities, film director Michael Moore has also challenged the embargo by bringing 9/11 rescue workers in need of health care to Cuba to obtain subsidized health care.[59]

In June 2011, former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern spoke out against the travel ban before visiting Cuba, remarking:

"It's a stupid policy. There's no reason why we can't be friends with the Cubans, and vice versa. A lot of them have relatives in the United States, and some Americans have relatives in Cuba, so we should have freedom of travel ... We seem to think it's safe to open the door to a billion communists in China but for some reason, we're scared to death of the Cubans." [60]

McGovern blamed "embittered Cuban exiles in Miami" for keeping the embargo alive all these years, because of their dislike for Fidel Castro.[60]

Dr. José Azel frames the embargo in ideological opposition to Karl Marx who "makes it clear in chapter two of The Communist Manifesto that '...the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.'" Dr. Azel articulates the validity of the embargo and sanctions, on the libertarian principle of property rights that hold the "fundamental reason for the existence of governments is to protect life, liberty, and property."[13]

2010 Bill to end the travel ban[edit]

On February 23, 2010, U.S. Congressman Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota introduced a bill that would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or preventing transactions required for such trips.[61]

June 2010 letter by Cuban dissidents[edit]

On Thursday, June 10, 2010 seventy-four of Cuba's dissidents signed a letter to the United States Congress in support of a bill that would lift the U.S. travel ban for Americans wishing to visit Cuba. The signers include blogger Yoani Sanchez and hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, as well as Elizardo Sanchez, head of Cuba's most prominent human rights group and Miriam Levi, who helped found the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of jailed dissidents. The letter supports a bill introduced on February 23 by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, that would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips. It also would bar the White House from stopping direct transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks. The signers stated that:

We share the opinion that the isolation of the people of Cuba benefits the most inflexible interests of its government, while any opening serves to inform and empower the Cuban people and helps to further strengthen our civil society.[61]

[dead link]

The Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington D.C.-based group supporting the bill, issued a press release stating that, "74 of Cuba's most prominent political dissidents have endorsed the Peterson-Moran legislation to end the travel ban and expand food exports to Cuba because in their words it is good for human rights, good for alleviating hunger, and good for spreading information and showing solidarity with the Cuban people. Their letter answers every argument the pro-embargo forces use to oppose this legislation. This, itself, answers the question 'who is speaking for the Cuban people in this debate?' – those who want to send food and Americans to visit the island and stand with ordinary Cubans, or those who don't. If Cuba's best known bloggers, dissidents, hunger strikers, and other activists for human rights want this legislation enacted, what else needs be said?"[62][63] The Center also hosts English[64] as well as the Spanish[65] version of the letter signed by the 74 dissidents.

Polling data and public opinion[edit]

A 2008 USA Today/Gallup Poll indicated that despite overwhelmingly unfavorable public opinions of Fidel Castro (83% unfavorable vs 5% favorable), Americans believe that diplomatic relations "should" be re-established with Cuba. (61% in favor, 31% opposed).[66] In 2009, U.S. polling indicates that the American public is currently in favor of ending the embargo, (51% end vs. to 36% continue).[citation needed] In January 2012, an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll showed 57% of Americans called for ending the travel ban that prevents most Americans from visiting Cuba, with 27% disagreeing and 16% were not sure.[67]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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