Cuba Scores a Big Victory in the UN General Assembly

The United Nations General Assembly on November 2 voted to approve a Cuban resolution that, unchanged over 31 consecutive years, calls for an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. Approval once more was overwhelming: 187 nations voted in favor and two against, the United States and Israel. Ukraine abstained.

Reacting to the vote, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel proclaimed a “new victory for the Cuban people and their Revolution!” He pointed to “the triumph of dignity and the fearlessness of our people,” and expressed gratitude for “the international community’s recognition of and support for Cuba’s heroism and resistance.”

For over 20 years, the only nations opposing the Cuban resolution, apart from the United States, have been Israel and, formerly, a few U.S.-dependent Pacific island nations. The blockade began in 1962, and now 80% of Cubans have lived under its sway.

Before the vote this year, dozens of delegates representing member states spoke out against the blockade. Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno Rodríguez addressed the General Assembly, insisting that the U.S. blockade interferes with “the right to life, health, progress and welfare of every Cuban family.”

He explained that Cuba’s financial losses from the blockade reflect factors like the high cost of substituting for goods excluded under the blockade with more expensive goods and/or those with higher transportation costs. Losses take the form also of an overall lack of necessary materials, goods, and services. And “barriers Cuba faces in gaining access to advanced technology” lead to monetary loss.  

 The chancellor emphasized that “sectors like agriculture and energy face serious obstacles to acquiring spare parts or machinery.” He cited examples of blockade-related shortages such as extreme shortages of gasoline and oil, cancer patients being denied “first-line treatments and drugs,” and healthcare providers and their patients lacking respiratory ventilators and medicinal oxygen normally available from abroad.

The blockade’s assault against the Cuban people shows up clearly and dramatically in money lost to Cuba’s economy. Rodríguez claimed that Cuba’s GDP would have grown by 9% in 2022 without the blockade, and that the $4.87 billion in losses occurring between March, 2023 and February 2023 correlated with “pain and suffering.”

Cuba’s monetary loss in over 60 years of blockade now totals $159.8 billion, according to one account. What with inflationary change, that’s $1.3 trillion.

Another report indicates that between August 2021 and February 2022, losses in the energy and mining sectors added up to $185.5 million, in the agricultural sector, $270.9 million; and in banking and finance, $280.8 million. Between January and July in 2021, losses were $113.5 million in the healthcare sector; $30.6 million in education; and $31.3 million in the transport sector.

Cubans’ lives are affected:

+ During the last school year, Cuba’s government lacked paper sufficient to “print and assemble books and notebooks for students,” in part because a Canadian paper manufacturer did not extend credit.

+ Presently, according to the Granma news service, no school books are being produced due to a lack of supplies and spare parts.

+ Lack of access to high-performance brands and equipment, as well as spare parts, serves to handicap Cuba’s telecommunications sector, thus easing the way for U.S. and European competitors to reach Cuban users.

Laws authorizing the U.S. blockade include the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act (Torricelli Law), and the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (Helms-Burton Law). Executive actions taken to implement the blockade have been central to how that policy affects Cuba.  The Obama administration eased many blockade regulations. President Trump added 243 new measures, with disastrous effects. The Biden administration continues them. The U.S. Treasury Department imposes large fines on third-country exporters failing to comply with its rules, so they often do not sell to Cuba.  Because the Treasury Department forbids foreign banks from using U.S. dollars, international financial institutions rarely make loans to entities in Cuba and are reluctant to handle U.S. dollars in transactions involving Cuba.    The U.S. government has recently been weaponizing its false declarations that Cuba is a terrorist-sponsoring state. The enabling legislation on the matter granted the U.S. government authority to penalize any international financial and banking sectors bold enough to have dealings with states so designated.

Conveniently enough, Cuban analyst Claudia Fonseca Sosa recently provided President Biden with advice as to “substantive modifications” of methods for carrying out his policy. He could authorize “the export of U.S. products to key branches of Cuba’s economy” and of medical supplies and equipment to the island to help with the manufacture of biotechnical products. Biden could allow U.S. companies to invest in Cuba and enable U.S. citizens to receive medical treatment there. The prospects for changed policies toward Cuba perhaps have improved; a recent report documented the major role of the blockade in propelling Cuban emigration to the United States – and sending Venezuelans and Nicaragua there too. Those three blockaded countries presently supply most of the migrants crossing into the United States. U.S. sanctions cause desperate living conditions, and so people leave.

End all three blockades. Relieve the pressure on people, and maybe they’d stay home. Who could object?

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.