In one of its last salvoes, the outgoing Trump administration has put Cuba back on the list of ‘state sponsors of terrorism’ – even as the Caribbean nation offers the entire world its help against the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last month, the Trump administration has been feverishly passing measures that are telling when it comes to its actual priorities and who it responds to. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the announcement from Mike Pompeo that Cuba would once again be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The outgoing secretary of state cites Cuba’s refusal to extradite Colombian guerrillas and US activists like former Black Liberation Army member, Assata Shakur, as well as its support for Venezuela’s actual government, as grounds for the move. The designation will mean further restrictions on US exports and sales, as well penalties for “persons and countries engaging in certain trade with Cuba.”
While Pompeo may have erred in misspelling Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s name, his characterization of Cuba’s government as the “Castro regime” is no accident, but rather a nod to the base of far-right Cubans and Venezuelans concentrated in Miami. This designation was for them, likely at their behest.
This may prove to be the last aggression by Trump against the Caribbean island, but it is hardly the first. From his very first days in office, Trump strove to undo the detente with Cuba fostered by the Obama government, in favor of restoring Cold War-era policies aimed at strangling the island into submission. Beginning in 2017, the White House began to once again restrict flights and visits, sanctioning Cuban officials and institutions, as well as fining companies for doing business with Havana.
Even businesses outside the US saw themselves impacted.
All of this of course is the precise objective of the US blockade, which has cost the island at least $130 billion since it was first implemented in the 1960s. Trump’s measures deprived Cuba of $5 billion during the last year alone, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time given the struggles faced by all countries in the region due to the pandemic. Cruelly, US efforts also made it hard for Cuba to acquire personal protective equipment and medical devices, while Cubans outside the country faced considerable challenges in sending remittances back home.
As it has been during the previous decades where the economic war was complimented with invasions, assassinations and terrorist attacks, Cuba has been able to withstand the latest onslaught. Astoundingly, it has also been able to muster a Herculean effort to support curbing the spread of Covid-19 worldwide.
The tiny island has sent thousands of doctors and health workers to dozens of countries including Honduras, Dominica, Angola, Togo, Guinea-Bissau and South Africa. Cuban ‘white coats’ were also called in to support oil-rich nations like Oman, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, as well as to European countries like Italy and Andorra.
As the world applauded Cuba for its efforts, the sitting US government sought to vilify the medical missions, even as they offered to help the very country that has been working to starve them for more than half a century.
Cuba’s health efforts have long been hailed internationally, but the breadth of the island’s response to the pandemic has been eye-opening for many. In addition to its international medical teams, the pharmaceutical powerhouse also supported treatment of Covid-19 patients with antivirals developed in the country. Cuba’s Finlay Institute is currently working with Iran – another country to be slapped with sanctions by the outgoing Trump administration – to roll out its own Covid-19 vaccine, and is projecting to have the entire island vaccinated within the first six months of this year.
A number of organizations and personalities, including over 200 University professors in the United States, have even nominated the Henry Reeve Brigade, Cuba’s international medical team, for the Nobel Peace Prize. What’s more, Cuba has continued deploying these teams to countries around the globe, which is crucial given that many are entering a second or third wave of Covid-19.
It would be hard to imagine that any other country has given more to support the global efforts to stem the pandemic, and the laurels being rightfully heaped on Cuba for it are a testament to the broad recognition of this fact.
It is also precisely why the attempt to brand Cuba as terrorist looks like a farcical, and even pathetic last salvo from an administration in its ‘death throes’, as Cuba’s president called it.
Unfortunately, the impacts of these measures on people in Cuba are all too real. The sanctions have exacerbated the significant hit to the tourism-reliant economy as a result of the pandemic, leading to what many consider to be the most significant economic downturn since the so-called ‘Special Period’ after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Despite the obvious injustice, there are few who think the Joe Biden Democrats will move to reverse this, at least anytime soon. Interventionist US policy towards Latin America, and in particular to any government maintaining a nationalist, let alone socialist, position has generally garnered bipartisan support.
Hopefully the rest of the world can show a little support to this tenacious nation and its people by rejecting or ignoring these measures, even if Biden doesn’t. Cubans are doing their best to tackle the pandemic, but they need all the help they can get to confront the virus of US imperialism.