Why the US blockade is to blame for Cuba’s water crisis

Farrah Koutteineh
14 Jul, 2023

Over 100,00 Cubans can’t access water during one of the country’s hottest summers. Farrah Koutteineh explains how the US’ ongoing crippling blockade prevents the Cuban government from addressing the water crisis.

There are currently over 100,000 Cubans in Havana without access to water during one of the Caribbean islands’ hottest summers on record. But this is just one of a plethora of crises the country is experiencing.

Water shortages are not a relatively new occurrence for Cuban society, nor is it just water that is in short supply; gas and electricity shortages have also riddled the country since 1962 – the beginning of the US’ blockade of Cuba.

More than 50% of Cuba’s available drinking water is lost due to its antiquated water infrastructure built in the 1920’s. The system hasn’t been updated due to crippling US sanctions that prevent building materials and other necessities from entering the Island.

”Today in Cuba, its docks remain half-empty. The US has banned all cruise ships which allowed cultural exchange and educational delegations that once drove the largest industry on the island. The Western Union branches are also closed: the US has banned all remittances through Cuban firms and their affiliates to the millions of Cuban families that rely on assistance from abroad.”

As the Cuban government is trying to install new water pumps across Havana to tackle these recent shortages, the US’ blockade and sanctions make it an almost impossible task. This is the key root of the ongoing crises that Western media outlets are conveniently failing to cover.

The US’ unilateral blockade is a collection of US laws and legislation which restricts the country’s ability to trade with the US, and other countries. This was put in place in 1962 by president John F Kennedy who introduced Proclamation 3447 in order to isolate Cuba and stop the spread of what it saw as a great threat: socialism.

The proclamation states how “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba”. Kennedy’s assistant secretary of state, Lester D Mallory, wrote just two months after the proclamation’s publication, that the goal of the Kennedy administration was clear: “To bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the Cuban government.”

It is important to note that the US’ implementation of its unilateral blockade was a direct response to Cuba’s 1959 popular socialist revolution. This was the event that led to the overthrowing of Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt Cuban dictator and great ally to the US government and its affiliated corporations.

Directly after the revolution, the properties of US citizens and corporations who were based in Cuba were expropriated and there was widespread re-nationalisation, as well as land reform. Almost instantaneously, universal healthcare, education and housing were rolled out for the entirety of the Cuban population. The blockade was a reaction to these policies and aimed to eventually topple the revolutionary government as the US, just 90 miles away from Cuba, feared Cuban socialism was just too close to its capitalist shores.

Today in Cuba, its docks remain half-empty. The US has banned all cruise ships which allowed cultural exchange and educational delegations that once drove the largest industry on the island. The Western Union branches are also closed: the US has banned all remittances through Cuban firms and their affiliates to the millions of Cuban families that rely on assistance from abroad.

Cuban hospitals’ vital medical supplies are also understocked. The blockade has forbidden the export of medical technology with US components, leading to chronic shortages of over-the-counter medicine. Even Cuba’s internet is blockaded, which means that Cubans cannot use Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams to communicate with the outside world.

The American government even individually hunts down any company, bank or institution that trades with Cuba. For instance, in December 2012, British bank HSBC was fined $665m for violating US sanctions against Cuba.

The US’ intentions behind implementing this blockade was twofold. They sought to overthrow the Cuban government – which even despite the CIA’s over 600 assassination attempts on the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, they still failed to do. And, they had also intended on making an example out of Cuba by demonising socialist policies. However, even despite the most tremendous constraints due to external forces, its policies continue to work for the Cuban people.

Whilst the US’ aim through such a destructive blockade is to show capitalism’s successes over socialism, when you compare the figures on healthcare and education between both countries, for example, contradictory realities are revealed.

Education has also been at the heart of the revolutionary process in Cuba, and its educational systems are widely seen as amongst the best in the world. Free universal education from kindergarten to university is available to the population, including medical schools. Private schools have also been abolished.

Cuba now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 99.8%. Whilst the US’ literacy rate slums behind at only 79%. According to World Bank figures, Cuba spends more as a proportion of its GDP on education than any other country in the world.

Cuba has also developed a world class health system with the one of the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world, and its average life expectancy is years higher than the US’. The only higher health related figure that the US appears to have over Cuba is its infant mortality rate.

Whilst American pharmaceutical companies race against each other to make vaccines for the highest profit, Cuba has invested heavily in medical research, and has created numerous successful vaccines for HIV to Covid-19. The country vaccinates its citizens free of charge, as well as distributing free vaccines worldwide.

Cuba’s current water crisis isn’t a crisis about water, it’s a crisis of American imperialism. Why else does a government with such considerable economic and military might deploy a blockade of such brutality against a small island 89 times smaller than its land mass?

Despite almost every country in the world voting at the UN every year for the past 30 years, to end the blockade, the US refuses to back down.

The US clearly continues to deploy it in an attempt to destroy and starve Cuba into submission, but 61 years on, Cuba remains steadfast.

Farrah Koutteineh is founder of KEY48 – a voluntary collective calling for the immediate right of return of over 7.4 million Palestinian refugees. Koutteineh is also a political activist focusing on intersectional activism including, the Decolonise Palestine movement, indigenous people’s rights, anti-establishment movement, women’s rights and climate justice.

Source: New Arab