8 Feb 2007
Little did I know how ridiculous the U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba were until I came across a recent article by Duncan Campbell published in The Guardian. According to the article, an Oslo-based hotel owned by the US Hilton chain refused booking to a Cuban delegation attending a trade fair in Norway. A spokeswoman for the hotel chain in London confirmed to The Guardian that the Hilton group and other American hotel companies were also banning Cuban delegations from all its hotels around the world.
In defending that action, Linda Bain, vice-president for communications of the Hilton group said, “The dilemma we face is that [if we took a booking from a Cuban delegation] we would be subject to fines or prison and if anyone [from the company] tried to enter the US, they would be arrested.”
I felt as if I was reading about a law enacted by one tin-pot dictator from a remote Banana republic.
The action of this hotel did not go without challenge. Norwegian anti-racist organizations and some politicians raised voices against this ‘petty’ attitude of the U.S government. A Norwegian trade unionist Anne Grethe Skaardal said, “It is unacceptable for the US to dictate to the whole world”. Meanwhile the labour MP Colin Burgon described the ban as “small-minded”.
In relation to this, a British-born freelancer Tom Fawthrop had difficulty to get payment transferred to his account through the American owned Citicorp just because he was being paid for an article he wrote about the Cuban health system! The bank wanted clarification and details on the transaction because ‘Cuban doctors’ was mentioned on it. A UK based NGO ‘Cuba Solidarity’ also ran into difficulty when it wanted to buy a computer from Dell- an American company. An angry Rob Miller of Cuba Solidarity lamented that the Americans were “imposing bigotry and absurdity unto the lives of UK citizens”.
Many readers will find these type of violations on people’s freedom by the US government even more intriguing if they understood the genesis of the ongoing crisis between the U.S and Cuba.
Cuba, a former Spanish colony was ceded to the U.S in 1898 following the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American war. The Americans granted independence to Cuba in 1902 but never ceased to intervene in the internal affairs of that country as they have always done to all America’s neighbors to the South. The U.S propped ‘friendly’ governments that ensured the continuation of American dominance of the Cuban economy until the Castro revolution of 1959 chased away Fulgencio Batista- the last American lackey to rule Cuba.
Fidel Castro and the late Che Guevara took over a country that was plagued with many problems such as poverty, inequality, landlessness, illiteracy, gambling, prostitution, unemployment and racism. The government took draconian decisions such as the Agrarian reform that saw the expropriation of large-scale (including American-owned) land holdings for redistribution to landless Cuban peasants. The Cuban government offered a compensation that was rejected by the Americans and friction between the two governments began. Cuba was then pushed to embrace the Soviet block in a world that was seen as bipolar.
The U.S sanctions against Cuba effectively began in October 1960 with the prohibition of all exports to Cuba. As the years went by, respective US administrations kept on fine- tuning the sanctions. In July 1964, the US employed arm-twisting tactics to force members of the Organization of American States OAS to impose multilateral sanctions on Cuba (these sanctions were lifted in 1975). The most far-reaching modification of the sanctions against Cuba was in 1996 when the so-called Helms-Burton Act came into force. Among the outrageous modifications was the provision that any non-US company that “knowingly traffics in property in Cuba confiscated without compensation from a U.S person” could be sued and top company executives and shareholders could be barred from entering the U.S. In the Helms-Burton Act, ships docking at Cuban ports are not allowed to dock at U.S ports for six months (a waiver provision exists in the law for the US president to suspend its application). There are laughable provisions dealing with the prohibition on import of and dealings in Cuban products outside the United States. The US jurisdiction seems to know no boundaries!
Almost all member countries of the United Nations differ with the US on this obnoxious law that backs the sanctions on Cuba. Since 1991, the UN General Assembly has passed yearly non-binding resolutions condemning these sanctions. The latest vote in November 2006 was passed with an overwhelming majority 183-4. The only countries that sided with the US were Israel and the two micro US satellite nations of Palau and the Marshall Islands. The combined population of these two countries is not up to a hundred thousand people. This is a situation where representatives of more than six billion people are telling the US (pop 300 million) that she is exercising bad judgment. It is clear that these sanctions neither serve Cuban nor US interest. If anything, they are attracting sympathy for Cuba and tarnishing American image.
As an African, I find it very hard to understand why the American government should go to such great lengths to demonize Fidel Castro and asphyxiate the Cuban people economically. When Namibia was struggling for Independence from Apartheid South Africa and South Africa invaded Angola in 1975, it was the action of Cuban soldiers that reversed the evil designs of the Apartheid regime in the region. We know those countries that stood on the side of our oppressors. Because of tiny Cuba, Angola’s government survived the invasion, Namibia had independence much earlier and Apartheid collapsed in South Africa much earlier too. We know that while parents were in the bush fighting to save their countries, the Cuban government took in thousands of African children to educate them away from the war at the Isles of Youth in Cuba. These children are today adults that are contributing to nation building in Africa. Those of us that understand African history do feel the pain caused by any noose tightened on the neck of Cuba.
America is a civilized, wealthy and powerful country. She should not hold grudges against Cuba for this long. What advice would she then give Sub Saharan Africans that have been victims of more than 2000 years of slavery and a century of colonialism? What amount of grudge should we hold for those that have wronged us and continue to wrong us today?
The sanctions against Cuba are outdated, unjust and indefensible. It is time to lift them unconditionally.
Njei Moses Timah