Cuba, the missing link to fighting sanctions

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THE United States recently tightened sanctions against Zimbabwe by including new measures barring Americans from making humanitarian donations without first seeking government approval.
According to revised Zimbabwe Sanctions Regulations published by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), President Barack Obama ruled that the making of food, clothing and medical donations “would seriously impair his ability to deal with the national emergency” in Zimbabwe.
The latest move is meant to ensure that Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU PF does not benefit from donations of food, clothing and medical supplies in the face of a growing humanitarian crisis.
Zimbabwe is already under a financial strain, struggling to secure investors who can kick start the economy.
On November 13, 2012, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted, for the 21st year in a row, to denounce the commercial, economic, and financial embargoes imposed by the US against Cuba.
Cuba has been under American sanctions for the past 54 years.
But since 2000, American businesses have been allowed to sell humanitarian goods to the island.
American citizens used to sneak into Cuba by flying through Mexico, Canada or Caribbean countries, with Cuban customs officials knowingly leaving their passports unstamped so the bold travellers wouldn’t get into trouble when they returned to the U.S.
Now they can more easily get a people-to-people visa and fly directly from Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and other U.S. airports.
The big question is how have Cubans survived over five decades of sanctions by America?
In October 2005, Daniel Griswold of CATO institute presented at the James A. Baker III Institute Programme, on Cuba and the United States in the 21st Century at Rice University, Houston, Texas. In his presentation he said that “As a foreign policy tool, the embargo actually enhances Fidel Castro’s standing by giving him a handy excuse for the failures of his homegrown Caribbean socialism.
“He can rail for hours about the suffering the embargo inflicts on Cubans, even though the damage done by his domestic policies is far worse.
“If the embargo were lifted, the Cuban people would be a bit less deprived and Castro would have no one else to blame for the shortages and stagnation that will persist without real market reforms.”
Does this sound familiar?
It is the same argument that some are proffering for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Apparently, sanctions are helping ZANU PF instead of ‘separating the people of Zimbabwe from ZANU PF’.
In 2000, Congress approved a modest opening of the embargo.
The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 allows cash-only sales to Cuba of U.S. farm products and medical supplies.
The results of this opening have been quite amazing.
Cuba is now the fifth largest export market in Latin America for U.S farm exports.
According to a study by the U.S International Trade Commission, the Cuban sanctions cost American firms a total of US$700 million to US$1.2 billion per year.
Farmers in Texas and neighbouring states are among the biggest potential winners.
Support for the Cuban sanctions certainly does not come from the general American public, but from a group of Cuban-American activists concentrated in southern Florida.
Polls show that a majority of Americans would like to re-establish normal relations with Cuba.
Why has America continued with the sanctions?
Politics.
For decades Cuban exiles in the swing state of Florida have supported it.
It is ironic that many of those very same Cuban-Americans who support the embargo also routinely and massively violate the spirit if not the letter of the law.
Each year, Cuban Americans send hundreds of millions in hard-dollar remittances to their friends and families back in Cuba.
Another 100 000 or so Cuban Americans actually visit their homeland each year.
These are supposed to be so-called ‘emergency’ visits, although a disproportionate number of the emergencies for some strange reason occur around the Christmas holiday.
In the name of politics, Cuban American leaders want to restrict the freedom of other Americans to visit Cuba while retaining that freedom to themselves.
America might be isolating Cuba, but the world is moving on while America remains locked away held captive by its Anti-Castro mentality.
The 1996 Helms-Burton Act states that the Cuban sanctions may not be lifted until Cuba holds free and fair elections and transitions to a democratic government that excludes the Castros (Raúl is scheduled to leave office in 2018).
The European Union (EU), the largest foreign investor in the island, is in talks with the Cuban government for a trade agreement.
In January a deepwater port opened in Mariel on Cuba’s northern coast, a prime spot to handle traffic with the United States should the drawbridge come down. The port was built by Brazil; it is operated by a Singaporean firm.
Decades of isolation from the United States has strengthened Cuba’s relationships with other countries that shared its opposition to the U.S brand of neo-liberalism.
Caracas has been Havana’s closest ally since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the election of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.
Their economic relationship is rooted in the Integral Cooperation Accord, an agreement signed in 2000 that specifies an exchange of Venezuelan oil for Cuban goods and services.
The accord was reaffirmed and extended for another ten-year period in 2010. Venezuela now sells Cuba some 90 000 barrels of crude oil daily at preferential prices, and Cuba sends tens of thousands of medical professionals to work in Venezuelan communities.
Brazil and China are Cuba’s largest trading partners after Venezuela.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro some weeks back on a six-day tour of Latin America in which Russia is seeking to reassert its influence on Cuba.
Putin is also promoting Russian trade with Cuba, a market cut off to U.S. companies because of Washington’s 52-year-old economic embargo.
Russian state oil companies Rosneft and Zarubezhneft will finalise a deal to explore for offshore oil, one of several commercial agreements expected to be signed during Putin’s tour.
Cuba has oil reserves of somewhere between four and 20 billion barrels.
Russia’s State Duma approved a deal last week to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s debt, or almost US$32 billion, most of it originating from Soviet loans to Cuba. Putin has said the remaining US$3,5 billion that Cuba owes would be invested in development projects in Cuba.

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