The Cuban Blockade: An Atavistic US Commitment

In the context of the complicated U.S.-Cuba relationship, professor Luis René Fernández-Tabío is one of the academics that have investigated the subject most deeply, with 20 years of professional experience studying Washington’s policies, among other sociological and scientific disciplines of international impact.

Fernández-Tabío is a researcher for the Center for Western Hemisphere and United States Studies of the University of Havana (CEHSEU), and was previously linked to the Center of Asian, African and Latin American Research, of the Institute of Social Sciences, with headquarters in the capital of Cuba.

The Doctor of Economics of the University of Havana and Master of the University of Carleton, Ottawa, in Canada, kindly agreed to answer Prensa Latina’s questions; the interview took place in the headquarters of CEHSEU, a discreet house in Miramar, close to the capital’s Almendares River.

Prensa Latina: Professor, as we reach the end of the year 2011, could one speak, in this period, of a “flexibilization” of the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States?

Luis René Fernández-Tabío: Although for many years the policy of the United States toward Cuba has continued to focus on economic sanctions, they — the North American authorities — define it, in practice, as a strategy based on the so-called “Two Tracks.”

During the government of George W. Bush there was a tendency to somewhat restrict the implementation of the so-called Second Track, which is — broadly outlined — Washington’s systematic effort to influence Cuban society and reality through communications, family travel and remittances.

During the Clinton administration, this same policy was defined as so-called people-to-people diplomacy.

It’s true that Barack Obama has loosened some measures related to travel and remittances. These groups of policy measures and other tactics applied by Obama, such as a more moderated discourse and a relatively greater level of communication, are, in some sense, positive elements.

Nonetheless, it must be made clear that none of these measures eliminate the blockade or the unilateral sanctions that have been functioning in the same manner since the epoch of the Bush Jr. administration. Today, the blockade and sanctions on Cuba remain at the same level.

The organization in charge of enforcing the blockade, within the Department of the Treasury, is known by its initials in English: OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control). This entity has enacted very strong sanctions against organizations and banks that have maintained any economic link with Cuba, making relationships between the island and other nations extremely difficult.

This is an interventionist policy that has not ceased. Recently, a punishment of this type was carried out against a German bank, Commerzbank, by means of a fine of $175,500. This is all evidence of continued use of coercive policies against Cuba.

The blockade has not been alleviated in any sense, while at the same time measures of the above-mentioned Second Track have returned to the level of the Clinton administration, and have even, in some aspects, been amplified further.

The current U.S. president has granted greater facilities for some actions related to travel and remittances. Without a doubt, this is a positive development, but even so the blockade is maintained intact in every way, practically similar to when Obama entered the White House.

The complex scaffolding of the economic and financial siege does not allow direct links between Cuban business entities and North American commercial ventures, and complicates possibilities for travel and a range of purchases of food and other merchandise. This is owing to the labyrinth of credit regulations and the insistence on cash payments, among other cumbersome requirements.

PL: How do you value the most recent actions and reactions against Cuba, of the conservative, right-wing Cuban-American community, located primarily in the cities of Miami and New Jersey?

LRFT: The most recent polls demonstrate that, of all those who are members of or have links to the Cuban-American community, 61 percent oppose the introduction of laws that aim to restrict, for example, family travel to the Caribbean nation. And among those citizens who are registered to vote, the judgment is that 54 percent are opposed to this kind of regulation.

Which is a fact that doubtless gives pause to sectors of the right, which have always tried to manipulate policies toward Cuba. A sector that doesn’t want these changes to happen because it knows that such tendencies presage the end of the blockade.

A sector of the right that doesn’t want these openings to occur; it also knows they would benefit the Cuban people as regards income via the tourism sector.

Regarding this point, the very principles that Washington purports to defend in its philosophy are damaged by a policy of pressure on, and blockade of, Cuba. That is, the individual liberties of Americans, who cannot freely travel to Cuba, are damaged.

The most recent rejection achieved by progressive sectors through diverse activities gives hope, in the sense that measures such as the recently challenged amendment engineered by Congressmen Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart can be checked. Their plan would have reversed the latest Cuban travel measures.

The progressive forces that had already lived with those sanctions during the Bush administration united and managed to impede this step. This does not mean other, more radical changes should be expected, but it is a sort of turning point; it is the first time such a measure has found the doors of Congress closed.

The majority of the Cuban emigrants who have become residents in the United States since the 1980s and ’90s are those that have most links and family ties in Cuba; therefore, they know these laws would affect them considerably.

They represent the existence of a majority of Cuban-American citizens, that from inside the United States express, in varying degrees, a stance against the blockade imposed by Washington for the last half-century.

We should also make clear that polls indicate we are not dealing with a homogenous group. The most recent emigrants are those most in favor of lighter measures; in general we are seeing expressions that the community is probably entering a new, historic moment.

PL: What conclusions can we draw with respect to the United States’ historic, insistent and sustained policy of hostility and aggression toward Cuba?

LRFT: Since the time of the so-called Founding Fathers, the United States has demonstrated interest in the possession of Cuba for, among other aspects, its geographic situation. Historically the United States has tried to absorb the island so that it will return to the North American sphere of influence. This has been a permanent element that will endure.

The United States considers Cuba a fundamental strategic space, economically speaking; this is not open for discussion among the dominant political class in Washington. Variations on this theme exist only in the methods used to pursue this old objective of the White House.

All North American policies are constructed on these alternatives only, which base their goals on trying to change Cuba and design a country that nurtures political surrender before its powerful northern neighbor.

Regardless of how many United Nations condemnations the blockade receives, the United States maintains an arbitrary strategic system identified by that organization as unilateralism. It acts with or without the acquiescence of the United Nations; the guidelines of American power are to always act unilaterally.

They think they can do it because they believe themselves to be the only global superpower, above all in two important fronts: the military and the field of media and information.

However, by finding examples like the recent establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, among other continental forums, we corroborate that the times are long past in which the United States could pressure Latin America as a link in its maneuvers to try and achieve its old, long frustrated pretensions to isolate Cuba.

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