The Bush administration is using former President Jimmy Carter’s historic trip to Cuba as an opportunity to escalate the anti-Cuba rhetoric. But Cubans suffer under the thumb of a vitriolic policy of economic isolation imposed on them by the United States, which has maintained a cruel economic embargo against Cuba for 42 years.
The desperate economic situation in Cuba is largely the result of U.S. policy that caters to the historically powerful lobby of expatriated Cubans in south Florida who fled Cuba after Castro’s socialist revolution in 1959. They have consistently been fixated on a single goal — to overthrow Castro. Since they control a large bloc of electoral votes, they have great political clout; Congress and all U.S. presidents since 1959 have been loathe to cross them. Indeed, Bush plans to deliver a major anti-Cuba address next week in south Florida, aimed to win Cuban-American votes for his brother Jeb’s gubernatorial campaign.
The U.S. trade embargo of Cuba was initiated during the Cold War by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in response to a 1960 memorandum written by L.D. Mallory, a senior State Department official. Mallory proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”
The Cold War has ended, and the United States has normal relations with China and Vietnam. Nonetheless, we maintain an embargo against Cuba tighter than any other in the world.
Its restriction on the sale of medicine and food is unprecedented. In 1997, the American Association for World Health found the embargo had “caused a significant rise in suffering — and even deaths in Cuba.”
Cuba has access to less than half the new medicines on the world market, and it can’t buy some life-saving medical supplies anywhere. Fatal heart attacks have increased because the U.S. pacemaker monopoly won’t sell to Cuba.
Recently, Radhika Coomaraswamy, special rapporteur on violence against women, reported to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights that the “embargo imposed unilaterally by the U.S. has a particularly serious negative impact on the lives of Cuban women.” Coomaraswamy, like Jimmy Carter, called for an end to the embargo.
Castro did not cause the dire economic conditions in Cuba. In fact, he has done much to improve the standard of living since taking power in 1959. The Cuban constitution enshrines due process rights, the right to work, to education, to medical and dental care, to prenatal care and paid maternity leave, to child care, to participate in the running of the state and the right to a life free of racial or gender discrimination.
It is true that many Cubans recently petitioned their government for economic and political reforms. But many in the United States have likewise marched in opposition to U.S. corporate globalization, cutbacks in civil liberties under the new USA PATRIOT Act, and the procedures used to select Bush as president.
Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas and one of the highest in the world. In fact, former Vice President Al Gore told a Canadian magazine in 1994: “It’s disgraceful that we [in the United States] have this level of illiteracy; countries like Cuba put us to shame when it comes to this problem.”
Life expectancy in Cuba is the longest in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Even though the U.S. embargo denies Cuba many modern drugs, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower that than of the United States. There are more doctors in Cuba per capita than in any other country in the world. Cuba’s universal health care system is a world model; even British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his health minister to Cuba to study its system.
The U.S. government continues to betray the poor in Cuba, who remain under a state of siege in an undeclared war by the United States. Normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations also would help our economy; many American businesspeople are eager to trade with Cuba. We must lift the embargo of Cuba, not just for the Cuban people and U.S. business interests, but for our own humanity as well.