Thursday, October 28, 2004

'No al bloqueo'

Think of yourself as a citizen of a small island nation of 11 million floating near the armpit of the United States, a powerful nation where milk and honey flow profusely so many of its citizens are groaning under the weight of obesity and too much eating.

Think of yourself as a Cuban, deprived of many necessities and opportunities simply because your neighbor, a giant nation many times your size, has leaders who are fixated in the belief that your dot of a country is a ``threat’’ to their security.

The big one squeezes the small one to make it go down on its knees and cry ``Uncle!’’ But no way, Jorge. Porque no? Because no self-respecting nation, no matter how small, will capitulate to an immoral sanction. Because no sovereign nation that knows the meaning of pride would want to take tutorials on how to run its affairs.

Today, Oct. 28, a draft resolution calling for the ending of US economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba will again be deliberated and voted on at the UN.

For the past 13 consecutive years, Cuba has been submitting resolutions to the United Nations General Assembly, demanding the lifting of the US embargo against it. This embargo/blockade, this continuous crucifixion of the Cuban people is now on its 45th year. Nothing as sustained as this has been imposed by a powerful country against a poor, little one.

As Cuban ambassador to the Philippines Ramon Medina said, the US sanctions against Cuba are the harshest in the world, much harsher than the sanctions against Iraq. Even the Pope has pleaded against this cruelty.

Last year, 179 countries, including the Philippines (which shares a Spanish and American colonial past with Cuba), voted in favor of ending the embargo. Two countries abstained. Only three (the US, Israel and the Marshall Islands) voted to continue the cruel embargo.

The US loses its case with Cuba every time the embargo issue is voted on in the UN, so what’s the problem? The US is the problem. Because it rules the world.

What does this embargo/blockade mean?

Cuba cannot export to the US, it cannot engage in sales with US entrepreneurs. Cuba is capable of exporting to the US about 15,000 tons of nickel every year, no less than 1,000 tons of cobalt and more than two million tons of cement. But it can’t.

Cuba cannot import from the US. Food may be allowed but only under special circumstances and only on cash basis. Cuba cannot access financial credits, not even private ones.

US companies, on the other hand, have to go through a difficult bureaucratic process in the US if they are to sell to Cuba. Cuba cannot use its own maritime vessels in trading operations. Only US or third-party vessels can be used. Cuba is not allowed direct banking relations with the US, so it has to go through third-country banks.

US citizens and corporations could be fined or suffer imprisonment for setting foot on Cuba. Oh, but there are many US tourists and Hemingway wannabes in Cuba. Easy. They go through Mexico. In Cuba their passports are not stamped.

In the last 45 years, Cuba has not had any access to international financial agencies. No single credit. But in 2003, the Inter-American Development Bank is said to have pumped nearly US$9 billion in credits into Latin America while the World Bank forked out US$5 billion. Nada for Cuba.

The Torricelli Act of 1992 prohibits Cuba from trading with US companies present in third countries. And third-country vessels that call at Cuban ports must wait six months before docking in US ports.

The Helms-Burton Act allows for legal sanctions in the US against third-country businesses that deal with Cuba. Company officials found to have dealings with Cuba are prevented from entering the US. Wanna steal a Cuban brand name like Havana Club? In fact, someone has beaten you to it, thanks to the Helms-Burton Act.

The list is endless.

The geopolitical configurations in the world have changed, so what’s so threatening about Cuba?

The Bush administration has supposedly set aside big sums for radio broadcasts to Cuba and to finance opposition to the Castro regime. The objective: to overthrow the present dispensation and establish US control over Cuba. Remember Nicaragua?

But despite what Cuba has had to go through, it has made great strides in the field of medicine, medical technology and microbiology which could be the envy of more developed countries. As the Cuban ambassador said, Cuba had to look for a niche where it could excel and so the world will be better because of Cuba’s potent vaccines.

But the blockade is gravely affecting all this. Cuba cannot obtain diagnostic equipment and reagents from US companies. Cuba has to turn to Europe and this means added cost.

A recent case was that of Oxoid, a British firm supplying lab reagents and culture mediums. When Oxoid was partly taken over by a US company, Cuba’s requests were turned down.

US$79 billion--this is Cuba’s estimate of the economic damage caused by the US blockade. No al bloqueo! This is the cry of Cuba and the community of nations.

I read Resolution 58/7 which Cuba will present to the UN, I learned about Cuba’s crucifixion and I bled. It ends:

``Cuba will not cease from defending her independence and she knows that her resistance contributes to the struggle waged by many peoples in this world for a more dignified life, and for the right to develop in fairer and more sustainable conditions. Neither will she ever give up the hope of one day having smooth, respectful relations with the American people.’’

Learn more about Cuba and the Philippines’ shared past. Contact the Philippines-Cuba Cultural and Friendship Association at 9950849 to 50.