Ending the Cuban blockade
As you sit down to a delicious meal, imagine you are an average Cuban worker, who earns $15 per month, making your monthly trip to the only “supermarket” in Havana where you are registered to shop. You enter a concrete block warehouse with tables scattered around the edges. Behind some tables are stacks of various foods such as rice, beans, spaghetti, sugar and eggs. Other tables hold cooking oil, small packets of coffee (mostly chicory and sawdust), meat (usually chicken) and buns.
Your government-issued monthly ration book, for which you paid $2, entitles you to 6 lbs. of white rice, 1 lb. of spaghetti, 20 oz. of black beans, 6 lbs. of sugar, 1 cup of cooking oil, 5 eggs, 2 small packets of mixed coffee and a daily bun for each person in your family. The ration book also entitles your family to 5 lbs. of meat every 10 days and a bag of salt every three months.
If you ask fellow Cubans, as I have done during three trips to Cuba, why this meager ration system still exists more than 50 years after the revolution, they will tell you it is the result of the U.S. blockade. They do not use the term embargo because any multinational firm that does business in Cuba is threatened by U.S. sanctions.
Although this anecdote may be enough to convince many about the vulgarity of the Cuban blockade, here are more reasons to end this failed foreign policy.
• The Cuba blockade is a totally failed foreign policy implemented to destroy the revolutionary Cuban government, which has had the exact opposite outcome, leaving the Castro family in power for the past 56 years.
• Castro has successfully blamed the economic problems of Cuba on the U.S. blockade, which many foreign policy experts believe is why he scuttled negotiations on ending it on a number of occasions.
• Due to the blockade, Cuba is once again becoming increasingly dependent on Russia. “We call this period a renaissance,” said Aleksandr Bogatyr, Russia’s trade representative in Cuba.
• It is hypocritical to argue that the blockade is necessary because the Cuban government is not a representative democracy, given the fact that the U.S. has supported many brutal dictators friendly to U.S. interests, including former dictator General Batista, known to have killed, tortured and imprisoned as many as 20,000 Cuban political dissenters.
• A lack of democracy has not kept the U.S. from commercial relations with other nations including communist Russia, China and Vietnam, so why should Cuba be held to a different standard?
• It is ethnocentric to judge the Cuban government as a total failure, given the fact that infant mortality rates are higher in the U.S. at 5.80 per 100,000 live births than in Cuba at 4.40 per 100,000 live births and literacy rates are higher in Cuba at 99.7 percent of the population than in the U.S. at only 86 percent of the population.
• The blockade prevents many corporations and farmers interested in shipping goods to Cuba from doing so with an estimated cost to the U.S. economy of $1.2 billion in lost sales of material goods and $4.84 billion in agricultural exports annually as well as around 6,000 lost jobs.
• The blockade reduces the opportunities for improvements in democratic reforms and human rights in Cuba, as well as denying the Cuban people access to technology, medicine and affordable food.
• Most people in the U.S. are opposed to the blockade, with a December 2016 Pew Research Center Poll reporting 73 percent of U.S. citizens favoring lifting the embargo, up from 66 percent just two years earlier, with 62 percent of Republicans favoring lifting it.
• Every year since 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations has overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning what it calls “the adverse effect of the embargo on the Cuban people,” which most recently passed by a vote of 191 to 2 abstentions (the U.S. and Israel).
• Many Christian denominations, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church (including several Popes), the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church, have passed resolutions demanding the end of the blockade in solidarity with fellow Christians in Cuba.
Don Ecklund’s consciousness regarding the unfair and unethical U.S. treatment of Cubans was raised by his three trips to Cuba, including two with members of First Presbyterian Church in Springfield. The congregation enjoys a warm partnership with the Sancti Spiritus Presbyterian Church located in the center of Cuba, where members of both churches grow in the sharing of friendships, fellowship, spiritual journeys, community outreach, personal and political concerns, stories, music, meals and customs.