The total embargo announced by Kennedy on Feb. 3, 1962, and put into effect four days later was a continuation of an escalating series of economic sanctions implemented under his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. With every successive U.S. administration, this economic warfare has remained a key aspect of Washington’s failed efforts to restore capitalist social relations in Cuba.
On Jan. 1, 1959, U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba, defeated by a revolutionary war and victorious insurrection. Over the coming months, the government that came to power organized workers and farmers to begin the transformation from the dog-eat-dog social relations under capitalism to those reflecting the solidarity and moral values of the toiling majority. Initial government measures implemented between the Jan. 1 triumph and mid-May included slashing rents, outlawing racial discrimination, and the expropriation of large landholdings and distribution of land titles to 100,000 landless peasants.
Steps taken by Cuba’s toilers increasingly encroached on the property and prerogatives of both Cuban and U.S. capitalists. Cuba had been a virtual U.S. colony since the turn of the century and U.S. companies owned everything from sugar plantations to oil refineries, casinos, and telephone companies.
In June-July 1960 the U.S.-owned refineries refused to process oil purchased from the Soviet Union, and the workers took them over. In response, Eisenhower cut off agreements to buy Cuban sugar, the country’s main export. Between August and October workers mobilized across the island to combat economic disruption by the capitalists, and the government responded by nationalizing virtually all large-scale Cuban-owned industry and all U.S. companies. In mid-October all banks, except Canadian-owned, were nationalized and landlords were barred from renting out urban real estate. Most Cubans became owners of their homes, and rent for others was limited to 10 percent of family income.
It soon became clear to all that the new proletarian leadership in power could not be bought off, that they fully intended to carry out the revolutionary program promulgated for years by Fidel Castro. Washington’s hostility grew and manifested in an escalation of violent attacks, sabotage and economic warfare.
In October 1960 Eisenhower banned all U.S. exports to Cuba except for food and medicine. In April 1961 Cuban toilers crushed the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in less than 72 hours. Ten months later, Kennedy tightened the embargo.
The day after Kennedy’s Feb. 3, 1962, announcement of the total embargo, a rally of 1 million Cubans adopted the Second Declaration of Havana, a revolutionary manifesto presented by then Prime Minister Fidel Castro. Washington’s aggression is motivated by fear, the declaration stated. “Not fear of the Cuban Revolution, but fear of the Latin American revolution. … Fear that the plundered people of the continent will seize the arms from their oppressors and, like Cuba, declare themselves free peoples of the Americas.” It stated that the anti-imperialist struggle could not be led by the bourgeoisie of the colonial and semicolonial countries, that it would only be led to victory by the toiling majority, and declared that the duty of any revolutionist is to make a revolution—which Cuba proved was possible.
In the months that followed, the Kennedy administration took other measures designed to limit or make it more costly for other nations in Europe and Latin America to do business with Cuba.
Cuban toilers block U.S. invasionIn October 1962 the Kennedy administration brought the world to the edge of nuclear conflict in what is commonly referred to as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The determination and readiness of the Cuban people and their revolutionary government blocked Washington’s plans for a large-scale aerial bombardment and military invasion involving some 90,000 troops, and opened a way to resolve the crisis.
In an Oct. 23 speech broadcast to the entire population during the mobilization of millions of workers and farmers to again defend their revolution, Castro said, “We are serene in the knowledge that, if they attack us, the aggressor will be annihilated.” In late October the Pentagon gave Kennedy the very conservative estimate of 18,500 casualties in the first 10 days of the planned invasion, a price the imperialists were in no political position to pay.
In July of the following year, Kennedy banned U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba or engaging in any transactions with the country.
The economic and trade embargo has cost the Caribbean nation as much as $975 billion over the last five decades, according to Cuban government estimates. Washington intensified the trade ban in the 1990s, as Cuba confronted a deep economic crisis triggered by the sudden collapse of trade on favorable terms with the Soviet Union.
The cynically named Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 made it illegal for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to trade with Cuba and closed U.S. ports to ships that had stopped in Cuba within six months.
One aspect of the embargo targets health care in Cuba, which nonetheless has a higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., according to World Bank indicators.
A study released by the American Association for World Health in 1997 noted, “From 1993 to 1996, Cuban companies spent an additional $8.7 million on shipping medical imports from Asia, Europe, and South America.” The same report described how access to medical products from Sweden and Germany were cut off after the suppliers were bought out by U.S.-based companies.
In 2006-2007, the threat of U.S. sanctions prevented the Japanese company Shimadzu from selling Cuba infrared spectrophotometers used in food inspection.
Last year the Barack Obama administration froze for several months $4.2 million allocated to Cuba by a U.N. program aimed at combating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
In part because of the extraterritorial character of the embargo, the U.N. General Assembly for 20 years straight has overwhelmingly adopted resolutions condemning U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Last year only the U.S. and Israeli governments voted against ending the embargo.
Some opponents of the embargo, including bourgeois critics, often describe it as a “failed policy” pressed by a layer of Cuban-Americans. But the drive to overturn the Cuban Revolution flows from the interests of the U.S. capitalist class as a whole. That’s why the embargo, with tactical adjustments, has stayed in place with broad bipartisan support.
The Obama administration has eased some travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba, in part restoring measures that were in place under the Clinton administration. These are part of the policy the U.S. imperialist rulers call “Track II,” carefully crafted to foster internal opposition they hope will undermine the revolution, to, as a White House statement put it, promote “independence from Cuban authorities” and “support private economic activity.”
Cuban 5: Who they are and why they should be free
Updated booklet explains reasons and methods behind the US government’s frame-up
Cuba’s annual book fair opens in Havana
Art exhibit at Seattle college wins support for Cuban Five
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