March 21 — Despite positive steps, the U.S. blockade of Cuba continues intact. That’s how Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez characterized the situation after the latest round of revised U.S. measures in a televised press conference at the Havana Libre Hotel on March 17.
Rodríguez’s press statement, which so far has received little coverage in the corporate media, clarifies in detail how the U.S. blockade is still in place.
Anticipating President Barack Obama’s visit, Rodríguez said: “Cuba has engaged in the construction of a new relation with the United States, in the full exercise of its sovereignty and committed to its ideals of social justice and solidarity. No one should expect that, in order to achieve that, Cuba will renounce any one of its principles or its foreign policy, which is committed to the just causes all over the world and the defense of peoples’ self-determination.
“The U.S. president will be able to see a nation that is involved in its economic and social development and the improvement of the wellbeing of its citizens, who enjoy rights and are able to show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, despite our condition as a blockaded and underdeveloped country.” (all Rodríguez quotes from Granma, March 17 — tinyurl.com/zoy7cc3)
Fourth round of revised regulations
On March 15, just five days before Obama began his historic visit to Cuba, the U.S. Commerce and Treasury departments announced the fourth round of revised regulations on trade since Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro simultaneously announced the planned opening in relations 15 months ago.
The New York Times trumpeted the revised regulations as “wiping away stiff restrictions on travel and commerce” based on allowing individual “people to people” educational trips in place of organized groups, and lifting limits on the use of the dollar in transactions with Cuba. The Times coverage left the U.S. public with the illusion that relations are normalized.
Rodríguez pointed out: “The truth is that the blockade is still in force. Jack Lew, the [U.S.] Secretary of the Treasury, has himself recognized, two days ago, that the blockade still restricts, in a very, very significant way, the volume of transactions between Cuba and the United States.”
Although the announcement expands the scope of previous measures allowing travel, Rodríguez pointed out that “the legal prohibition that prevents U.S. citizens from freely traveling to Cuba is still in force. This prohibition should be lifted by the U.S. Congress.”
Bipartisan congressional support for Freedom to Travel bills has surged in the House of Representatives. Now 23 percent have signed on in the House and 46 percent on the equivalent Senate bill.
In one of the more laughable restrictions lifted on March 15, it is no longer a U.S. crime to consume Cuban rum or smoke Cuban cigars in a third country.
Carrying out trade in U.S. dollars
An important aspect of the blockade has been the restriction on using U.S. dollars, which is now less restricted.
“Authorizing Cuba to use U.S. dollars does not mean that banking relations between Cuba and the United States have normalized. Cuban banks are still not allowed to open correspondent accounts in U.S. banks, and therefore our operations will necessarily continue to be done through third parties, which increases operational costs as well as the amount of related procedures. None of the other measures entered into force modify the implementation of fundamental aspects of the blockade.”
Rodríguez pointed out that, for this new measure to work, “the U.S. government is required to issue a political statement as well as clear and precise instructions that would provide legal and political guarantees to banks, in order to halt financial persecution and reverse the intimidating effects generated by the sanctions imposed for years on U.S. and third-countries’ financial institutions for conducting legitimate transactions with Cuba.”
Hoping it wouldn’t happen again, Rodríguez cited fines levied on Commerzbank and Credit Agricole in 2015 for earlier transactions involving Cuba. These caused other financial institutions to cut lines of credit and close accounts in fear of U.S. sanctions. In practical terms, the restrictions prevented Cuban doctors serving in Africa — including those fighting the Ebola epidemic — from receiving their pay.
Rodríguez listed five concrete examples of restrictions that could still be eliminated by executive decisions.
In another modification that could at first seem more than it is, U.S. ships may now dock in Cuba and then continue to another port. Rodríguez pointed out, however, “Ships carrying goods to Cuba are still not allowed to touch U.S. ports for a period of 180 days, thus increasing freight charges.”