How has the embargo harmed the Cuban people?

From "The US attack on Cuba's health," Canadian Medical Association Journal, August 1, 1997,

In 1992 Cuba was in a severe economic depression, largely resulting from a loss of preferential trade with the Soviet bloc. Cuba turned to US foreign subsidiaries, from whom it received $500-600 million per year in imports -- 90% of which was food and medicine. The American Public Health Association warned the US government that tightening the embargo would lead to the abrupt cessation of this supply of essential goods and result in widespread famine. Indeed, 5 months after passage of the CDA [Cuba Democracy Act] , food shortages in Cuba set the scene for the worst epidemic of neurologic disease this century. More than 50,000 people suffered from optic neuropathy, deafness, loss of sensation and pain in the extremities, and a spinal cord disorder that impaired walking and bladder control."

On September 15, 1992, The Miami Herald ("Stiffer Rules on Cuba Enforced," p. 11A) reported:

The Bush administration for the first time has enforced a new regulation denying foreign ships entry to U.S. ports if they are trading with Cuba, State Department officials said Monday. A Greek-flagged freighter carrying Chinese rice to Cuba was turned away from the harbor at Long Beach, Calif. on Saturday after U.S. Customs agents alerted the Treasury Department, the officials said. The ship, which had sought servicing at the port, was ordered away under a 5-month-old U.S. policy...

The embargo, it would seem, was meant to starve the Cuban people into submission! The genocidal intent of this policy should be obvious.

Richard Garfield, nurse, epidemiologist and professor of clinical international nursing at Columbia University writes, in his November 1999 report (download in PDF format), "The Impact of Economic Sanctions on Health and Well-being,":

Total mortality per 1000 inhabitants in Cuba rose from 6.4 in 1989 [near the end of Soviet era] to 7.2 in 1994 [the worst of post-Soviet economic crisis]. This increase was almost entirely due to a 15 per cent rise in mortality among those aged 65 years and up, accounting for 7,500 excess deaths. From 1992 [the passage of the CDA] to 1993, the death rate for influenza and pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhea, suicide, unintentional injuries, asthma, and heart disease among older adults rose by at least 10 per cent. This was mainly due to shortages of essential medicines and laboratory reagents for those with chronic diseases requiring regular monitoring. In other age groups mortality rates remained stable or declined. (p. 13)

The general economic collapse of this period--by most accounts, exacerbated by the embargo--was, no doubt, the cause of these shortages.

A report (download in PDF format) dated April 2000 from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that malnutrition in Cuba was the lowest in Latin America in the period 1979 - 1992. While there has been no famine or starvation as a result of the intensified sanctions in 1992, the period 1992 - 1997, did, according the FAO, see a dramatic increase in Cuba's levels of malnutrition (as a percentage of the population). They report:

Cuba's loss of it's most important trading partner, the former USSR, and the continued trade embargo imposed by the United States are the primary factors behind a steep decline in food imports and the corresponding sharp increase in its number of undernourished, 1.8 million.

That the embargo is indeed one of single most important factors causing this food shortage is corroborated by Oxfam America's recent report, "Cuba: Going against the grain" (p.11)

Cuban families will eat rice twice a day, yet Cuban farmers produce insufficient quantities for the demand. This meant that in 1999 Cuba imported 350,000 tons of rice, most of it from halfway across the world. But the cheapest rice is produced a few hundred miles away in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Because Cuba is denied access to its closest supplier, the producer of the highest quality and most inexpensive source of grains in the world, and the world largest national economy, Cuba's trade costs are significantly higher.

According to a 1997 study by the American Association of World Health, without the embargo, Cuba could purchase grain from a U.S. supplier shipping from a U.S. port at $ 13 per ton. Instead, Cuba is forced to buy from Europe at $ 25 to $28 per ton--roughly twice the cost.

A 1999 study by the Relief and Rehabilitation Network , a British organization, estimated that U.S. sanctions have imposed on Cuba a virtual "penalty" of 30% on imports because of the increased purchasing and shipping costs entailed to avoid the U.S. embargo. What does this mean in terms of nutrition? Food imports dropped by one third from 1989 to 1994, the same period in which caloric intake dropped by 38%. Instead of being forced to pay this 30% penalty imposed by sanctions, if Cuba had been able to import 30% more food, the food deficit would have been erased.

That the US embargo has harmed the Cuban people has also been documented by the US Committee for the World Health Organization. It has performed a year-long review of the implications of embargo restrictions which included on-site visits to 46 treatment centers and related facilities, 160 interviews with medical professionals and other specialists, government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations, churches and international aid agencies. Their 300 page report, Denial of Food and Medicine: THE IMPACT OF THE U.S EMBARGO ON HEALTH AND NUTRITION IN CUBA, a study by distinguished medical experts, concluded:

After a year-long investigation, the American Association for World Health has determined that the U.S. embargo of Cuba has dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary Cuban citizens. As documented by the attached report, it is our expert medical opinion that the U.S. embargo has caused a significant rise in suffering - and even deaths - in Cuba. For several decades the U.S. embargo has imposed significant financial burdens on the Cuban health care system.

US Congressman, Esteban E. Torres at the Hearing on U.S. Economic and Trade Policy Toward Cuba, May 7, 1998, reported:

While there is much disagreement about the impact off our current policies, there is no disagreement about the fact that the Cuban people are suffering. Some of my colleagues, who are the principal architects and defenders of our current embargo, maintain that it is Fidel Castro who is causing the suffering, the shortages of food and of medicine. In spite of the fact that they have brilliantly designed, implemented and maintained one of the harshest economic embargos in the world, they speak as if our policies have no negative impact upon the Cuban people. But, my colleagues on this subcommittee know full well that an economic embargo is no tea party. An economic embargo is a serious and drastic policy option available to nations, and usually invoked cautiously and in cooperation and conjunction with other policy options and in full consultation and coordination with one's allies. But not our Cuban embargo. It is applied with the grace of a sledgehammer and maintained, almost boastfully, in the face of the near total opposition of all of our nation's allies.

More recently, the NBC News in its Embargo hits hard at Cuban hospitals, dated April 10, 2001, reported on one US doctor's personal crusade to help the Cuban people:

Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, an anesthesiologist and critic of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, appears to be on a personal crusade to help save Cuban lives. . . . Last Thanksgiving, the Tampa Florida physician flew his own plane down with the first installment of $1 million in medicines.

“I was a witness to a crime against both Cuban patients and their doctors,” said Kirkpatrick after visiting Havana’s pediatric cancer wards. “I saw doctors confronted with the ethical dilemma of having to administer less than an adequate dose of cancer medicine to an older child so as to have sufficient medicine left over to treat a smaller child. For over 30 years, the U.S. embargo has restricted Cuba’s access to essential medicines.

Even the renowned human rights organization, Amnesty International, recently felt compelled to break with its long-standing policy and to comment on what would seem to be the fundamental injustice of the US embargo. In their 2001 Annual Report on Cuba, they write:

The US embargo against Cuba continued. The Cuban government has traditionally argued that it is justified in depriving dissidents of fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly in order to maintain the unity of the country against hostile forces abroad.

As if to indicate that what it sees as political oppression is a result, at least in part, of the US embargo, in the very next sentence, they write:

Although AI's mandate does not permit it to take a position on the US embargo against Cuba or any other type of sanction, AI recognizes that the embargo has increased hardship within Cuba and has contributed, for example, to poor prison conditions.

Although Amnesty stops short of saying that this justifies what it sees as political repression, this is clearly a condemnation of the embargo and a recognition of the suffering it has caused.

Even the often highly politicized Human Rights Watch has recently reported (May 2002) that the US embargo "imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people." Even they say it is time to lift the embargo immediately and unconditionally on humanitarian grounds. This, in spite of supposed recent trade openings with cash sales of mostly food to Cuba (no credit and no reciprocal trade). As an indication of the still genocidal intent of the US embargo, in April 2002, Canadian businessman, James Sabzali, was convicted by a US court of the "crime" of sell water purification supplies to Cuban hospitals and factories in defiance of the US embargo. Several of the charges relate to activities while he was living in Canada--the height of US imperial arrogance! At this writing, he face possible life imprisonment. 

While Oswaldo Paya, considered by many to be Cuba's leading dissident, predictably blames his government for most of the island's troubles (he wants capitalism reinstated there, after all),  even he has said that the embargo "has led to privation for most Cubans." (Source: "Cuban dissident Paya asks exiles to dispel fears of revenge," EFE via COMTEX, Jan 11, 2003)

In spite of these hardships, Richard Garfield, (cited above) reports:

Cuba has demonstrated by far the most effective responses in maintaining essential services and priority goods during sanctions. Cuba, with fewer calories available per person than Iraq and Haiti, has far less malnutrition, far fewer low- birth-weight infants, and rates of death from infectious conditions that nearly match those in the United States. Though the practice of curative medicine has deteriorated markedly in recent years, the Cuban experience since the tightening of U.S. sanctions is a model from a public health point of view.

A recent statement (May, 2004) by the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops was unequivocal in its condemnation of the US embargo.

We [the Catholic bishops] denounce this unjust blockade situation, which contributes to add unnecessary suffering and to render more difficult the quest for development. We appeal, therefore, to the conscience of those who are able to resolve it, so they may take decisive and effective action intended to put an end to this measure....

We deem it unacceptable that the future of Cuba be designed on the basis of exclusions, much less interventions conceived by a foreign government.

Not only have they condemned the embargo on humanitarian grounds, as you would expect, but they also reject the entire, underlying premise of the embargo -- the US had no moral right to attempt to impose its system on the Cuban people in the first place.

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