Critics of U.S. bullying of Cuba often focus on issues at the periphery of the central manifestation of U.S. aggression. In recent years issues such as the Cuban Five, new travel ban rules and Bush plans for capitalist takeover in Cuba have from time to time pushed the economic blockade off stage.

That has happened especially as laws tightening the blockade, the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, recede into history. Serving as a periodic reminder of the illegality, cruelty and immorality of that policy is the UN General Assembly’s overwhelming approval every year for 17 years of Cuban resolutions protesting the blockade. But more was required.

Amnesty International (AI) filled the gap. It released a report earlier this month setting forth nefarious consequences of the blockade, especially as regards health care. AI asked President Obama to close it down. One piece of the legal façade behind the blockade has been the supposed “national emergency” prescribed in the absence of overt war by the enabling legislation, the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act. Sept. 15 is the date this year that a “national emergency” has to be declared anew. AI urges President Obama to hold off.

The report (available at is remarkable on several counts. Well written, it provides a clear, comprehensive description of the history and operations of the economic blockade. The document includes a handy overview of U.S. laws shaping the blockade and reviews proposed U.S. legislation, past and present, aimed at normalizing relations with Cuba. It details reduced availability of medical supplies and drugs.

The report’s central point is that Washington shows little regard for the blockade’s effects on human health. AI, excluded from Cuba, relied upon UN missions and surveys to secure data. Special difficulties attributed to the blockade are highlighted, such as maintaining children’s nutrition and caring for people with cancer and infectious disease. “The restrictions imposed by the embargo help to deprive Cuba of vital access to medicines, new scientific and medical technology, food, chemical water treatment and electricity,” reads the report.

There is no “formal mechanism within the U.S. government to monitor the impact of the embargo on economic and social rights in Cuba,” says AI. That, of course, is no surprise. A State Department official predicted in 1960 that “economic malaise and material difficulties” would cause “hunger, desperation and the collapse of the government.” Suffering presumably was and is the purpose of the blockade.

The report recalled an often overlooked provision of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992. Sales of medical supplies were allowed on humanitarian grounds but certification by U.S. officials as to eventual use was required, in Cuba. The impossibility of such inspections nixed humanitarian sales.

Many over the years have referred to Cuban health care as one of the “jewels of the revolution” and as such, ripe for the picking by U.S. overlords nervous about the “threat of a good example.” (e.g. Peter Schwab, “Cuban Health Care and the U.S. Embargo,” Monthly Review, November 1997.)

As if on cue, Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” of Sept. 6 points out: “[I]n that highly humane field our country enjoys universal recognition.” Cuba, he says, has provided health workers, equipment and leadership to Venezuela “to create one of the best health care systems in the world.”

Cuba arranged purchases of diagnostic equipment for both countries from Siemens Corporation in Germany and Holland’s Philips Corporation. The Cubans equipped “27 Advanced Technology Diagnosis Centers distributed throughout the 24 states of Venezuela.”

Philips was to provide “3,553 machines at a value of $72,762,694.” Castro recalls: “I personally participated in negotiations with these two companies for these purchases.”

In late 2006, Philips ran up against the U.S. blockade, and deliveries to Venezuela ceased. Philips representatives explained to the irate Cubans that, “Our organization is being affected and threatened. All our organizations are very scared. They are very scared.” Philips Corporation paid a $128,750 fine to the U.S. government earlier this year.

Releasing the report, Irene Khan, Amnesty International secretary-general, denounced the blockade as “preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health … The U.S. embargo against Cuba is immoral,” she declared, “and should be lifted.”





W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.