Chicago joins list of U.S. cities denouncing Cuba blockade
May Day in Havana, 2007. | Enric Marti / AP

For 60 years, the United States has done everything within its power to destroy socialist Cuba. The tactics used have included a failed invasion, violent sabotage, attempted assassinations of Cuban leaders, and an endless and relentless barrage of lies in corporate-controlled media, academia, and other ideology-forming institutions. Cuban socialism, however, has survived all these assaults.

Today, the biggest challenge to Cuba is economic and financial. Not only does the United States government severely limit U.S. individuals and businesses from trading with Cuba, but it also threatens other countries with retaliatory actions, and does indeed retaliate, to get them to cut off their own economic relations with the island nation of 11.5 million people. This is why the U.S. policy is often referred to as a “blockade” and not merely an “embargo.” The barely concealed strategy is to cause suffering and privation to ordinary people in Cuba so that they will give up on socialism and return to the servile status which imperialism imposes on most poorer nations around the world.

This is why for Cuba, and for millions of friends of Cuba around the world, ending this economic “blockade” is such a high priority. And most of the world, as well as most people in the United States, are in favor of ending it. Getting the U.S. government to respond to U.S. and world public opinion on this matter has, nevertheless, proved to be difficult.

In the second half of the Obama administration, the White House initiated a substantial thaw with Cuba, whose president at the time was Raul Castro, a leader of the Cuban Revolution and younger brother of Fidel Castro. The thaw, initiated with a joint statement by Obama and Raul Castro in December 2014, included restoration of full diplomatic relations, freeing of prisoners in both countries, removal of Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, and a loosening of travel and trade restrictions. But it was not possible to move in the U.S. Congress to eliminate the legal underpinnings of the economic blockade. The Republicans, who had the majority, and a few fiercely anti-communist Democrats, were dead-set against this.

When Trump became president in January 2017, he set to work dismantling the Obama administration’s rapprochement policies. Staffing of the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington were cut to the bone. A clause in the Helms-Burton Act, Title III, was not waived as it had been by previous presidents, thus allowing U.S. companies to move to get compensation for properties the Cuban Revolution had nationalized by suing non-Cuban companies that benefited from those Cuban properties. Trade and travel restrictions were tightened. And just before leaving office, Trump restored Cuba to the terror sponsor list. These moves, coinciding with the economic impact on Cuba of the COVID-19 pandemic, have created difficult conditions for the Cuban people.

So for friends of Cuba in the United States, and opponents of anti-Cuban policies of our own government, ending the blockade is the most important strategic objective. This requires congressional action. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has introduced a bill aimed at ending the blockade, the U.S.-Cuba Trade Act of 2021, S 249, which has been sent to the Senate Finance Committee that Wyden chairs. But getting the bill, or others like it, through Congress will still be an uphill struggle.

An educational and pressure campaign is the order of the day for friends of the Cuban people in the U.S. One of the tactics that is being used is to induce city councils, state legislatures, and other public legislative bodies to speak out in favor of ending the Cuba blockade.

So far, city councils and two state legislatures have done so. The city councils include those of Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, and several others in the San Francisco Bay area and the Northeast, for a total of 14. More recently, eight other city councils have passed resolutions stressing a call for the U.S. and Cuba to cooperate on public health activities, an issue of great interest given Cuba’s very respected role in fighting the pandemic in a number of countries.

The state legislatures who have passed resolutions are the Alabama and Michigan State Senates, and both houses of the California and Minnesota state legislatures.

In addition to the legislative resolutions, there are many by labor union bodies which have passed resolutions calling for medical cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba.

Many more such resolutions are in the pipeline in other cities, towns, and states, including New York City, Baltimore, Portland, and others.

But on Feb. 25 of this year, the city council resolutions campaign scored its biggest triumph to date, when the Chicago City Council passed a strong resolution of the same type. The vote of the 50 members of the council of the nation’s third-largest city was unanimous.

The passage of the resolution was achieved through an intensive campaign of visits to council members’ offices, mass education aimed at the general public, and cultural events. In the end, the resolution, which was introduced by Chicago Alderman Roderick Sawyer, won a “yes” vote from the full council.

The method used by the Chicago resolution and successful ones in other cities has been to combine denunciations of the harm done to the Cuban people with points about how ordinary people in the United States and in the specific communities in which the resolutions would benefit from normalized trade with, and travel to and from, Cuba. This has allowed the promoters of the resolutions to spur the interest of members of the general public in the issue, with salutary results for getting the Chicago resolution and others like it passed.

Opponents of U.S. anti-Cuba policies stress that the mere fact that President Biden has suggested he will move away from Trump’s vicious hostility to Cuba and return to something more like the Obama policy of engagement does not mean that U.S. attacks on the wellbeing of Cuba’s inhabitants will cease. One major thing that was not achieved during the Obama administration was the repeal of federal anti-Cuba legislation: the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Torricelli Act, and the Helms-Burton Act.

This may have an easier time in the House of Representatives, in which the Democrats have a more solid majority. To this end, 80 members of the House of Representatives, led by Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., have sent a letter to Biden urging him to move faster on dismantling Trump’s anti-Cuba policies.

But the Democratic Party majority in the Senate is paper thin, and a key Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, now heads the Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez is the son of Cuban exiles and a fierce anti-communist and is sure to use his powerful position in the Senate against any attempts to end or weaken the blockade.

Therefore, friends of the Cuban people are urging activists to keep up the pressure, among other things by emulating the example of Chicago and passing more resolutions in cities, towns, counties, states, and other legislative bodies and labor and mass organizations of every kind throughout the country.

TAKE ACTION:

> Contact your senators and representatives and ask them to co-sponsor and support S. 249 and introduce similar legislation in the House. Then ask them to support the letter to the president sponsored by Congresspersons Rush, Lee, Cohen, and Moore. Follow up by contacting the White House to insist that President Biden carry out the actions outlined in this letter.

> Get together with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers and explore the possibility of getting your city council, county council, state legislature, labor union and federation, and other bodies to pass resolutions to end the blockade.

> Sign and circulate the petition asking for Cuba’s health care solidarity workers to be awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their international work on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

> Keep in touch with action bulletins from the Cuba solidarity organizations, including the National Network on Cuba (NNOC), ACERE, Belly of the Beast, and local groups—and, of course, People’s World.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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