NEW YORK – Saturday, April 11, 2015 marked a historical moment for U.S.- Cuban relations. President Barack Obama sat down at an unprecedented meeting with Raul Castro to discuss the future of the Cuban embargo which has been in place for more than five decades.
The talk seemed to be positive in nature, and it is expected that President Obama will soon lift economic sanctions on Cuba given that he has already lessened travel restrictions and has allowed U.S. importers to purchase goods produced by independent Cuban firms. It has been a slow road to progress, but optimism is in the air for the end of the embargo.
There are still issues present in the Cuban government which remains defined as a communist dictatorship stifling dissidents and ruling with a heavy hand. It is clear that the embargo has changed little in the country, other than causing further suffering to vulnerable citizens.
A report published by Amnesty International in 2009 provided information from the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights determining that the U.S.-imposed embargo did not conform to human rights law. Baron Marc Bossuyt, a member of the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, noted that the U.S. is a primary provider of medical supplies and technologies, and once sanctions took effect, the Cuban population was left with restricted access to vital products. This deprived them of their right to health, thus violating human rights.
The U.S. again violated human rights law through its passage of the Torricelli Act of 1992, which persuaded additional countries to partner with the U.S. in sanctioning Cuba. Bossuyt stated that Washington had been aiming to transform “a unilateral embargo into a multilateral embargo through coercive measures, the only effect of which will be to deepen further the suffering of the Cuban people and increase the violation of their human rights.”
The U.S. Department of State claims that “U.S. policy toward Cuba is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms and increased respect for human rights on the part of the Cuban Government,” but given the human rights violations on the part of the U.S., this seems almost contradictory.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the worth of ‘U.S. pharmaceutical and medical exports to Cuba’ over a period of five years from 2004 to 2008. The value of laboratory testing instrument exports continually lessened from 2004 to 2006, eventually ceasing completely by 2007. Medical equipment exports were valued at $468,000 but had diminished to $295,000 in 2008, and a similar decline was seen with the export of pharmaceutical preparations. In the overall percentage of U.S. exports to Cuba, there has been a decrease from 0.44 percent to only 0.17 percent. It has been reported that even humanitarian-related donations of medicine and medical supplies to Cuba have been complicated by the restrictions imposed by the U.S.
Cuba has been showing positive development on its own, reaching several Millennium Development Goals, but it still faces infant and maternal mortality rates that are difficult to lower because of the embargo.
In 1997, the American Association for World Health, or the AAWH, published information on the health impacts of the embargo in what is regarded by Amnesty International as “still the most comprehensive study on the issue.” The AAWH determined that the sanctions contributed to a variety of health-related issues: “malnutrition affecting especially women and children, poor water quality, lack of access to medicines and medical supplies, and limited the exchange of medical and scientific information due to travel restrictions and currency regulations.” It was determined that a humanitarian crisis was only avoided due to Cuba’s strong budgetary support for universal healthcare.
If we define poverty in the form of deprivations, it is clear that the U.S. embargo on Cuba has helped to encourage an environment in which poverty can thrive. Economic sanctions originally intended to punish the Cuban government have instead resulted in the punishment of its citizens, most notably women and children. If the U.S. is to truly promote human rights, it must end the embargo and the deprivations the Cuban citizens have suffered for 53 years.
– Amy Russo