Atilio Boron on the blockade against Cuba


A Blockade Against Humanity Español

By Atilio A. Boron

English translation: Machetera

On October 28th, the United Nations General Assembly will once again bring a resolution to a vote, requiring the United States to put an end to the blockade against Cuba in effect since 1961.  Just as has occurred each time since 1991 up until the present day, that resolution will be approved practically unanimously, ratifying the international community’s condemnation of the United States and reinforcing Washington’s tremendous isolation in the debate, due to a policy that has not only brutally chastised the Cuban people but also constitutes a threat to humanity as a whole.

Conscious that by its nature, it violates the most basic norms of international law and human rights, the empire’s publicists and their local spokesmen have unleashed, as on so many other occasions, a persistent semantic battle aimed at confusing and misleading worldwide public opinion.  To this end they resort to a euphemism: they refer to the blockade as an “embargo” and present it as though it were merely a commercial matter.  This is how they hide the far reaching U.S. blockade against Cuba: a blockade that is economic, commercial, financial and technological, but also international (penalizing as it does, companies in third countries who trade with Cuba, and hindering Cuba’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world); informational (by preventing Cubans from gaining access to high-speed broadband internet); social (making the re-unification of Cuban families separated by emigration difficult or impossible); and cultural, by impeding the free movement of artists, writers, intellectuals and scientists between Cuba and the United States.[1]

It is a blockade that is not only illegitimate in light of civilization’s highest values but also a blatant infringement of international law,  designed to bring Cuba to its knees by causing hunger, illness and desperation among its people.  In short: it is a repeat of the barbaric policy of laying siege to a defenseless city by causing all sorts of hardships and misfortunes to its inhabitants, in the hope of weakening their resistance or bringing about a generalized insurrection against its legitimate leaders.  If anything, it is a cruel and inhumane policy which the empire applies solely and exclusively against Cuba, updating its old and unhealthy obsession of wanting to take over that island, even at the cost of violating international law a thousand times and trampling on the highest ethical norms that define the civilized co-existence of people and nations.

There are no precedents in worldwide history even remotely comparable to the blockade against Cuba, maintained without interruption by the United States over 49 years.  Nothing even remotely similar has been applied by Washington against many countries which for one reason or another, have (or used to have) serious conflicts with the United States: it never blockaded the Soviet Union or China, for obvious reasons, but neither did it blockade Vietnam, nor Qaddafi’s Libya (not even after blaming Libya for the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie, killing 259 passengers in-flight, plus 11 on the ground) nor North Korea, nor Iran, nor any other country.  Only Cuba, a sweet American colonial dream that became – thanks to the glorious liberating campaign of the July 26th Movement – a painful nightmare that day and night shakes the minds of the imperialists.

Blinded by its pathological ambition to take over the unredeemed island it considers its own, the United States is in breach of Resolution 63/7, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on October 29, 2008, when 185 member states voted in favor of the immediate lifting of the blockade.[2] It is not only the George W. Bush administration which has ignored the U.N. General Assembly’s recommendation, but its successor as well – the current Nobel Peace Prize winner no less, who has continued with the same policy of maintaining the laws, regulations and administrative procedures which serve to support the blockade.

In effect, nothing’s been done, or even said, relative to the “Trading With the Enemy” or “Foreign Aid” laws which were the first pieces of legislation with which the blockade of Cuba began.  Not to mention the “Export Administration Law” or since we’re talking about euphemisms, the “Cuban Democracy Act,” better known as the Torricelli Law.  This infamous piece of legislation was enacted under Bush Sr., in 1992, and it enabled Washington’s strengthening of its economic measures against the island, as well as granting normative support to the blockade’s extra-territorial nature, given that the legislation prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from engaging in transactions with Cuba or Cuban nationals, and prevents ships from third countries which have docked in Cuba from entering U.S. territory for 180 days afterwards, among other restrictions.

The euphemistically named “Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act,” better known as the Helms-Burton law deserves its own paragraph.  Enacted by the U.S. Congress and Bill Clinton in March of 1996, it aims to extend the extra-territorial scope of the blockade and put still more obstacles in the way of foreign investment in Cuba.  The law also limits the White House’s prerogatives to suspend the policy, while it establishes the possibility of bringing claims in U.S. courts against the managers of foreign companies (or their families) who invest in businesses or properties “confiscated” by the Cuban revolution.

In view of this background, it’s clear that the innocent “embargo” constitutes a criminal act: based on the provisions of Article II, paragraph “c” of the Geneva Convention of 1948 on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the blockade qualifies as genocide.  Furthermore, if the “Declaration Regarding Maritime War” (adopted by the London Naval Conference in 1909) is considered, the U.S. blockade against Cuba is an act of economic warfare.  Consequently, it is not an “embargo” but a set of rules and policies that international law regards as genocidal and criminal.  This is why the condemnation of the blockade is not a strictly Cuban concern, but something that worries the international community – a lot.  The attempt to grant extra-territoriality to U.S. legislation, as arrogant as it is absurd, is a threat to world peace and a vicious attack on the self-determination and national sovereignty of people and states.  In line with this policy, the White House has penalized plenty of U.S. and European companies for doing business with Cuba.  Because of this, patients from Cuba or any other country who are treated in Cuban clinics have no access to new diagnostic equipment, technology, or medicine, because even if they are produced (or made available) in third countries, the blockade’s laws prohibit their sale or transfer to Cuba if their components or programs, even if only in small part, originate in the United States.

From an economic point of view, the blockade has caused enormous damage to Cuba.  Extremely conservative estimates (which underestimate the true impact) show that in current dollar value, the total is something more than $236 billion dollars.  It’s an astronomical sum when the size of the Cuban economy is taken into account.  And not only that: it’s also very significant in itself, given that it is approximately double the expenditure of the Marshall Plan, spent by the United States in Europe to finance post-war recovery.[3] This figure does not include the direct damage caused by sabotage and terrorist acts encouraged, organized and financed from the United States.  Knowing the great strides made by the Cuban revolution in fields such as health, culture and education, it’s easy to imagine all that might have been achieved had it not been forced to deal with the enormous financial and economic hemorrhage generated by the blockade.  But this was exactly imperialism’s point: this policy has been applied in order to prove the non-viability of a non-capitalist development path and the incurable “inefficiency” of socialist planning, thereby provoking all kinds of illness and suffering among the people.  In their hallucinations, imperialism’s strategists hoped that such deprivations would trigger the long-awaited “regime change” in Cuba.  History refuted their expectations.  We saw this same destabilizing and incurably anti-democratic attempt in the decision taken by President Richard Nixon, the same night that Salvador Allende won the first plurality in the 1970 presidential elections in Chile: thwarting the Chilean economy so that later, on the basis of the frustration and resentment that this would produce, the conditions would be created that would pave the way for the military coup of 1973.

Has anything changed since the arrival of Obama to the White House?  Very little.  The new administration has introduced a modest easing of the blockade, but these measures simply modify certain marginal aspects which do not change the substance of the matter.  Nevertheless, a heavy propaganda campaign has been launched, trying to present Obama as the mentor of a new policy that overcomes the nefarious legacy of the ten U.S. presidents who preceded him.[4] But in fact, the innovations introduced were limited to the following:

a)     The elimination of restrictions on family visits for Cubans resident in the United States with blood relations on the island, up to the third-degree.

b)    The same for restrictions on remittances by Cuban-Americans to their family members in Cuba – still limited to third-degree blood relations and excluding members of the Cuban government and the Cuban communist party.

c)     An expanded range of items that may be sent as gifts.

d)    The granting of licenses for U.S. companies to expand certain telecommunication operations with Cuba.

In short, these are initiatives that, while partially repairing a serious injustice – returning to Cubans resident in the United States the right to visit their family members in Cuba; something taken from them by the government of George W. Bush – are insufficient and of very limited scope, given that they go no farther than returning to the situation existent in 2004, when the economic blockade was already being applied with full force.

Furthermore, and despite the complete repeal of the limitations on the frequency and duration of the abovementioned visits and an increase on the limit of daily expenditures allowed the visitors, Cubans resident in the United States without family in Cuba remain prohibited from traveling there, and the unusual abuse of the right of U.S. citizens to travel freely to Cuba remains.  It is the only country in the world they are prevented from visiting by their government.

What can be hoped for from Obama?  Regrettably, little or nothing, and not only on the subject of the blockade but in the most diverse areas of public policy.  The reason, described in detail in the already cited book, is that the current occupant of the White House only controls the marginal levers of the U.S. state apparatus while state power rests firmly in the hands of the “permanent government” of the United States, that framework that in its incipient form brought about a serious warning from President Dwight Eisenhower,- when in his farewell speech, he denounced the ominous role that what he referred to as the “military-industrial complex” was already beginning to play.  In our time, that complex has grown inordinately, to a degree that was hardly imaginable or thinkable just half a century ago.  It has not only grown in terms of its quantitative gravitation; its degree of articulation among the different members of its alliance and his capacity to determine public policy have also improved qualitatively, and not just in the United States, but through its allies, across the empire.  In any case, the declarations of Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden, at the so-called “Progressive Governance Summit” held in Santiago, Chile, in March of 2009, doesn’t feed very many expectations.  On that occasion, Biden assured that “The United States will maintain the embargo as a tool to apply pressure on Cuba.”  His words were not denied, neither by the White House nor the State Department.

The Cuban government is absolutely right when it points out that “The embargo violates International Law.  It is contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.  It constitutes a transgression on the right to peace, development and security of a sovereign state.  In its essence and its aims, it is an act of unilateral aggression and a permanent threat against the stability of a country.  It constitutes a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the rights of an entire people.  It is also in violation of the constitutional rights of the American people since it denies them the freedom to travel to Cuba.  Moreover, it violates the sovereign rights of many other states because of its extra-territorial nature.”[5]

Cuba is not alone in demanding an end to the blockade.  The overwhelming majority of countries support its petition.  However, despite the announced claims to initiate a “new policy” toward Cuba and Latin America, the Obama administration has given no indication whatsoever that it will try to lift the blockade.  This brings to mind the question that President Hugo Chávez formulated in the context of the recent U.N. General Assembly: Who is the real Obama? The one who says lovely phrases or the one who validates the coup d’etat in Honduras?  We might add: He who wishes to promote multilateralism and re-establish U.S. relations with Latin America on new terms, or he who persists in maintaining the blockade against Cuba?  Until now, history’s verdict says the latter.  It cannot be discounted that he may change, although it seems increasingly unlikely.  The passage of time plays against him.

[1] Concerning the numerous damages brought about by the blockade on the most diverse areas of social, economic and cultural life in Cuba, see the well documented “Report by Cuba on Resolution 63/7 of the United Nations General Assembly,” at


[2] Of course, it’s not the only resolution ignored by Washington.  For a detailed examination of this matter, see Atilio A. Boron and Andrea Vlahusic, El lado oscuro del imperio. La violación de los derechos humanos por Estados Unidos [The Dark Side of the Empire. The United States’ Violation of Human Rights] (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Luxemburg, 2009)

[3] This, according to a study done by the Argentinean economist Alex Kicillof, “El Plan Marshall estuvo en la base de la Unión Europea,” [The Marshall Plan Was the Basis for the European Union] Página/12, June 21, 2007

[4] Actually, not all of them had the same attitude.  In one of his reflections, Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz maintained that “Of all the presidents of the United States, and those who aspire to that office, I only met one who, for ethical-religious reasons, was not an accomplice to the brutal terrorism against Cuba: James Carter. That assumes, of course, another President who forbade that United States officials should be used to assassinate Cuban leaders. That was Gerald Ford, who replaced Nixon after the Watergate scandal.” In September of 1977, Carter opened the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Cf. Fidel Castro Ruz, “Submission to Imperial Politics,” August 27, 2007.

[5] See the already cited “Report by Cuba on Resolution 63/7 of the United Nations General Assembly.”

Argentinean sociologist and author Atilio Boron is a friend of Tlaxcala.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

3 responses to “Atilio Boron on the blockade against Cuba

  1. The Yanquis crimes against the language are the worst. If our words mean nothing, or are meant to convey the opposite then humankind is doomed.

  2. When a handful of nations attack Iran for its supposed nuclear weapons – US talks about the International Community condemning Iran. When 183 nations condemn US for its 47 years of war against Cuba The US finds the UN irrelevant.
    Not even the US puppet regime in Colombia supports the blockade.

  3. si los estados unidos se hacen defenres de los recursos humano por que no levantan el bloque contra cuba. reflexiona obama anotate ese pata

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s