US & Cuba: Time for Good Neighbourliness

By Arley Gill

At the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba and Puerto Rico. This was followed by US military government in Cuba. Subsequently, the US passed the Platt Amendment which‎ allowed the United States to establish and maintain tremendous influence on the Caribbean island of Cuba.

The close proximity to the US — and in particular, to the Florida Straits — and her strategic location to Central America, meant that Cuba was of significant geopolitical interest to the United States. In those early days as well, Americans had good investments in Cuba’s sugar, tobacco, mining, manufacturing and other sectors of the Cuban economy.

In 1903 the Americans set up military bases at Guantanamo Bay and Bahia Honda in Cuba, agreeing to pay an annual rental of US$2,000. The base at Bahia Honda was shut down in 1912, in return for an enlarged area at Guantanamo and for an increased rental of $5,000 per annum.

The Platt Amendment ensured that the US dominated trade and business in Cuba. American investments in Cuba increased by 536 percent between 1913 and 1928; while Cuba took 54 percent of all her imports from US. The United States became the virtual policeman for Cuba. Whenever there was a political impasse or any apparent breakdown in law and order, the US would intervene; like the Americans did, for example, in 1906 and in 1917.

Even after the Platt Amendment was repealed in 1934, US influence was well entrenched‎ in Cuba. Not least, Cuban political administrations became mere puppets of the Americans. Then came the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. The 1959 revolution sought to rid Cuba of US domination of its economy by nationalizing lands and other economic assets owned by US nationals.

America’s government responded by placing an embargo on exports to Cuba on the 19 October 1960, and only food and medicine were exempted that. The US embargo, which was soon expanded, and for the years that followed, was enforced mainly by six pieces of legislation: the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917; the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961; the Cuban Assets Control Regulations Act of 1963; the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992; the Helms-Burton Act of 1996; and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Act of 2000.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo by disallowing foreign subsidiaries of US companies to trade with Cuba. In a practical sense, the United States — the most powerful country in the world and the dominant power in this hemisphere — strangled and stifled the Cuban economy and people for several reasons. The Cuban people were punished for, among other things, getting rid of American economic control in Cuba. It did not help improve US/Cuba relations with the emergence of the 1962 so-called “missile crisis’’ involving Presidents John F. Kennedy of the United States, Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro of Cuba; and throw into the mix America’s opposition to communist philosophy, the concern of US leaders about the domestic politics of the Cuban vote in Florida; and, not the least of course, is the American defined philosophy of democracy.

Since 1992, the UN General Assembly has passed a resolution every year condemning the Cuban embargo and declaring it to be in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. Ironically, the US has justified the embargo on the grounds of Cuba’s human rights record, never mind the Americans have similar institutional human rights issues with blacks and other minorities within their borders; and, as well, the US has most favourable trading status with China, despite condemning the human rights record of the Chinese.

The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the United States economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports. It is estimated, by independent sources, to be higher — as much as $3.6 billion per year. The Cuban government estimates that the cost to Cuba is about $685 million annually. Whatever the true figure, we can all agree that it cost both US and Cuban economies billion of dollars. Needless to say, the Cuban economy suffered far more than America’s.

On December 17 2014, the first black President of the US Barack Obama and the President of Cuba, the great Raul Castro, in simultaneous addresses to their people, announced that the two countries will reestablish diplomatic relations. Further, the United States would loosen its travel and economic policies against Cuba. The total dismantling of the embargo will have to be approved by the US Congress and Senate, which are now both controlled by the Republicans.

From some of the Republican utterances, it seems as though it will be a while still for them to see the light and be enlightened on the need for a new approach to Cuba; that’s despite the fact that all recent polls show that a majority of Americans — and indeed Cuban-Americans — are against the embargo on Cuba.

I have criticized Mr Obama in the past for not addressing this issue and easing the pressure on Cuba.  It is only fair to applaud him now. In doing so, let us not forget that there is still a long way to go and US Senators and Congressmen and women must do the only right thing: repeal the oppressive laws against Cuba.

The sanctions are over 50 years but US influence and domination of the Cuban political scene is more than 100 years. It is time this relationship between the two nations should come to an end. The US should now endeavour to finally be a “Good Neighbour’’.

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