[News] The United States Tries to Take Advantage of the Price Cubans Are Paying for the Blockade and the Pandemic

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Wed Jul 14 19:40:06 EDT 2021

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*The United States Tries to Take Advantage of the Price Cubans Are 
Paying for the Blockade and the Pandemic* 

*By Manolo De Los Santos and Vijay Prashad*

Cuba, like every other country on the planet, is struggling with the 
impact of COVID-19. This small island of 11 million people has created 
five vaccine candidates and sent 
its medical workers through the Henry Reeve International Medical 
Brigade to heal people around the world. Meanwhile, the United States 
hardens a cruel and illegal blockade of the island, a medieval siege 
that has been in place for six decades. In April 2020, seven United 
Nations special rapporteurs wrote an open letter 
to the United States government about the blockade. “In the pandemic 
emergency,” they wrote, “the lack of will of the U.S. government to 
suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of such suffering in Cuba 
and other countries targeted by its sanctions.” The special rapporteurs 
noted the “risks to the right to life, health and other critical rights 
of the most vulnerable sections of the Cuban population.”

On July 12, 2021, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel told a press 
conference that Cuba is facing serious shortages of food and medicine. 
“What is the origin of all these issues?” he asked. The answer, he said, 
“is the blockade.” If the U.S.-imposed blockade ended, many of the great 
challenges facing Cuba would lift. Of course, there are other 
challenges, such as the collapse of the crucial tourism sector due to 
the pandemic. Both problems—the pandemic and the blockade—have increased 
the challenges for the Cuban people. The pandemic is a problem that 
people all over the world now face; the U.S.-imposed blockade is a 
problem unique to Cuba (as well as about 30 other countries struck by 
unilateral U.S. sanctions).


On July 11, people in several parts of Cuba—such as San Antonio de los 
Baños—took to the streets to protest the social crisis. Frustration 
about the lack of goods in shops and an uptick in COVID-19 infections 
seemed to motivate the protests. President Díaz-Canel said of the people 
that most of them are “dissatisfied,” but that their dissatisfaction is 
fueled by “confusion, misunderstandings, lack of information and the 
desire to express a particular situation.”

On the morning of July 12, U.S. President Joe Biden hastily put out a 
statement that reeked of hypocrisy. “We stand with the Cuban people,” 
Biden said 
“and their clarion call for freedom.” If the U.S. government actually 
cared about the Cuban people, then the Biden administration would at the 
very least withdraw the 243 unilateral coercive measures implemented by 
the presidency of Donald Trump before he left office in January 2021; 
Biden—contrary to his own campaign promises 
not started the process to reverse Trump’s designation 
of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” On March 9, 2021, Biden’s 
spokesperson Jen Psaki said, “A Cuba policy shift is not currently among 
President Biden’s top priorities.” Rather, the Trump “maximum pressure” 
policy intended to overthrow the Cuban government remains intact.

The United States has a six-decade history of trying to overthrow the 
Cuban government, including using assassinations and invasions as 
policy. In recent years, the U.S. government has increased its financial 
support of people inside Cuba and in the Cuban émigré community in 
Miami, Florida; some of this money comes directly from the National 
Endowment for Democracy 
and from USAID 
Their mandate is to accelerate any dissatisfaction inside Cuba into a 
political challenge to the Cuban Revolution.

On June 23, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said that the Trump 
“measures remain very much in place.” They shape the “conduct of the 
current U.S. administration precisely during the months in which Cuba 
has experienced the highest infection rates, the highest death toll and 
a higher economic cost associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

*Costs of the Pandemic*

On July 12, Alejandro Gil Fernández, Cuba’s minister of economy and 
planning, told the press about the expenses of the pandemic. In 2020, he 
said, the government spent $102 million on reagents, medical equipment, 
protective equipment and other material; in the first half of 2021, the 
government spent $82 million on these kinds of materials. This is money 
that Cuba did not anticipate spending—money that it does not have as a 
consequence of the collapsed tourism sector.

“We have not spared resources to face COVID-19,” Fernández said. Those 
with COVID-19 are put in hospitals, where their treatment costs the 
country $180 per day; if the patient needs intensive care, the cost per 
day is $550. “No one is charged a penny for their treatment,” Fernández 

The socialist government in Cuba shoulders the responsibility of medical 
care and of social insurance. Despite the severe challenges to the 
economy, the government guarantees salaries, purchases medicines and 
distributes food as well as electricity and piped water. That is the 
reason why the government added $2.4 billion to its already considerable 
debt overhang. In June, Cuba’s Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas 
Ruíz met 
with French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire to discuss 
the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. France, which 
manages Cuba’s debt to the public creditors in the Paris Club, led the 
effort to ameliorate 
the debt servicing demands on Havana.

*Costs of the Blockade*

On June 23, 184 countries in the UN General Assembly voted 
to end the U.S.-imposed blockade on Cuba. During the discussion over the 
vote, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Rodríguez reported 
that between April 2019 and December 2020, the government lost $9.1 
billion due to the blockade ($436 million per month). “At current 
prices,” he said, “the accumulated damages in six decades amount to over 
$147.8 billion, and against the price of gold, it amounts to over $1.3 

If the blockade were to be lifted, Cuba would be able to fix its great 
financial challenges and use the resources to pivot away from its 
reliance upon tourism. “We stand with the Cuban people,” says Biden; in 
Havana, the phrase is heard differently, since it sounds like Biden is 
saying, “We stand on the Cuban people.”

Cuba’s Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said that those who took to 
the streets on July 11 “called for foreign intervention and said that 
the [Cuban] Revolution was falling. They will never enjoy that hope,” he 
said. In response to those anti-government protests, the streets of Cuba 
filled with tens of thousands of people who carried Cuban flags and the 
flags of the Cuban Revolution’s 26th of July Movement. Cruz said, “The 
people responded and defended the revolution.”

/*Manolo De Los Santos* is a researcher and a political activist. For 10 
years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education 
programs to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and 
blockades. Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward 
building international networks of people’s movements and organizations. 
In 2018, he became the founding director of the People’s Forum 
in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to 
build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He 
also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for 
Social Research 
and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow./

/*Vijay Prashad* is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a 
writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter 
He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books 
and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research 
He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial 
Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, 
including/ The Darker Nations 
/and/ The Poorer Nations 
His latest book is/ Washington Bullets 
with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma./
*_Join IMI’s circle of supporters who understand the power of 
independent media—we really need it._ 

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