U.S. Economic sanctions against Cuba:
objectives of an imperialist policy

by Salim Lamrani, La Sorbonne University, Paris


The economic sanctions imposed on Cuba by the United States are unique in view of their longevity and of their complexity but they are consistent with the real objectives of the first world power. In order to show this, it is necessary to base this analysis on the following postulate: the blockade is part of a scheme designed not to promote democratic values, as the administration in Washington would have us believe, but to control the natural resources of Third World nations through subjugation. And the history of the United States ­ characterized mainly by violent and bloody conquest of new territories ­ proves this unequivocally.

As far back as the middle of the 19th century, U.S. expansionist William Gilpin announced: "The destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent." The primary goal of the United States is to make sure that the resources of the countries of the South remain at hand of the capital of the masters of the universe. The case of Cuba is exceptional because it is the only country that has dared to refuse to follow the orders set by their northern neighbor, designing its political, economic and social system, at once sovereign and independent, despite the unilateral constraints imposed by Washington. The enmity Cuba is a victim of reflects a historical continuity whose broad lines must be retraced. And by the way, it would be widely-known if something like a sense of respect for obvious historical truisms existed. This topic would not be controversial if the society we live in was intellectually free.

Cuba is no doubt the oldest preoccupation of U.S. colonialists. As far back as October 20, 1805, Thomas Jefferson evoked the extreme importance of the Caribbean archipelago ­ under Spanish rule at the time ­ stating: "The control which, with Florida Point, this island would give us over the Gulf of Mexico, and the countries and isthmus bordering on it, as well as all those whose waters flow into it, would fill up the measure of our political well-being." However, Spain could rule the island until "our people is sufficiently advanced to take those territories from the Spanish, bit by bit" . In 1809, in a letter to James Madison, he wrote: "I candidly confess that I have ever looked on Cuba as the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States." The theory of the "ripe fruit" ­ evoked in 1823 by one of the most clear-sighted and intelligent political visionary of the history of the United States, John Quincy Adams ­ mentioned "an object of transcendent importance to the commercial and political interests of our Union" that was to fall in the hands of the United States at all costs . This object was the Cuban island, which was already the priority of the United States government of the time.

After the collapse of Napoleon's empire, the Monroe doctrine came into the world. It stipulated that the United States would on no account accept European interventions in the affairs of the American hemisphere. It would enable the northern giant to establish its power on the whole continent without hindrance, since Europe would not interfere. The theory was first motivated by Russian designs on Oregon and by the will to prevent any reconquest of the young Latin American republics by European nations. The Monroe doctrine ­ one of the founding principles of U.S. foreign policy ­ had imperialist and hegemonic aims. With the Roosevelt Corollary, its scope was later extended to encompass a diversity of situations. Economic factors had a primary role in the search for new markets. The birth of an industrial nation and the rapid increase in the production of goods entailed the need to conquer new territories. Because of its strategic position if the Gulf of Mexico and despite the failure of the various attempts to buy the island to Spain, Cuba was in the U.S. line of sight .

In 1890, U.S. investments in Cuba amounted to $50 million and 7% of U.S. foreign trade was with the island. Spain spent $7 million on Cuban imported goods whereas U.S. imports from the archipelago amounted to $61 million. U.S. economic interests entailed the need for the U.S. to closely control the Cuban market in order to protect U.S. investments .

The main objective of U.S. intervention in the Cuban war of independence against Spain in 1898 was to prevent Cuban revolutionaries to gain their sovereignty. Indeed, in January 1896, the captain-general of the island Martínez Campos, who was in charge of military Spanish operations, resigned, admitting that he was powerless to stop the rebels who had managed to infiltrate into the distant province of Pinar Del Río, at the extreme West of Cuba. In talks with Spain in June 1896, the United States put forward the possibility of granting Cuba home rule status. This idea aimed at ruining the independence movement and infuriated Maceo ­ second-in-command of the Cuban army of independence ­ who flatly turned down the idea . Although the Spanish army outnumbered Cuban freedom fighters and despite its overwhelming material superiority, Cuban rebels were winning one victory after another and their prestige among the Cuban population and the Latin-American public was growing day by day. The Russian ambassador in La Havana wrote to his counterpart in Spain that "the cause of Spain [was] lost" . In the same way, Colonel Charles E. Akers, the London Times correspondent, wrote: "With an army of 175,000 men, all kinds of equipment in unlimited quantity, a beautiful weather, no or few diseases, with everything working in his favor, General Weyler was unable to defeat the rebels. " Máximo Gómez, commandant of the Cuban revolutionaries, declared on March, 1, 1898: "the enemies are crushed and retreating and when they had the opportunity to do something, they didn't do anything."

This was exactly at that time that the United States decided to intervene, when Spain was put to rout. The U.S. wanted to despoil the Cuban people of its independence, an independence that had been conquered with machetes. U.S. Democrat Senator from Virginia John W. Daniel accused the U.S. government of intervening to prevent a Spanish defeat: "When the most favorable time for a revolutionary victory and the most unfavorable time for Spain came the United States Congress is asked to put the U.S. army into the hands of the President to forcibly impose an armistice between the two parties, one of them having already surrendered."

The armistice was signed on December, 10, 1898 in Paris, by the United States and Spain. The Cubans were excluded from the talks. The vile Platt amendment ­ that was later repealed in 1934 after the United States started to rule over the whole political and economic life of Cuba ­ shattered the hopes of Cubans. The United States replaced Spain in the role of the colonizer, a role decadent Spain could not take on anymore. After they had suffered from Spanish colonialism, Cubans were to endure U.S. neo-colonialism and their northern neighbor was going to "build an empire at the expense of Spain" . On January, 1st, 1899, after the Spanish troops had left, the Stars and Stripes ­ not the Cuban flag ­ was hoisted in the sky of La Havana. The ripe fruit had at last fallen into the hands of the United States .

After it had taken hold of almost all sectors of the Cuban economy, the United States intervened several times to maintain the status quo, notably in 1912, 1917 and 1933 when protests were repressed in a bloodbath. Before the 1959 revolution, U.S. companies owned 80% of services, mines, ranches and oil refineries, 40% of the sugar industry and 50% of railways . The Batista regime enjoyed Washington benevolence because it wonderfully served U.S. economic interests. Cuba had to wait until 1959 to taste the fruit of independence that had been forbidden to its people for almost half a millennium. But again Cuba would have to pay the highest possible price for this slap in the face of its lifelong neighbor, an affront that would not be forgiven. And what price!

The total blockade of the island imposed on February, 7, 1962 violates international conventions and runs counter to the most basic juridical principles. Its main objective is to re-establish U.S. neo-colonial domination over Cuba, using starvation as a political weapon against the Cuban people. The arguments justifying this economic state of siege varied according to time. During the Cold War, the "communist threat" that Cuba represented was the paradigm in use although any serious study would smash this theory to pieces. Indeed, in 1959, there was no Soviet presence in Cuba. But Washington stuck to that interpretation: Cuba represented a threat for U.S. national security and Kennedy urged Mexico to back them up in their policy of hostility towards Cuba. But the answer of a Mexican diplomat was not long in coming: "If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing" .

The Cold War context, used for thirty years as a pretext legitimizing U.S. animosity towards Cuba, was actually a fraud since there are no facts to support this theory. If there had been any foundations to this thesis, the United States would have normalized its relations with Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Instead of that, Washington launched a new and more serious wave of economic sanctions with the Torricelli Act in 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act in 1996. As the ancient paradigm departed this life in 1991, a new one was created. Now it is no more about containing communism but about "re-establishing democracy" in Cuba, a "democracy" devoted to the interests of Washington. No matter if it is ruled by a clone of Gerardo Machado or Fulgencio Batista: what's important is that it should make of its subordination to the United States its main virtue.

The economic sanctions imposed on the Cuban people are condemned by almost all countries in the international community and, for twelve years running, by their overwhelming majority. Nonetheless, not an ounce of change in U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba stands out on the horizon, driving international opinion to despair. Below is a table summing up the successive votes since 1992:


Number of countries opposing the blockade Number of countries against the end of the blockade
Countries voting against the end of the blockade

1992 59 3 United States, Israel, Romania
1993 88 4 United States, Israel, Albania, Paraguay
1994 101 2 United States, Israel
1995 117 3 United States, Israel, Uzbekistan
1996 137 2 United States, Israel
1997 147 3 United States, Israel, Uzbekistan
1998 157 3 United States, Israel, Marshall Islands
1999 155 2 United States, Israel
2000 167 3 United States, Israel, Marshall Islands
2001 167 3 United States, Israel, Marshall Islands
2002 173 3 United States, Israel, Marshall Islands
2003 179 3 United States, Israel, Marshall Islands


The only objectives of the United States are to send Cuba back to the pangs and torments afflicting Third World nations and which it has dared to escape; to plunder its resources; and to destroy its health care system considered "uniformly as the pre-eminent model for the Third World", according to the American Association for World Health . The aim of the blockade is to fulfill the wishes of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams to incorporate Cuba into the U.S. sphere of influence and to enable foreign capital to devastate it. The logorrhea putting forward the argument of human rights problems in Cuba is only a rhetoric motivated by self-interest and designed to conceal a very clear plan: to make the Cuban people toe the line and to send it back to the destitute standards of living they were used to fret over before the triumph of the Revolution.

Recently, President George W. Bush not only added Cuba to the list of terrorist states ­ a decision that should cause some mirth among the international community given that this accusation is groundless ­ but he also declared that the restrictions concerning the travels of U.S. citizens to Cuba would be made tighter. He also called for the creation of a Presidential "Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba", in order to repay the debt he has contracted during the 2000 election campaign with his extreme-right friends of the Cuban-American National Foundation ­ a powerful entity never reluctant to use terrorism as a tool to express political ideas . What is the truthfulness of those declarations? It is non-existent. It is easy to guess what kind of "Free Cuba" the United States wants to create: a regime that would be "more acceptable to the U.S.", as the Washington administration underlined it as soon as 1959, that is to say a nation completely obedient to its orders .

Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor to President Bush, evoked the "intolerable case of Cuba" and this opinion is not groundless if one sees things from the point of view of U.S. political strategists . Indeed, it is "intolerable" that a Third World country ­ which is moreover in the U.S. backyard ­ dares to brave the masters of the world, intending its natural resources to be used by its people and not by Washington financial and economic interests. It is intolerable that a nation stifled by a legislative net of sanctions that would be hard to bear even for a European power, is still able to resist after 44 years of economic stifling. And there is even worse: "Social policy is unquestionably one area in which Cuba has excelled by guaranteeing an equitable distribution of income and well-being of the population, while investing in human capital", according to the report published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) . The United States cannot tolerate this heresy.

If Cuba submits to the orders of Washington, if it accepts to give up its sovereignty and to abandon its resources to the ravenous appetite of multinationals, forgetting the needs of its people on the way, it will be considered to be part and parcel of the "democratic world". But as long as it has not fulfilled those conditions, it will continue to be the target of Washington attacks. As the hero of the 1898 independence war José Martí said: "Freedom is very expensive and it is necessary either to resign ourselves to live without it, or to decide to buy it for what it's worth." And the Cubans have made their choice.

As long as Cuba continues to challenge the dominant and dogmatic ideology of free market by providing an example showing that it is possible to free one's country from the distress of under-development ­ not through the implementation of the diktats of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but by putting human beings at the center of its plans for society ­ it will be a victim of paramilitary attacks organized fron The United States. As long as it refuses to implement market and profit discipline U.S. economic terrorism will not ease off.

The roots of the blockade date back not to 1959 but to the beginning of the 19th century since U.S. imperialists have always wanted to take hold of Cuba. In 1902, a U.S. bookstore distributed a map of Cuba under the title: "Our New Colony: Cuba" . The United States will do whatever is in its power to go back to that pre-revolutionary situation, to make Cuba become another Puerto Rico, Haiti or Dominican Republic, places in which the wealth of a minority stands out in sharp contrast with the poverty of the majority and where U.S. multinationals make staggering profits. It will also unflaggingly cling to the same voluble and outdated arguments that its representatives keep on repeating.

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