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US-Cuba relations: Ebola as a catalyst?
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 03 - 11 - 2014

The UN General Assembly has again condemned America's commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba — for the 23rd year in succession. The symbolic resolution was adopted on Tuesday by a recorded vote of 188 in favor to two against. As was only to be expected, US and Israel voted against it. The one surprise was the abstention by Palau, Micronesia and Marshall Islands — the three nations which have generally rescued US and Israel in international forums — from voting.
The embargo was enacted in 1960 following Fidel Castro's revolution which ousted the pro-US Fulgencio Batista from power. Batista ran a corrupt and repressive regime which allowed US corporations to exploit Cuba's natural resources.
For almost half a century, the US has been doing everything in its power to isolate Cuba economically and diplomatically with a view to undermining the post-revolution regime. The US thought that the suffering which sanctions cause would induce Cubans to rise in revolt against Castro. But the Cuban Revolution endures and Castro survived 10 US presidents before he relinquished power in 2008 in favor of his brother. As Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said, “77 percent of Cubans have been born under the embargo.”
They are in no way responsible for Castro's revolution or Batista's overthrow. But the US has always tried to punish the people if it does not like a regime under which they live.
Since World War II, there have been 104 sanctions episodes including the UN embargo of Iraq. America was a key player in a majority of such sanctions or blockades. But the trade and investment sanctions against Burma, Iran, Iraq and North Korea had the opposite effect: When America or Israel cuts off a people's access to food or essential medicines, the worst sufferers are not the rulers, but children, the elderly and the sick. The leadership is likely to shift resources to the military, police and other instruments of power which would ensure their survival.
Sometimes, the US imposes sanctions because the targeted regime “oppresses” its people. But a greater oppression is the denial of essential items or restrictions on their availability as a result of sanctions.
Some argue that sanctions work because the direct suffering it causes to the people will create a kind of moral pressure on the leadership. This is to admit that leaders like Saddam Hussein are moved by such suffering and do care for their people. This would mean that such leaders are not monsters as we have been led to believe.
In some cases, sanctions work to the advantage of “oppressive” or “unpopular” regimes. Leaders can always attribute all the suffering of the people and all the failures of the regime to US policies thereby shielding their own policies and actions from criticism or scrutiny.
Before 1991, the Cold War and Castro's proximity to the Soviet Union provided a fig leaf for continuing this economic aggression but the collapse of communism has made it untenable. Now even anti-Castro Cuban exiles want an end to the sanctions, if a recent Florida International University poll is anything to go by.
There are also other signs to indicate that American attitudes toward Cuba are changing. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out in favor of lifting sanctions in her recent book “Hard Choices.” A recent editorial in New York Times called for normal relations with Havana.
Paradoxically, the Ebola crisis in West Africa has added a fresh impetus to the moves aimed at a change in Washington's Cuba policy. Even the diehard Republicans now feel that US-Cuba cooperation is essential to halt the epidemic and its spread to America.
In a sign of change, a mid-level official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attended a regional summit in Havana on Wednesday hosted by an association of left-leaning Latin American nations.
Ebola, according to US media, has created a fear psychosis in American society. Will the epidemic help end America's fear of Cuba?


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