Earlier this year, New York City City Councilmember Charles Barron introduced a resolution calling on President Biden and Congress to end the Cuban embargo and U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. The resolution, numbered 0285, was referred to the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations, where it remains, awaiting a vote by the committee or to be discharged for a full vote by the Council. As of this writing, Resolution 0285 had been co-sponsored by 18 of the Council’s 53 members. 

With a population of approximately 11 million people and location only 90 miles away from the U.S., Cuba is one a very small number of countries that U.S. citizens cannot travel to freely. To travel to Cuba, U.S. citizens must not only first obtain a visa but also fit into one of 12 authorized travel categories. Travel outside of the authorized categories can result in significant fines. Earlier this year, Airbnb, for example, was required to pay a fine of $91,172 for accepting payments from U.S. citizens who traveled to Cuba outside of the 12 categories. 

Virtually since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959, the United States has sought, through a variety of unsuccessful covert and overt means, to overthrow the Cuban government. The covert means most famously include the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and more than 600 attempts to assassinate former Cuban President Fidel. Most famously, overtly and unlawfully, according to a majority of the countries in the world, the U.S. has, in the hope of isolating Cuba and starving the Cuban people into rebellion, maintained an economic embargo of Cuba. 

The Cuban embargo was first imposed in 1960 during the Eisenhower administration and is the longest such economic, financial and commercial embargo in history. In an infamous April 1960 memorandum written by Lester Mallory, Eisenhower’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, in explaining the reasons for the embargo, stated in pertinent part: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and hardship…every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba…a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.”

In short, the Cuban embargo essentially constitutes a unilateral economic war on Cuba. Indeed, it has been estimated that the cumulative damages to the Cuban economy caused by the embargo during the last six decades total more than $148 billion; money that could have been spent on Cuba’s free health care and education systems and other vital programs and services. The U.S. embargo, among other things, imposes multi-million-dollar fines against banks and corporations anywhere in the world that do business with Cuba. 

Increasingly, U.S. efforts in recent years to overthrow the Cuban government have also been carried out by U.S.-funded NGOS such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Directorio Democratico Cubana (DDC) that support anti-Cuban government groups. As the cofounder of the NED once remarked, “A lot of the work we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” The DDC operates Radio Republica, which claims to be “the voice of Cuban resistance.” Since the beginning of the 21st century (on the books), more than $250 million in funding, primarily funneled through the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, has been given to these groups.

The Cuban embargo and the restrictions can only be ended by the passage of a federal bill, or bills by Congress and then signed into law by the president. During his administration, Barack Obama took executive action toward normalization of relations between the two countries. On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama and then Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. The normalization agreement was secretly negotiated in preceding months, facilitated by Pope Francis and largely hosted by the Canadian government. Meetings were held in both Canada and Vatican City. The agreement called for lifting some U.S. travel restrictions, fewer restrictions on remittances, U.S. banks’ access to the Cuban financial system, and reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington, which had been closed since 1961. 

In his 2015 State of the Union Address to Congress, Obama called on lawmakers to lift the embargo against Cuba, a message he reiterated in 2016. Pursuant to the agreement reached between the U.S. and Cuba announced in December 2014, Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of international terrorism was rescinded and the restrictions on travel, remittances, trade, telecommunications, and banking and financial services were eased. In March 2016, Obama, accompanied by his family and a delegation of between 800 and 1,200, including businesspeople and congressional leaders who had helped in establishing the 2014 normalization deal, made a three-day trip Cuba, becoming the first U.S. president to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. 

Nearly all of the advances toward normalization of relationships between the U.S. and Cuba during the Obama administration were reversed by his successor, Donald Trump. Less than six months into his presidency, on June 16, 2017, Trump issued a presidential memorandum reversing some aspects of the Obama administration’s actions regarding U.S. relations with Cuba, characterizing them as “terrible and misguided,” and introduced new sanctions. Significantly, on May 2, 2019, the Trump administration failed to waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act for the first time since its enactment in 1996. That provision of the Helms-Burton Act purports to create a cause of action in U.S. district courts for any U.S. national who owned property in Cuba at the time of the Cuban Revolution against any person who uses such property. Property that former owners abandoned in their flight to the U.S. and elsewhere and was then lawfully nationalized in conformity with international and Cuban laws. Helms-Burton empowers the president to suspend Title III in six-month periods. Except for Trump, every president since its enactment has been mindful of the international tensions its activation would cause and has suspended its operation twice each year. 

In addition, during the height of the COVID pandemic, despite calls by the World Health Organization, U.N. Secretary General and Council of Churches, among others, to end or at least temporarily suspend the embargo, the Trump administration refused to do so. Ultimately, during the Trump administration, more than 240 unilateral coercive measures were applied against Cuba.

While campaigning for the presidency, Biden promised to return the U.S. policies to those of the Obama administration. Contrary to his campaign promise, Biden has not only left most of the measures adopted under Trump in place but imposed new ones. In May 2022, the Biden administration did make some relatively minor changes in Cuban policy, including expanding flights to Cuba beyond Havana, which Trump had limited them to, and resuming the family reunification program. More recently, however, the Biden administration restricted Cuba’s ability to purchase roofing materials after Hurricane Ian destroyed more than 50,000 homes in western Cuba. Some have speculated that Biden has not kept his promise to return to the policies of the Obama administration in the hope of gaining voters in Florida for the Democratic Party and himself in 2024. 

Despite the covert and overt U.S. efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, it has survived and is overwhelmingly supported by a majority of countries in the world. The Cuban embargo has been condemned as a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law because of its violations of the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, respect for self-determination and independence. Every year since 1992, except for 2020, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution declaring the U.S. embargo a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. (There was no vote in 2020 because of the pandemic.) During the most recent vote in 2022, 185 countries voted in favor of the resolution calling for an end to the embargo. Two countries, Ukraine and Colombia, abstained. The United States and Israel, which have routinely voted against the resolution since 1992, except in 2016 when the then-Obama administration abstained, once again voted against the resolution.

Opposition to the embargo is not just international but domestic as well, since reportedly a majority of U.S. citizens oppose it. Nationally, 65 resolutions like Barron’s have been passed calling for an end to the Cuban embargo throughout the United States. This includes 24 city councils, among them the city councils of Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New Haven, Oakland, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The state legislative bodies that have passed resolutions calling for an end to the embargo include the Alabama Senate, the Illinois House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate. In addition, 16 labor unions, labor councils and workers’ organizations, including the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY, have also passed resolutions calling for an end to the embargo. 

Ending the Cuban embargo will benefit not only the people of Cuba but the people of the U.S. as well. In particular, it would allow the people of the U.S., U.S. hospitals and medical workers to benefit from the widely recognized expertise of Cuba’s bio-tech industry research and its development of medications and treatments such as, for example, its vaccine for lung cancer. Lung cancer is reportedly the leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths for both men and women.

In conclusion, as previously mentioned, Resolution 0285 has been co-sponsored by 18 of the Council’s 53 members. To pass, Resolution 0285 needs the votes of 10 more members of the council. The 17 council members who have joined Barron in sponsoring Resolution 0285 are Cabán, Brewer, Restler, Hanif, Bottcher, Nurse, Krishnan, Avilés, Stevens, Hudson, Rivera, Williams, Gutiérrez, Richardson Jordan, Riley, Marte and Ossé. If your council member has not co-sponsored Resolution 0285, please call or write to them and urge them to do so. You can find the names and contact information for the members of the City Council on its website. 

“Black as well as other New Yorkers have been friends with Cuba for decades,” said Anne Mitchell, a member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and of the CubiSi Legislative Committee, which is spearheading the campaign for the passage of Resolution 0285. “We have traveled there many times to meet its people, learn about the history of the relationship of African Americans and Cubans, and enjoy its art and culture. The City Council needs to pass Resolution 0285, considering the opposition of the people of NYC as well as the United States generally to the embargo. We will continue to struggle to end the economic, financial and commercial blockade.”

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2 Comments

  1. SAD (Sick And Despicable) that POTUS Biden considers the deranged voters of Florida more important than all the lives of an entire, benign nation…
    Dog bless ameryucka.

  2. Thanks to the Amsterdam News for printing , and the writer for writing ,the well researched article regarding the sanctions on Cuba and NYC’s Council’s efforts to end this aggression against the Cuban People . The criminal and imperialist U.S. foreign policy that stretches from Korea in 1945 , through Indochina to the Middle East , must, like the embargo on Cuba , be repudiated .

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