United States Embargo against Cuba (described in
Cuba as el bloqueo, Spanish for "the blockade") is a commercial, economic, and financial
embargo partially imposed on Cuba in October
It was enacted after Cuba expropriated
the properties of United States
citizens and corporations and it was strengthened to a near-total
embargo in February 1962.
The embargo was codified into law in 1992 with the stated purpose
of maintaining sanctions on the Castro regime so long as it
continues to refuse to move toward "democratization and greater
respect for human rights". It is entitled the Cuban Democracy Act
. In 1996, Congress
passed the Helms-Burton Act, which
further restricted United States citizens from doing business in or
with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private
assistance to any successor regime in Havana unless and
until certain claims against the Cuban government are met.
In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton
expanded the trade embargo even further by ending the practice of
foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies trading with Cuba. In 2000,
Clinton authorized the sale of certain "humanitarian" US products
been advocated that the pro-embargo
Cuban-American exiles, whose votes are crucial in Florida, have swayed
many politicians to also adopt similar views.
Cuban-American views have been opposed by business leaders whose
financial interests prompt them to argue that trading freely would
be good for Cuba and the United States.
At present, the embargo, which limits American businesses from
conducting business with Cuban interests, is still in effect and is
the most enduring trade
embargo in modern
history. Despite the existence of the embargo, the United States is
the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (6.6% of Cuba's imports are from
A U.S. arms embargo had been in force since March 1958 when armed
conflict broke out in Cuba between rebels and the Fulgencio Batista
government. In July 1960, in
response to Cuba's new revolutionary government's seizure of US
properties, the United States reduced the Cuban import quota of
brown sugar by 7,000,000 tons, under the Sugar Act of 1948; the
Union responded by agreeing to purchase the sugar
instead, as Cuba's new government continued to take further actions
to confiscate American businesses and
privately owned property.
In response to the Cuban alignment with the Soviet Union during the
, President John F. Kennedy
extended measures by
first widening the scope of the trade restrictions on February 7
(announced on February 3
and again on March 23, 1962).
According to former aide, Kennedy asked him to purchase 1,000
for Kennedy's future
use immediately before the extended embargo was to come into
effect. Salinger succeeded, returning in the morning with 1,200
Petit H. Upmann
cigars, Kennedy's favorite cigar size and brand. Following the
Cuban Missile Crisis
imposed travel restrictions on February 8, 1963, and the Cuban
Assets Control Regulations were issued on July 8, 1963, under the
Trading with the Enemy
in response to Cubans hosting Soviet nuclear weapons. Under
these restrictions, Cuban assets in the U.S. were frozen and the
existing restrictions were consolidated.
Cuba was expelled from the Organization of
American States (OAS) "by a vote of 14 in favor, one (Cuba) against
with six abstentions.
Mexico and Ecuador, two abstaining
members argued that the expulsion was not authorized in the OAS
Charter."Multilateral sanctions were imposed by the OAS on July 26,
1964, but these were rescinded on July 29, 1975.
The restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba lapsed on March
19, 1977; the regulation was renewable every six months, but
President Jimmy Carter
did not renew it
and the regulation on spending U.S.
in Cuba was lifted shortly afterwards. President
reinstated the trade
embargo on April 19, 1982. This has been modified subsequently with
the present regulation, effective June 30, 2004, being the Cuban
Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515. The current
regulation does not limit travel of US Citizens to Cuba per
, but it makes it illegal for US Citizens to have
transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba under most
circumstances without a US government Office of Foreign Assets
The 1963 U.S. embargo was reinforced in October 1992 by the
Cuban Democracy Act
"Torricelli Law") and in 1996 by the Cuban Liberty and Democracy
Solidarity Act (known as the Helms-Burton Act
) which penalizes foreign
companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing
business in the US. The justification provided for these
restrictions was that these companies were trafficking in stolen
U.S. properties, and should, thus, be excluded from the United
The European Union resented the Helms Burton Act because it felt
that the US was dictating how other nations ought to conduct their
trade and challenged it on that basis. The EU eventually dropped
its challenge in favor of negotiating a solution.
After Cuba's shoot-down of an unarmed Brothers to the Rescue
plane in 1996,
which killed three Americans and another man, a bi-partisan
coalition in the United States Congress approved the Helms-Burton
Act. The Title III of this law also states that any non-U.S.
company that "knowingly trafficks in property in Cuba confiscated
without compensation from a U.S. person" can be subjected to
litigation and that company's leadership can be barred from entry
into the United States. Sanctions may also be applied to non-U.S.
companies trading with Cuba. This restriction also applies to
maritime shipping, as ships docking at Cuban ports are not allowed
to dock at U.S. ports for six months. It's important to note that
this title includes waiver authority, so that the President might
suspend its application. This waiver must be renewed every six
months and it has traditionally been. It was renewed for the last
time July 17, 2006, therefore the suspension of this provision will
remain effective for, at least, another six months following that
In response to pressure from some American farmers and agribusiness
, the embargo was relaxed by the
Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act
, which was passed
by the Congress
2000 and signed by President Bill
. The relaxation allowed the sale of agricultural goods
and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian
reasons. Although Cuba initially declined to engage in such trade
having even refused US food aid in the past, seeing it as a
half-measure serving U.S. interests, the Cuban government began to
allow the purchase of food from the U.S. as a result of Hurricane Michelle
in November 2001.
These purchases have continued and grown since then. In 2007, the
US was the largest food supplier of Cuba and its fifth largest
In some touristic spots across the island, American brands such as
can be purchased. Ford tankers
refuel planes in airports and some computers use Microsoft
software. However, the origin of the financing behind such goods is
not always clear in today's market where billions of dollars move
around the earth every minute. The goods often come from third
parties based in countries outside the US, even if the product
being dealt originally has US shareholders or investors. This can
be seen for example with Nestle
(which have a 10% US ownership) and can be bought in "Convertible
Pesos‚ÄĚ (CUCs)-hard currency, stores that are pegged to the US
dollar, Euro and other currencies. But since 25 National Pesos
equal just one Convertible Peso, and CUCs are not used to pay the
already small wages, access to such goods by ordinary Cubans is
Ban on travel by families and individuals
According to the U.S. Department of State: "Cuban Assets Control
Regulations are enforced by the U.S. Treasury Department and affect
all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are
located, all people and organizations physically located in the
United States, and all branches and subsidiaries of U.S.
organizations throughout the world. Regulation does not limit
travel of US Citizens to Cuba per se
, but it makes it
illegal for US Citizens to have transactions (spend money or
receive gifts) in Cuba, under most circumstances. The regulations
require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed in
order to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to
travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related solely to
tourist travel are not licensable."US restrictions are routinely
disregarded by Canadian and European tourists who continue to flock
to the island for its unique culture, well-known beauty,
sun-drenched beaches, and currently-renowned sex trade.
a burgeoning interest in the assumed untapped product demand in
Cuba, a growing number of free-marketers
in Congress, backed by Western and
Plains lawmakers who represent agribusiness, have tried
each year since 2000 to water down or completely erase regulations
preventing Americans from traveling to Cuba.
Four times over
that time period the United States House of
has adopted language lifting the travel ban,
and in 2003 the U.S. Senate
followed suit for the first
time. However, each time President George
threatened to veto
the bill. Faced with a veto threat, each year
Congress has dropped its attempt to lift the travel ban.
States nationals can circumvent the ban by traveling to Cuba from a
different country (such as Mexico, The Bahamas or Canada), as Cuban
immigration authorities do not stamp passports.
In doing so,
they would risk prosecution by the U.S. government if
10, 2006 the United States announced the creation of a task force
made up of officials from several US agencies that will pursue more
aggressively violators of the US trade embargo against Cuba, with
severe penalties.The regulations are still in force and are
administered by the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control.
penalties for violating the embargo range up to ten years in
prison, $1 million in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual
fines; civil penalties up to $55,000 per violation.
The Obama administration has maintained similar restrictions on
most US travel. On April 13, 2009, President Barack Obama
loosened the travel ban, now
allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the country. The
President has outlined a series of steps that Cuba could do to
demonstrate a willingness to open its closed society, including
releasing political prisoners, allowing United States
telecommunications companies to operate on the island and ending
government fees on money sent to Cubans by relatives living abroad.
In confirmation hearings for the position of Secretary of State,
Hillary Clinton said that she too believed that the ban on
Cuban-American family travel should be lifted.Many saw this as
opportunity for Cubans and Americans to engage in viable businesses
together.Thus far, however, the Cuban leadership has not altered
any of its state-sponsored control over the Cuban population.
Department in the report Zenith and Eclipse: A Comparative
Look at Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro and Present Day
Cuba argued that the U.S. embargo has added, at most,
relatively small increases in transportation costs.
claims that the main problem is not the embargo but the lack of
foreign currency due to the unwillingness to liberalize the
economy, diversify the export base, during the years of abundant
Soviet aid. Cuba also amassed substantial debts owed to its
Japanese, European, and Latin American trading partners acquired
during the years of abundant Soviet aid.
The US Chamber of Commerce
estimates that the embargo costs the US economy $1.2 billion per
year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government
estimates that the embargo only costs the island itself $685
million annually. The US has spent over $500 million broadcasting
, even though the transmission signals of the latter are
effectively blocked by the Cuban government. The non-partisan Cuba
Policy Foundation estimates that the embargo costs the US economy
$3.6 billion per year in economic output.
Critiques of embargo laws and rules
The embargo has been criticized for its effects on food, clean
water, medicine, and other economic needs of the Cuban population.
Some academic critics, outside Cuba, have also linked it to
shortages of medical supplies and soap which have resulted in a
series of medical crises and heightened levels of infectious
diseases. It has also been linked to epidemics of specific
diseases, including neurological disorders caused by poor nutrition
and blindness. Travel restrictions embedded in the embargo have
also been shown to limit the amount of medical information that
flows into Cuba from the United States. Malnutrition and disease
resulting from increased food and medicine prices have affected men
and the elderly, in particular, due to Cuba's rationing system
which gives preferential treatment to women and children.
On May 1, 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo
voiced his concern over the continued embargo. While
speaking about his meeting U.S. President Barack Obama
at a summit days earlier, Chavez
stated "if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade
of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great
farce and the U.S. empire will be alive and well, threatening
The Helms-Burton Act has been the target of criticism from Canadian
governments in particular, who resent the
extraterritorial pretensions of a piece of legislation aimed at
punishing non-U.S. corporations and non-U.S. investors who have
economic interests in Cuba. In the Canadian House of Commons
Helms-Burton was mocked by the introduction of the Godfrey-Milliken Bill
, which called
for the return of property of United Empire Loyalists
the American government as a result of the American Revolution
(the bill never
became law). Furthermore, the European
Parliament in 1996 passed a law making it illegal for EU
citizens to obey the Helms-Burton act.
The European Council
while reaffirming its concern to promote democratic
reform in Cuba, recalled the deep concern expressed by the European
Council over the extraterritorial effects of the "Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act" adopted by the United States
and similar pending legislation regarding Iran and Libya.
It noted the widespread international objections to this
legislation. It called upon President Clinton to waive the
provisions of Title III and expressed serious concern at the
measures already taken to implement Title IV of the Act.
The Council identified a range of measures which could be
deployed by the EU in response to the damage to the interests of EU
companies resulting from the implementation of the Act.
Among these are the following:
- a move to a WTO dispute settlement panel;
- changes in the procedures governing entry by
representatives of US companies to EU Member States;
- the use/introduction of legislation within the EU to
neutralize the extraterritorial effects of the US
- the establishment of a watch list of US companies filing
Title III actions.
critics argue that the embargo
actually helps Castro more than it hurts him by giving him a
scapegoat he can use to blame for all of Cuba's problems. George P. Shultz
, who served as Secretary of State
under Reagan, has gone
as far as to call the continued embargo "insane
". Daniel Griswold
, director of the Cato Institute
's Center for Trade Policy
Studies, criticized the current policy in June 2009 by stating:
"The embargo has been a failure by every
It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban
It has not liberated a single Cuban
In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit
more impoverished, without making them one bit more
At the same time, it has deprived Americans of their
freedom to travel and has cost US farmers and other producers
billions of dollars of potential exports."
Some American business leaders argue that, as long as the embargo
continues, non-U.S. foreign businesses in Cuba do not have to
compete with U.S. businesses and thus will have a head start when
and if the embargo is ended. They openly call for an end to the
Some religious leaders oppose the embargo for a variety of reasons,
including humanitarian and economic hardships the embargo imposes
on Cubans. Pope John Paul
II called for the end to the embargo during his 1979 pastoral
visit to Mexico, and again
during his 1998 visit to Cuba. Patriarch Bartholomew I
embargo a "historic mistake" while visiting the island on January
25, 2004. United States religious leaders have also opposed the
embargo. A joint letter in 1998 from the Disciples of Christ
and the United Church of Christ
to the U.S.
Senate called for the easing of economic restrictions against Cuba.
Rev. Jesse Jackson
, Rev. Al Sharpton
, and Minister Louis Farrakhan
have also publicly opposed
the embargo. On May 15, 2002 former President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana, calling for
an end to the embargo, saying "Our two nations have been trapped in
a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time
for us to change our relationship."
The United Nations
has condemned the embargo as a violation of
international law every year since 1992. In 2002, for example, it
condemned the embargo by 173 votes to 3. Israel routinely
joins the U.S. in voting against the resolution as has Palau every year
On October 28, 2009, for the 18th time, the
United Nations condemned the embargo.
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cuba, Perez Roque called
the embargo "an act of genocide
". Cuba has
also denounced as "theft" the use of frozen Cuban assets to pay for
lawsuits filed in the US against the Republic of Cuba.
In addition to the Cuban authorities, film director Michael Moore
has also challenged the embargo
by bringing 9/11
in need of health care to Cuba to obtain
subsidized health care.
Recent U.S. polling indicates that the American public is slightly
in favor of continuing the embargo, and in favor of normalizing
diplomatic relations as well. For instance, a 2007 AP
indicates that 48% of Americans favor continuing the embargo,
against 40% who favor ending it. Interestingly the same poll
revealed that, despite overwhelmingly unfavorable opinions of
(6% favorable vs. 64%
unfavorable), Americans believe that diplomatic relations "should"
be re-established with Cuba. (62% in favor, 30% opposed).
An April 2009 CNN
/ Opinion Research Corporation
poll showed that 64% of Americans surveyed think the U.S. should
lift its travel ban on Cuba, while 71% thought the U.S. should
reestablish diplomatic relations with the island nation.
- CIA's The World Factbook
- Haass, Richard N. Economic Sanctions and American Diplomacy.
- Counterpunch, 18 June 2009, U.S. Cuba Policy: A Case of Post Diplomatic Stress
- Zenith and Eclipse: A Comparative Look at Socio-Economic
Conditions in Pre-Castro and Present Day Cuba, Bureau of
Inter-American Affairs, U.S. State Department, February 9, 1998.
Revised June 2002. Accessed 5 November 2006.
- American Association for World Health. "Denial of Food and
Medicine: The Impact Of The U.S. Embargo On The Health And
Nutrition In Cuba." March 1997.
- Chavez says Obama Must Prove Change After
Handshake by Fabian Cambero, Reuters, May 1, 2009
- The US embargo of Cuba is a Failure by Daniel
Griswold, The Guardian, June 15 2009
- BBC News, November 12th 2007,
- granma.cu -STATEMENT from the Ministry of Foreign
- Polling Report on Cuba, AP/Ipsos Poll, Jan 30-Feb 1,
- Poll: Three-Quarters Favor Relations with Cuba
CNN, April 10 2009
- Boycotting Cuba: Whose Interest Does it Serve? by Jean
Daniel, The New Republic,
December 28, 1963
- White House Fact Sheet: Cuba Policy The New
York Times, April 13, 2009
- CNN Video Report: Is Trade Embargo with Cuba Hurting U.S.
Interests? by Jim Acosta & Ed Hornick, May
- Virginia, Maryland Prepare for Cuban Detente by
Fredrick Kunkle, The Washington Post, May 4, 2009
- Nothing Succeeds Like Failure: The Cuban
Embargo by Saul Landau October 30,
- Keep the Embargo on Cuba by Kim
R. Holmes June 23,1995 (The Heritage Foundation website:
accessed November 3, 2009)