Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference to highlight ‘Cuban Independence Day’ outside the Capitol on Thursday, May 20, 2021. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., left, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also appear. | Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP
Originally published in the People’s World on April 6, 2023
Although Cuba’s Revolution survived military invasion, guerrilla actions, terrorist attacks, and bacteriologic warfare, enough was not enough. Now, there are pay-offs to dissidents, manipulation of worldwide media coverage, and weaponization of social media capabilities. And of course, the U.S. economic and financial blockade persists, after 60 years, with no sign of stopping any time soon.
That’s mostly because power to end the blockade switched from the executive branch to Congress, courtesy of the Helms-Burton Law of 1996. Now, the House of Representatives will be considering a bill that, similarly, would have Congress and no longer the president decide on removing Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring nations.
Miami’s Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar introduced H.R. 314, the so-called FORCE Act, on Jan. 12, 2023. Its aim is to “prohibit the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism until Cuba satisfies certain conditions, and for other purposes.”
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate on March 16. The House bill has 24 co-sponsors; five are Floridians. The House Foreign Affairs Committee sent the bill to the House floor on March 28.
Meanwhile, a revived campaign is pressuring President Joe Biden to end the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. That campaign takes on urgency now, inasmuch as Congress may soon co-opt Biden’s power to do so.
The designation represents a false account of Cuba’s facilitation of peace talks between Colombia’s government and leftist guerrillas. It traces back to old accusations that Cuba was harboring fugitives from the United States.
The designation persisted from the 1980s until 2015, when President Barack Obama removed it, only to be reinstated by White House occupant Donald Trump in 2021. The effect is to broaden economic war and bring new grief to the people of Cuba.
U.S. dollars are weaponized; they are still the de facto currency in all international financial dealings, anywhere, by anyone. A convenient choke point exists, as pointed out recently by Cuban diplomat José Ramón Cabañas: “The issue is the clearing system based in New York. 90% of [Cuba’s] international transactions with U.S. dollars go through that system … [and are] automatically frozen.”
U.S. regulations, introduced through executive action, long ago prohibited state sponsors of terrorism from using U.S. dollars in international transactions. Consequently, payments that Cuban exporters expect from foreign buyers may not arrive, and Cuban importers have difficulties paying foreign suppliers. International loan payments are blocked, and grants from international agencies go astray.
The U.S. Treasury Department may impose heavy fines on those international banks and foreign corporations that do handle dollars in transactions with Cuba. Non-offenders avoid Cuba, out of caution. The connection between the terrorism-sponsoring designation and prohibition on the use of U.S. currency has led to shortages and economic distress in Cuba.
Massachusetts Peace Action has spearheaded the necessary campaign against H.R 314. A recent communication provides information and shows how to contact members of the House of Representatives.
The extended Cuban exile community provides the main political support for the anti-Cuba legislative proposals in the House and Senate. The Cuba part of U.S. foreign policy is regularly farmed out to the population sector with the most to lose or gain. That approach is dysfunctional, irrational, and unfair.
The text of the proposed bill assigns Cuba goals, fulfillment of which would signal that the country is no longer to be designated as a sponsor of terrorism. These are the very goals that, as specified in the Helms-Burton Law, need to be achieved so that the blockade may be ended.
The goals are:
- Release all political prisoners and allow for investigations of Cuban prisons by appropriate international human rights organizations.
- Transition away from the “Castro regime” to a system that guarantees the rights of the Cuban people to express themselves freely.
- Commit to holding free and fair elections.
Perspective reveals contradictions in all of this. The subject of political prisoners demands consideration of the fate of U.S. prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Guantánamo Bay.
It’s worthwhile also to recall that neither Fidel nor Raul Castro now plays a part in Cuba’s government. As for Fidel, he’s dead. And when it comes to the retired Raul, his influence may persist, just as does that of former presidents in the United States, but he occupies no leadership role. His thinking is sought from time to time in Cuba when, for instance, organized discussion among wide sectors of the population precedes the introduction of important initiatives. The last such occasion was the discussion period in 2022 prior to the vote on the Constitutional Amendment for a Family Code.
And, lastly, Cuba’s conduct of elections is exemplary. In voting on March 26 for Cuba’s National Assembly, 75% of the voting population took part. The portion of those who vote in U.S. national elections is far smaller. Plus, the make-up of delegates to the Assembly actually reflects the demographics of Cuba’s population, unlike the U.S. Congress.
The National Assembly then chooses from among its members to be Cuba’s leaders. That’s the standard process followed in the parliamentary systems of many countries.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.