Remarks by Ambassador José R. Cabañas during the International Conference for U.S.-Cuba Normalization

November 14, 2020

We understand the many efforts you must have to organize something like this. You have people coming from Havana, you have technical issues but the common will among ourselves is simply to continue the fight against the Blockade.

This conference is especially useful to educate and share knowledge about what the blockade is all about and that it impacts not only Cuba but the United States, and third countries all over the world.

This blockade is the largest, most comprehensive economic war, not only in economic terms, against any country. Its main purpose is basically to overthrow the Cuban revolution.

We can start with our arguments with why this was established. It has many pieces. It is a Frankenstein in its legislations, norms, sanctions and executive decisions. . 

We always like to quote from what we call the Mallory Memorandum. Lester Mallory was a bureaucrat in the state department back in 1960. He wrote a memo saying in essence that the Cuban revolution has large support among the Cuban population,. there was basically no opposition domestically speaking in Cuba, and to overthrow the Cuban revolution the United States needs to make the Cuban people surrender by hunger and imposing economic pressure. 

That memo was before the presidential proclamation by President Kennedy imposing the embargo on Cuba in 1962. And if we read from that proclamation 3447, the main arguments to impose an embargo on Cuba is about the relationship between Cuba, the Peoples Republic of China, and the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is not there anymore, and China is the largest economic trade partner with the United States.

Since that moment on we have been through a series of arguments to keep in place this policy. It is a state policy. Sometimes people relate the blockade against Cuba with one particular president. The fact is that we have had twelve presidents that have been living with these subjects and enforcing many of them.

It is important to understand the complexity of the whole structure of the blockade to know who we are fighting. We have to mention that several pieces of it are related to the ‘The Trade with the Enemy Act’ from 1917, the ‘Foreign Assistance Act’ that was passed in 1961 and I mentioned Proclamation 3447 1962 by President Kennedy, Cuban Assets and Control Regulations (CACR) of the Department of the Treasury passed 1963.

The ‘Export Administration Act’ of 1979, Export Administrations Relations 1979, and the so-called ‘Cuban Democracy Act’ or ‘Torricelli Act’ 1992. Torricelli limits U.S. companies in third countries dealing with Cuba, proving the blockade is more than a bilateral issue.

In 1996 the so-called ‘Helms-Burton Act’ or ‘Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act’ which is a bad joke, that name, which is probably the more comprehensive piece of legislation where you have integrated all elements in regards to the embargo. 

Still you have Section 211 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act 1999 that is something unique. It prohibits recognizing Cuban brand names in the United States. It was never discussed in Congress, but added in handwriting by a Cuban-American lawyer.

And finally, the Trade Sanctions and Export Enhancement Act -2000 with new regulations about the blockade.

The Blockade has been there for 60 years. We have to say several senators and representatives in the Congress have been trying to change the whole thing at least some parts of that so far, they haven’t been successful.

The blockade was there during the Obama administration years, although we established bi-lateral ties, although we signed twenty-two MOU’s (Memorandum of Understanding) covering different areas of agriculture, environment, public health, and others, but the blockade which is the core subject in the United States policy against Cuba was implemented.

In the Obama administration we had several sanctions and measures and fines imposed on foreign banks to limit financial transactions against Cuba. It is important to remember that even the Obama administration years are probably the most positive moments we have had on bilateral relations with the US in the last thirty years. The blockade was actively enforced and implemented. From time to time you hear people in the United States that said the agreements between Cuba and the United States at the time were one sided and that is true because the embargo was still there and was a burden on the possibility of expanding further bilateral cooperation in many ways.

What has happened during the last four years under Trump rule, we have had roughly over 235 new decisions, actions implemented against Cuba in a variety of sectors, financial transaction.

It’s a policy that has been more or less used to force the Cuban people to surrender by economic pressure. Limiting the supply of oil to Cuba to other commodities. We have to say that the blockade is something that impacts every single sector in Cuban Life, from education, to quality health, to agriculture, trade, every sector, the cultural sector. If you could meet an artist and you ask them how the blockade impacts, it impacts every part of Cuban life.

It also limits possibilities for people in the United States. They don’t benefit from Cuban services and products that are a large amount. Just to mention an example to export agriculture commodities from the United States, Cuba is a natural market. You have seen how travel expanded quite easily during those years. Roughly five million and a half Americans and Cuban-Americans visited Cuba since 2015. That was basically up to early 2019. 

I don’t need to mention the family connections there is a large community of Cuban Americans in the United States. They have also suffered the impact of this regulation, the way they were implemented under Trump in the last two years 121 decisions were implemented to limit travel, to limit remittances, and other kinds of exchange. The impact of the blockade is all over. 

The other day we were referring to the support we received from the solidarity movements in the Elian Gonzales campaign, to Free the Cuban 5, when the solidarity movement made it possible to return the Cuban 5 to Havana. During those campaigns we heard many arguments. Why do we need to do that? Because it was fair, they should be back, they were fighting terrorism. In the end we had an argument everyone could understand which is… it is too much, it is enough; sixteen years is too much to condemn these people. 

I would say 60 years of the blockade is too much. If some people don’t understand the technicalities of the blockade, if some people haven’t read this year’s Cuban report to the United Nations to support our resolution that was presented a few days ago by our foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla. If people are not sensible with the details and many people are by the way. A good argument is that it is too much.

Sixty years of a failed policy, a fiasco, it is a moment to try something else. In that regard, it is important to remember that under the Obama administration we were able to engage in discussions -- by the way Ambassador Vidal was the head of our delegation for those negotiations -- we engaged in many subjects. We delivered. There were important outcomes for both countries. The American people understood by a large majority the advantage of having a normal relationship with Cuba the same way we have with Canada, UK, Spain, France, and other countries all over the world

Now, after the outcome of the last elections in the United States there is new hope among Americans in terms of a new kind of relationship can be built with Cuba. You have heard the statement from president in that regard we feel that the American people have a sense that this is an opportunity for change and we have to say that we remain open to any kind of talks or conversations if we respect the principles of mutual respect and reciprocity. Those are the two keys for any future relationship between Cuba and the United States with the upcoming president or any other administration into the future.

We have heard positive statements from the candidates, we have heard statements from other people that probably will be related to the new government, but Cuba doesn’t tailor a policy because someone is elected. We don’t tailor policies addressed to specific people. The principles of our foreign policies are consistent and we understand that we have and will have differences with the United States -- we listed them by the way in 2015 and 2016 -- but we do believe that we need for the benefit of our population and for the benefit of the world and region, we have to find common ground on several subjects.

I will leave you this initial comment, with the idea if the blockade against Cuba was always an act of war, it is a crime these days to keep and enforce that blockade on the conditions of the pandemic under COVID. Not once during the last year has the current president in the United States lifted any measures but on the opposite they implemented and enforced several limits ordinary Cubans have to face because of the blockade.

Anyone supporting the blockade these days is as criminal as the essence of the blockade. Hopefully Covid, the common cause to fight COVID in the United States, in this hemisphere will be an opportunity for all our countries to cooperate and to fight not only to find a cure and a better future for our people.

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