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“Cuba has demonstrated time and time again that despite this asymmetric power, they are well-versed in strategies to delegitimize the U.S.’s position.”
A day that will forever live in the hearts and minds of free men and women around the world, Jan. 1, 1959 marked the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, as the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista ended under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Raul Castro, among others.
And on its 61st anniversary, the ideals of socialist society and state live on despite an illegal and brutal blockade installed by the United States in 1962 to undermine the project in the Caribbean Island, a policy which has been bolstered by current U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Cuba has demonstrated time and time again that despite this asymmetric power, they are well-versed in strategies to delegitimize the U.S.’s position,” U.S. Professor of International Relations Arturo Lopez-Levy argues.
These counter-strategies are cemented in the resilient spirit of the Cuban people and their commitment to the Revolution which began in 1956 as a group of 81 revolutionaries set sail to Cuba from Mexico in the famed Granma.
After the vessel crashed near Los Cayuelos Batista’s men ambushed them and the revolutionaries were left with 19 men, the Castro brothers, Cienfuegos, and Che who fled deep into Sierra Maestra mountains to a remote hideout that became the base from where the revolutionaries started guerilla warfare leading to Batista’s overthrow.
Three years later, as the new year gave way, a rebel force led by revolutionary leader Fidel Castro seized the capital Havana, forcing Batista to flee.
“I began the revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I'd do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.”- Fidel Castro
From then on, revolutionary Cuba saw a series of reforms aimed at improving society. The health care and education sector was developed immensely with Cuban doctors traveling the world, working with marginalized sections, proving free health care for all.
The country also became illiteracy free in 1961 within a year of starting a literacy mission dropping from 23.6 percent to a mere 3.6 percent. Presently, the rate of illiteracy is 0.2 percent, one of the highest in the world.
Yet all these efforts to better the lives of its population have been met with resistance and violence from its neighbor in the North. In February 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed a trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba and directed the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury to implement it, which remains in place today.
Since then Cuba-U.S. relations have had their ups and downs correlated to the intensity or ease of sanctions aimed at isolating the government.
In 2014, President Barack Obama's administration initiated a major policy shift moving away from sanctions toward engagement and dialogue, certain travel and business restrictions were loosened in a bid for the normalization of relations.
The policy changes included the rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of international terrorism in May 2015; the restoration of diplomatic relations in July 2015; and efforts to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to Cuba by easing restrictions on travel, remittances, trade, telecommunications, and banking and financial services.
The restoration of relations led to the increased government-to-government engagement, with over 20 bilateral agreements negotiated and bilateral dialogues conducted in numerous areas of cooperation, which correlated with a major shift in Cuba’s economic policies as well.
However, on June 16, 2017, the newly elected President Trump issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba. By Nov. 8, 2017, the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury reimposed the business and travel restrictions.
Through the 2017 “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, Cuba was placed once again as a priority “enemy.” A rehashing of Cold-War era discourse and propaganda was laid out by Trump’s administration to appease the Cuban-U.S. electorate in Florida and to undermine the government in Havana.
“Cuba seems to have the same effect on American administrations that the full moon once had on werewolves,” Wayne Smith, the U.S. diplomat who closed the country’s embassy in Havana in 1961 and later returned to Cuba as Chief of the Special Interests Section (1978- 1982) once said.
The vicious ‘wolves’ from Trump’s administration, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, set their eyes on its prey: Cuba. Trump trotted along to impose even harsher sanctions and direct attacks on the island’s economy.
The most infamous was the activation of the Helms-Burton Act's Titles III and IV suspended since 1996, starting May 2. The “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act,” commonly known as Helms-Burton, was signed on March 12, 1996, during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, to disrupt foreign investment to the island and accentuate the economic effects of the economic blockade.
Through the application of Title III, U.S. citizens could sue in their country’s courts those persons and entities that conduct business with about 200 state-owned institutions in Cuba that were nationalized after Jan. 1, 1959. However, since the Clinton administration, the U.S. had avoided the implementation of this measure by issuing “temporary” six-month suspensions.
This practice became normalized because the full enforcement of the anti-Cuban law would imply massive damages not only for Cuba but for U.S., Canadian, and mainly European interests, as the bloc is the largest foreign investor on the island and the country’s top export market.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of sanctions, Idriss Jazairy has denounced the implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
“The international community must come together to challenge what amounts to blockades ignoring a country’s sovereignty, the human rights of its people, and the rights of third countries trading with sanctioned States, all while constituting a threat to world peace and security”, the U.N. appointee concluded.
On the eve of another anniversary of the undefeated and victorious revolution, I wish our people all the best! We have been through a year filled with tensions and aggression. Together we faced them, and together we are winning.#SomosCuba#SomosContinuidadpic.twitter.com/wHMryFbqVn
Another strategy to isolate Cuba has been to attacks its allies and people that want to visit the island. Since April 2019, the Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on several shipping companies and vessels that have transported Venezuelan oil to Cuba, including six vessels sanctioned in early December 2019.
In June 2019, the Treasury Department eliminated the category of people-to-people educational travel and the Commerce Department generally prohibited cruise ships, private and corporate aircraft, sailboats, and fishing boats from going to Cuba.
But one of its worst attacks has been the decision from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to cap the amount of money family members can send to Cuba, ban donations and money transfers to or from the island through U.S. banks.
The new economic sanctions, which went into effect on Oct. 9, restrict the remittances to US$ 1,000 per quarter, no longer allow transfers of money to nonfamily members and instate a ban on remittance donations.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that the measures are meant to “deny Cuba access to hard currency” to “financially isolate” the island.
The measure is not an attack on the Cuban government but Cuban families and individuals. Just as the decision In October 2019 from the Transportation Department to, effective Dec. 10, 2019, end flights by U.S. carriers between the U.S. and Cuba, except for Havana.
"New U.S. sanctions against Cuba. Lies, slander, and hypocrisy as a pretext of the U.S. government to tighten the blockade. Because of their failure in Venezuela, they attack with vindication against Cuba. We will resist and win,” Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel said after the latest round of sanctions.
But despite it all, despite the attacks and the illegal blockade Cuba’s resolve is stronger than ever. Reforms in its political and economic policies ready the island to strongly face new challenges as a new decade begins in 2020.
Meanwhile, support for the island grows and rejection of the U.S.’ bully-practices diminishes. As seen by the United Nations General Assembly which on Nov. 7 overwhelming voted in favor of the resolution demanding the ending of the U.S. blockade against Cuba with 187 countries voting in favor, three against while two countries abstained.
So as sanctions harden, the Revolution celebrates another year and the Cuban people continue to outmaneuver every U.S. head of state ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower.