sanctions, principal obstacle to the country’s
THE solidarity group Cuba Sí France
recently interviewed Salim Lamrani, French
journalist and academic, on the occasion of the
publication of his book État de siège:
economic sanctions against Cuba constitute the
principal obstacle to the country’s development.
You've just published a new book
under the title État de siège. What exactly do
you cover in it?
As the book's subtitle suggests,
it covers the unilateral economic sanctions that the
United States first imposed upon Cuba at the height
of the Cold War. The goal of these sanctions has
been the overthrow of the revolutionary government
of Fidel Castro, the social and economic reforms of
which did not sit well with the Eisenhower
administration of the period. More than a half
century later the Soviet Union has disappeared and
the Cold War is only a fading memory; but still the
United States persists in maintaining an economic
state of siege that is suffocating for all levels of
the Cuban population, although it primarily affects
the most vulnerable sectors: women, the elderly and
It is important to note that the
diplomatic rhetoric used by the United States to
justify its hostility towards Cuba has changed from
period to period. Early on, it focused on
nationalizations and their compensation. Later,
Washington invoked the alliance with the Soviet
Union as the principal obstacle to the normalization
of relations between the two countries. Then, during
the 1970s and 1980s, it cited Cuban intervention in
Africa – more precisely in Angola and Namibia. Those
interventions, designed to aid national liberation
movements fighting to obtain independence and to
support the struggle against apartheid in South
Africa, were cited as justification for the
maintenance of economic sanctions. Finally, after
the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington brandished
democracy and human rights as an argument for
maintaining its stranglehold on the Cuban nation.
What exactly is the impact of
these sanctions on the Cuban population?
The economic sanctions against Cuba
constitute the principal obstacle to the development
of the country and all sectors of the society are
affected by it. It is important to note that the
United States, for evident historical and geographic
reasons, has always been Cuba's natural market. The
distance separating the two countries is less than
150 kilometers. In 1959, 73% of all Cuban exports
were destined for the U.S. market and 70% of its
imports came from the States. There was, therefore,
a significant dependence upon Cuba's northern
neighbor. Between 1960 and 1991, relations with the
USSR had softened the sanctions, but this is no
longer the case.
Thus practically, Cuba is unable to
sell anything to the United States, which remains
the world's primary market. Nor can it buy anything
from it other than, and since 2000 only, a few
primary agricultural products that it is forced to
purchase under severe restrictions. For example,
Cuba is required to pay in advance in a currency
other than the U.S. dollar – something that forces
Cuba to shoulder additional costs engendered by the
exchange rates – all of this without the possibility
of contracting a loan. This limits enormously the
island's commercial possibilities, forcing it to pay
a much higher price to a third country.
You also emphasize the effects of
the extraterritorial economic sanctions.
ndeed, since 1992 and the adoption
of the Torricelli Act, these sanctions apply equally
to third countries that might wish to trade with
Cuba. This constitutes a serious violation of
international law which prohibits any national
legislation from being extraterritorial; that is to
say, from being applied outside of national
boundaries. For example, French law cannot be
applied in Spain and Italian law cannot be applied
in France. Nonetheless, United States economic
sanctions remain applicable to all countries that
trade with Cuba.
Thus, any foreign ship that docks in
a Cuban port finds itself forbidden to enter U.S.
ports for a period of six months. Cuba, being an
island, is heavily dependent upon maritime transport.
Of the commercial fleets that operate in the Florida
Straits, most conduct the bulk of their activities
with a clear understanding of the importance of this
market and do not run the risk of transporting
merchandise to Cuba. When they do, however, they
demand a higher tariff than that applied to
neighboring countries, such as Haiti or the
Dominican Republic, this in order to make up for the
shortfall that results from being banned from U.S.
ports for having done so. Therefore, if the standard
price for transporting merchandise to the Dominican
Republic is 100, this figure that can rise to 600 or
700 for Cuba.
You also comment on the
retroactive nature of the economic sanctions.
Since the adoption of the Helms-Burton
Act in 1996, all foreign enterprises that wish to
invest in Cuban property and which had been
nationalized in 1959 risk prosecution in the United
States and seeing their U.S. investments frozen.
This law is a judicial aberration because it is both
extraterritorial and retroactive; in other words, it
applies to events that occurred before the law was
adopted, something that is contrary to international
law. Take the case of the anti-tobacco law in France.
This law was promulgated on January 1, 2008. But if
you smoked in a restaurant on December 31, 2007, you
would not be prosecuted, because the law cannot be
applied retroactively. The Helms-Burton Act applies
to events that occurred during the 1960s, something
that is clearly illegal.
The United States maintains that
the economic sanctions are a simple bilateral
question that does not concern the rest of the world.
The example I have already cited
demonstrates the exact opposite. I'll give you
another. In order to sell on the U.S. market, a
German, Korean, or Japanese automobile manufacturer
– in reality the nationality matters little – is
obliged to demonstrate to the U.S. Treasury
Department that its products do not contain a single
gram of Cuban nickel. It is the same for all of the
agribusiness enterprises wishing to invest in the
U.S. market. Danone, for example, must demonstrate
that its products contain absolutely no Cuban raw
materials. Cuba cannot sell its natural resources
and its products to the United States, but in these
exact cases, neither can it sell them to Germany,
Korea, or Japan. These measures deprive the Cuban
economy of much needed capital and Cuban exports of
many markets around the world:
The economic sanctions have also
had an impact on healthcare.
Indeed, nearly 80% of all patents
applied for in the medical sector belong to US-based
multinational pharmaceutical companies and their
subsidiaries, which puts them in the position of
being a quasi-monopoly. It should be noted that
international humanitarian law forbids all
restrictions on the freedom of movement of
foodstuffs and medicines, even during wartime. And
officially, the United States is not at war with
Here is a clear example: Cuban
children could benefit from the Amplatzer septal
occluder, a cardiac plug manufactured in the United
States that allows one to bypass open heart surgery.
Dozens of children are waiting for this operation.
In 2010 alone, four were added to this list: Maria
Fernanda Vidal, five years old; Cyntia Soto Aponte,
three years old; Mayuli Pérez Ulboa, eight years old;
and Lianet D. Alvarez, five years old.
Are these children responsible for
the differences that exist between Havana and
Washington? No! But they are paying the price.
In your book, you also talk about
the irrational nature of certain restrictions.
Indeed, it should be noted that
since 2004 and the strict application of the U.S.
Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) rules, any American tourist who
smoked a Cuban cigar or consumed a glass of Havana
Club rum during a trip abroad risks a fine of one
million dollars and 10 years in prison. Another
example: a Cuban living in France theoretically
cannot eat a hamburger at a McDonald's. Of course,
these measures are irrational because they are
unenforceable. The United States does not have the
material and human resources to put a U.S. agent on
the trail of each tourist. Nonetheless, it
illustrates the United States' obsessive desire to
economically strangle the Cubans.
Your book contains a prologue by
Wayne S. Smith and a preface by Paul Estrade, both
well known Cuba specialists, but no doubt without a
large audience. Remind us of who they are.
Wayne S. Smith is a former U.S.
diplomat and currently a professor at Johns Hopkins
University in Washington DC. He was the last
American diplomat with the rank of ambassador to be
posted in Cuba, this between 1979 and 1982. Under
the government of Jimmy Carter, he distinguished
himself through his politics of dialogue and
rapprochement with Havana. He is a partisan of
normalization of relations between Cuba and the
United States and his preface takes stock of the
anachronistic, cruel, and ineffectual nature of
these economic sanctions.
As for Paul Estrade, he is a
professor emeritus at the University of Paris VIII
and, without a doubt, the best Cuba specialist in
France. His works on Cuban issues are standard
references in the academic world. In his preface, he
points to the way in which the state of siege
against Cuba is voluntarily obscured by the media
when they report on the economic difficulties of