Cuba is currently enduring a serious economic crisis. Cubans are facing fuel and food shortages, nearly as bad as the Special Period in the 1990s. After the fall of the socialist bloc, headed by the Soviet Union, Cuba lost 85% of its trade and its economy shrank over 30%. The United States increased its blockade of Cuba through the Torricelli(1992) and Helms-Burton (1996) Acts and counter-revolutionary terrorism saw attacks on the tourist industry which was developed to allow socialism survive in Cuba.
The current situation is the result of several factors. Firstly, the deepening of the blockade by the Trump administration, with 243 extra measures introduced, meaning that the blockade is the most comprehensive set of sanctions applied to any country in the world. Additionally, the Trump administration added Cuba to the US “Sponsor of Terrorism” list.
All together, the increased measures serve to make the sending of remittances home by Cubans living abroad more difficult, restrict American tourists from visiting Cuba, restrict cruise ships and oil tankers from visiting the US if they have already visited Cuba, as well as preventing Cuba from paying for necessities such as oil or food.
Given the position of the US dollar in world trade, and the importance of the US market for international commerce, the blockade is not just an embargo preventing US-Cuban trade, but an economic blockade that is imposed on third countries, in flagrant breach of international law. All the way back in 1960 – just after the Cuban Revolution – the US State Department outlined the blockade as being:
…a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government.
After the Covid pandemic, Cuba’s resources were shifted to produce vaccines and to protect public health. At one point, Cuba had the highest level of vaccinations per population in the world. However, the pandemic also shut down the tourist industry, putting a strain on foreign currency reserves and lines of credit.
The Revolutionary government implemented the long-delayed currency reform, where the previous dual-currency system was abolished, with just the Cuban peso as legal tender, albeit with foreign currency such as Euros and dollars also being accepted in certain areas. This was intended as a measure to reduce the relative inequalities which developed previously between tourism workers and other workers, as well as between those who had family abroad and those who hadn’t.
The effects of the pandemic, economic warfare against Venezuela – Cuba’s main supplier of energy – and growing inflation worldwide along with sanctions against Cuba’s allies abroad, have produced a “perfect storm” against Cuba. Additionally, a lighting strike on Cuba’s main oil tanker in Matanzas, as well as Hurricane Ian, have added to the problems.
Unsurprisingly, the US has used this time to increase black propaganda against Cuba and increase funding for counter-revolutionary groups. Unfortunately for them, these groups remain without much support, and lack direction given they over-played their hand on July 11th, 2021. In last year’s Family Code Referendum, and in this years elections to the National Assembly, voter turnout has remained steady. To put it simply, if the counter-revolution can not even succeed in the current climate, it will never succeed at all.
Currently, there are lines at petrol pumps, prices remain high for certain items, there are shortages of basic items such as medical equipment (most of which is made in the US or by US companies and therefore can not be exported to Cuba), buildings are in need of renovation and many Cubans have emigrated. To be clear, this is not the fault of socialism, instead it is the direct result of imperialism by the Capitalist United States.
Even in this context, the Revolution manages to prevent people starving, with pregnant women and elderly people being prioritised for food, Cuba has 87% home ownership and no citizen sleeps on the street. Cuba’s streets remain safe and crime-free, a far cry from the slums that dot the rest of Latin America. Cuba only has 1.5% unemployment.
Cuba’s people are struggling, but struggling together, in solidarity with one another. Human solidarity can not be blockaded by even the strongest empire. In the words of Cuban President Diaz-Canel, we must not wait for the blockade to be lifted, instead we have to break it.
By Graham Harrington, CSFI and Communist Party of Ireland activist