It’s still there. End the blockade!

June 14, 2017

Last fall, as they have done every year since 1992, the member countries in the U.N. General Assembly voted for a resolution calling on the U.S. government to end its economic, financial and commercial blockade of Cuba. The vote was 191 to 0. The U.S. and its sidekick Israel for the first time abstained, instead of voting against the resolution.

Did this mean Washington was ready to lift the cruel blockade? No.

Last year the Obama administration finally relaxed U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba, leading to a 118 percent rise in U.S. visitors to the island this year, compared to the number in 2016.

Does this mean we are now free to travel to Cuba? No.

Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, remains the only destination on the planet to which travel is restricted by U.S. law. A law enacted by Congress in 2000 made it a crime for U.S. citizens to vacation in Cuba. It still stands.

Since August 2016, regularly scheduled direct flights from many U.S. airports to various Cuban destinations have created the illusion of normal relations. The travel restrictions don’t seem too onerous: a check-off box, a signature or even just a question from the ticket agent handing over the boarding pass. But travelers who read the fine print see they’re required to collect and keep records of their full schedule for what must be nonvacation activities in Cuba.

The capitalist ruling establishment of the U.S. has had to acknowledge that its many decades of economic warfare against Cuba failed to destroy the revolution. The “opening” to Cuba by the Obama administration was seen as a new approach with the same goal — this time to undermine the solidarity of the Cuban people with capitalist consumerism that could undo its socialist construction.

Despite the establishment of diplomatic relations, the blockade would go on.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced on June 8 that the Honda Finance Corp., headquartered in California, had agreed to remit $87,255 to settle some 13 apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulation. What was this about? Between 2011 and 2014, Honda Finance’s wholly owned Canadian subsidiary had “approved and financed 13 lease agreements … in connection with the [Canadian] Cuban Embassy’s leasing of several Honda vehicles.”

Yes, the blockade is in full force and effect, right down to barring minor transactions in third countries, like the Cuban Embassy in Canada leasing vehicles from a subsidiary of a California company.

What about Trump’s Cuba policy? Can it get much worse?

It was supposed to be rolled out on May 20, the date chosen because that was the infamous day in 1901 when the U.S. imposed the Platt Amendment on Cuba. After winning their hard-fought war for independence from Spain, the Cubans were forced by the Platt Amendment to accept continued U.S. military occupation of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The White House made no Cuba announcement on May 20, but the word now is that it will announce new restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba soon.

But that’s not the end of the story. People in the U.S. are pushing back. City council resolutions against the blockade are piling up. Sacramento has joined the California cities of Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland plus Brookline, Mass. and Hartford, Conn. Similar resolutions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., Pittsburgh, Detroit, Newark and Helena, Mont., are in the works.

The administration has to deal with the fact that airlines and other businesses with commercial stakes in Cuba don’t want the total blockade renewed.

While this autocratic government slanders Cuba with ridiculous charges of violating “human rights,” it can’t hide the fact that people in Cuba are healthier than those in the U.S. because they have universal health care.

Cuban medical professionals are world renowned. When people were dying in New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina, nearly 2,000 Cuban medical professionals were mobilized, ready to help them. But they were denied U.S. clearance. Cubans then fought cholera in Haiti and were on the front lines against Ebola. For that, they were just awarded the 2017 Public Health award by the World Health Organization.

It is long past time to end the blockade and regime-change programs funded with U.S. tax dollars. It is long past time to end the illegal occupation of Guantanamo by the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and its despicable torture prison.

In Cuba this year on May Day, the largest foreign contingent came from the U.S. People are already signing up for the “Paths of Che” brigade, which will visit Cuba Oct. 1-15 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the legendary guerrilla fighter’s assassination.

In July the two oldest and most consistent Cuba solidarity organizations will be traveling there without self-licensing. The Venceremos Brigade will go from July 21 to Aug. 4, and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace will travel from July 11 to 27.

They will exercise their absolute right to travel and associate with the people of the world, including those in Cuba.