Cuba’s Comeback: Europe Should Take the Lead in Breaking the Blockade
By Brian Wilson
At the United Nations today, a motion condemning the U.S. blockade of Cuba will be carried with overwhelming support. The United Kingdom and all other EU countries will oppose the policy. It is an annual ritual which Washington will duly ignore. This will be the 13th occasion on which such a resolution has been brought forward, with the majority in support of it increasing year by year—154 to three at the last count. It is not necessary to support Cuba’s system of government in order to oppose the blockade, which has crippled the country’s economy for 40 years and continues to impose huge privations upon the ordinary Cuban people. Extraterritorial action as pursued by the U.S. against Cuba is flagrantly illegal and therefore extremely dangerous as a precedent. To the rest of the world that matters. To the U.S. administration, particularly in election year, such niceties are of minimal interest.
The fact that the UK and EU are opposed to this miserable vendetta should not be undervalued. One day U.S. policy towards Cuba will change—and the question will then be whether we were leaders or mere followers.
Quite recently, relations between Cuba and the EU deteriorated sharply. This drive came from the Aznar government in Spain, which had a particular animus towards its former colony as well as a deep attachment to Washington opinion. The expression of this diplomatic freeze was a childish ploy commended by the American Interests Section in Havana.
Some EU ambassadors started inviting to embassy functions leading dissidents whom the Cubans regard as fifth columnists in a bitter war of attrition. The outcome was predictable and intended: the Cuban government boycotted these events and other contacts declined. Unfortunately, the UK was seen as a ringleader in this activity, though I am certain no such policy was instigated here.
The change of government in Spain has opened up an avenue which can lead to the restoration of normal relationships between EU countries and Cuba. Earlier this month, the new Spanish ambassador in Havana said that agreement on a new policy towards Cuba “is only a matter of time—and not much time”. I hope he is right.
The biggest factors in driving a new, post-election policy towards Cuba will come from within the U.S. itself. The current position is riddled with hypocrisies. Prior to a recent tightening of restrictions, the U.S. was Cuba’s second biggest supplier of tourists and its largest supplier of imported food. Republican governors from the farm states beat a regular trail to Havana to nurture a market which their constituents want to serve.
Even in Florida, rapid change is taking place. The vast majority of Cuban-Americans are not political refugees but economic migrants. They no more want to be barred from going home or sending back money to help their families than any other immigrant community.
In the latter stages of the Clinton presidency, the policy had moved towards engagement rather than persecution. Soon the same trend will be resumed, but the EU should get there first. Last month, a survey by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign produced responses from 402 MPs who said they would oppose any military aggression against Cuba. That’s a start, but maybe we could go a little further.
Brian Wilson is Labor MP for Cunninghame North.
—The Guardian (UK), October 28, 2004