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It’s a Consensus: World Condemns US Embargo Against Cuba

By Conner Gorry

    
Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Pérez Roque addresses the UN General Assembly about the need to lift the US embargo against Cuba

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For the thirteenth consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly has condemned the United States embargo of Cuba in a near unanimous vote. By a margin of 179 to 4, the international body voted on October 28th for Resolution 58/7 entitled The Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade Imposed by the United States of America Against Cuba .

While not legally binding, the vote carries moral implications since it reaffirms Cuba's inalienable right to sovereignty and self-determination. In casting his country´s vote in favor of the resolution, Mexico´s permanent representative to the UN Enrique Berruga labeled the embargo a violation of “the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.” Non-intervention, violation of international law and a reproach of unilateralism were also reasons for countries as divergent as Sweden and Saudi Arabia to censure the US policy. Dumisani S. Kumalo, the representative from South Africa explained that the embargo “had caused untold suffering to the people of Cuba,” and offered his support for the resolution.

Speaking about the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said, “ from a moral point of view, I think it is…very important for the Cuban people because it is proof that the international community rejects" the sanction policy. “We believe that we have the strength, the unity and the passion to preserve our country, to continue building a more just society than we have now," he added optimistically.

UN Votes For Lifting U.S. Embargo on Cuba

YEAR

FOR

AGAINST

1992

59

2 (US, Israel)

1993

88

4 (US, Israel, Paraguay, Albania)

1994

101

2 (US, Israel)

1995

117

3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)

1996

138

3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)

1997

143

3 (US, Israel, Uzbekistan)

1998

157

2 (US, Israel)

1999

155

2 (US, Israel)

2000

167

3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)

2001

167

3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)

2002

173

3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)

2003

179

3 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands)

2004

179

4 (US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau)

Effects on Cuban Health

“Children awaiting organ transplants often have to be air-lifted to another country, not because Cuban doctors don't have the expertise, but because the equipment and technology can't be purchased under embargo rules.”

Since 1961, the US has maintained a full trade embargo against Cuba - the most comprehensive, continuous economic sanctions leveled against any country in the world. This embargo has included the sale of medicines and medical equipment, making it an especially harsh policy in humanitarian terms, with ongoing consequences for Cuba's universal health system.

According to the American Association for World Health's (AAWH) Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the US Embargo on Health & Nutrition in Cuba , "in some instances Cuban physicians have found it impossible to obtain life-saving medicines from any source, under any circumstances. Patients have died.” Sadly, many of the patients affected are children, particularly those suffering from cancer, plus other sectors of the population considered among the most vulnerable including the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled.

The embargo, with stipulations that no US company or its subsidiary can trade freely with Cuba, is far reaching: IR-192, a radioactive isotope used in radiation treatment for malignant tumors can't be bought. The diagnostic kit to detect severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is likewise unobtainable. The retroviral AIDS medicines Ritonavir and Lopinavir + Ritonavir, that are sold for US$49,700 in the United States, cost Cuba US$280,400 - almost six times more - because they have to be purchased in a third country. Children awaiting organ transplants often have to be air-lifted to another country, not because Cuban doctors don't have the expertise, but because the equipment and technology can't be purchased under embargo rules. Additionally, computer technology for health applications are blacklisted and scientific collaboration between Cubans and Americans is hobbled. These are only a handful of examples of the daily environment in which Cuban medical professionals find themselves struggling - and in most cases, succeeding - to provide public health solutions.

Despite Washington’s promises to streamline licensing arrangements which would permit medical sales to Cuba, US companies complain that the process is so fraught with red tape as to be unworkable and certainly unprofitable, with zero incentive to sell.

Perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of the embargo is its provision that under no circumstances can any raw material or active ingredient be exported to Cuba for its domestic pharmaceutical industry. A license was denied for one pound of the active ingredient in a common breast cancer drug, forcing Cuba to purchase the finished product for nearly four times the cost of producing it at home - and treating one fourth the women for the same price.

Health as a Global Concept

The embargo severely limits other types of exchange which directly affect the health picture in Cuba including the most basic conditions for a healthy quality of life.

In a conversation with Medicc Review at the Second Forum of Cuban Civil Society Against the Blockade, held in Havana on October 14th and 15th, Dr. Félix Sansó, of the Cuban Society of Family Medicine emphasized the global, or integral, health concept that is the cornerstone of the Cuban health system and the family doctor program specifically. The embargo "has a total effect on the family dynamic," Dr. Sansó said. "It affects nutrition, food resources, access to medicine, the ability to clothe yourself...to move from here to there and to have fun." Dr. Erick Martínez, of the Cuban Society of Pediatrics concurred: "health is not the absence of sickness, but rather [the presence] of mental and physical well being." This type of scarcity erodes that well being, leading to general "social stress" that family doctors and nurses are witnessing islandwide; for more details on the Cuban family medicine model, see 20 Years of Family Medicine, co-written by Dr. Sansó.

A Policy that Cuts Both Ways

The embargo not only denies access to important medicine and technology to Cubans, it also prohibits Cuba from exporting to the United States. From Cuban cancer drugs to the meningitis B vaccine, such politicking means sick Americans are not receiving potentially life-saving medicine and vaccinations, or at least not in time. According to Dr. Peter G Bourne in a speech delivered at the National Summit on Cuba, held in Tampa on October 8th, "several hundred young people a year...are still dying of the disease [meningitis B] in the US." Making these deaths more senseless still is the fact that this was the first Cuban vaccine actually approved for licensing in the United States, but has yet to reach the market because it’s manufacturers had to first wage a two-year battle with Washington to get the license itself approved, and still are not permitted to run clinical trials in the USA concurrent with trials in Europe. For more on the Summit and Dr. Bourne´s comments, see MEDICC at National Summit on Cuba: Embargo Harms US People, Too.

It is not only these summit participants who are discussing alternatives to a 43-year old policy that has yet to bear fruit. Recent street protests by Cuban-Americans against the new travel restrictions, a flurry of Amendments passed in the House of Representatives regarding travel and sales of food and medicine and visits from US agriculture and trade delegations eyeing the Cuban market, indicate that Americans too, are tiring of the embargo against Cuba.

To read the full text of UN Resolution 58/7, visit http://www.granmai.cubasi.cu/ingles/2004/septiembre/juev30/informe.html

To read the AAWH report, Denial of Food and Medicine: The Impact of the US Embargo on Health and Nutrition in Cuba, visit http://www.ahtc.org/Denial.html .

To read up on the latest US legislation regarding Cuba, visit http://www.cubacentral.com/



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